In this interview with Oscar Obiora, the CEO and co-founder of EduPoint, this young entrepreneur shares his experience on his journey so far and gives some tips that have helped him as an entrepreneur.
He said something that caught my attention.
The moment an entrepreneur solves a challenge, he creates another problem.
AI: Please share with us a little about your background
OO: I have been passionate about teaching since I was 15. When I finished my secondary school, the first job I had to do was teaching. I taught in a secondary school before my admission into the department of Animal and Environmental Biology in the university of Benin. My four years on campus was really impactful. I was the Unilever Campus Ambassador and it paved a whole lot of opportunities for me. I realized that I got so much more than I thought I had. I volunteered in several projects in school.
Those were the things that sharpened the entrepreneurial skills I have today. After my graduation from the University of Benin in 2015, I got called into the passion. But before then, I had a stint career in top FCMG like Unilever and Guinness.The truth however was, I needed to reignite my passion which was teaching. While I was in school with my co-founder, Lilian, we taught as a means of survival in school. We basically did it for survival, we would teach the medical doctors’ kids because they were always very busy. We targeted busy parents. The place wasn’t developed, so we focused on the Teaching Hospital there.The doctors were always on call and had little or no time for their wards. That was our strategy.
We got in couple of clients and we also employed our fellow students. Our mistake then was that we didn’t do it like a business; we just did it for survival. So, when we finished from school, the business stopped. There were teachers in school who took away our clients because we were just naïve then. We never saw a business in it. We just wanted to make ends meet to fend for ourselves. Ever since then, when I finished my programme, and I returned back to Lagos, I started my first business which was farming. It grew up till the point where it could manage itself. I came back to Lagos properly, 2018 which was last year and then we launched EduPoint, February 1st.
AI: Before starting your business, you would have noticed a loophole or identified a need that brought about your inspiration to start your business. What was the gap you saw that inspired you to start your business?
OO: I went to a public school, one of the poorest in my locality. I lived in Ajegunle and it’s a slum. In my school, we had over 200 students in a class. So, when our results came out in SS3, just less than 10% of us had 5 credits. People like us who were able to make those credits thought we were smart and good. Until we got to the university and then we started seeing that our results were even one of the worst. That for me was an eye opener. It made me realize that the tutor-learner engagement was very poor. It was against the United Nations’ standard which was ratio 1-25 students. But we see 1-50, 1-100, 1-200.
My co-founder, Lilian, also had this issue of numeracy when she was way younger. She was however able to overcome the numeracy deficiency because her aunty happened to be her private tutor. So, I realized that, inasmuch as increasing the learner-tutor engagement was paramount. There was need for the peep-peer engagement which talked about 1man-1man team. For us, that was our model. We wanted to revolutionize the learning engagement by focusing on the peer-peer style. We believe that will help to identify the loopholes. We saw two problems. While we were solving the learner-learner issue, there was also problem of employment. Teachers didn’t have a platform to connect to the people they can offer these services to.
So basically, we were trying to solve two problems which was the learner engagement and empowering young professionals who ordinarily cannot access these platforms.
AI: What was raising capital like for you?
OO: Starting a business in Nigeria is tough. I am a serial entrepreneur because I always look for the next business to build. For a service-based business like EduPoint, you don’t need much capital, what you need is a strategy and the right team. The truth is you’re not going to pay for any overhead cost.
For us at EduPoint, the central core of our business is recruiting the kind of teachers that can impact and share that knowledge. Our learner’s expectation, parental reviews and referral is key to us. Starting was hard, we needed to do fliers, ads, hire marketers and all of these things. We were focused on being strict with our expenditure. We knew what we wanted which was to first get the website running. We believe this would be an integral part of the scheme.
The next thing was to onboard tutors, we didn’t even start rushing to get parents first. A portal was opened for tutors to apply and then we started vetting. We didn’t have to launch the website for parents. We started going to parents and were asking them key critical questions as to what they wanted. And we realized that nine out of ten were complaining that the lessons learnt in school were not enough; the teacher’s attention was divided among everybody in the class. And that if they could get a well vetted and safe tutor for their wards, they would be willing to pay a premium. So, we saw a sense of urgency and tapped into it. That was how we started.
AI: How long have you been running this business and what has the experience been like?
OO:We have been running the business for 1 year 5 months and would be 2 years by February next year. To be frank with you, it has been a journey. We had an intentional mindset. We were not going to pay ourselves and we would reinvest the profit. We were our first teachers.
When we started, we literally shared the responsibilities amongst ourselves. I could remember our first client didn’t know I was the owner of the business. We wanted to test run the platform first because there would be no point asking people to try what you haven’t tried. So, after two or three months, we left and started putting those teachers there.
By the time they came, parents didn’t need to ask questions about trust. We had already created that atmosphere of trust and credibility. The business had been amazing so far. We had not only tweaked the business from the usual peer-peer learning, we had also had business-business contracts with schools.
We helped schools recruit teachers, even though it is not our core business. Many parents had referred us to schools because of our credibility. We have also helped schools design curriculum. We also offer sessional classes and also classes for standardized exams like the IELTS, SAT. Over time, customers are giving us reasons to tweak our business. But our major focus is the kids and that is because of the sustainability of the business all the time. We want to help parents follow up their kids from start to finish.
AI: Some business owners tend to diversify or expand their target as the business progresses. Has your target remained the same since you stated?
OO: Initially, we started with Lagos, with just four clients. Because we are operating a niche market, everybody is not our client at EduPoint for now. And that is intentional because we want to scale very fast. Scaling is not by numbers but by revenues. So, our first two years like we plan is to scale by revenue. Then, our first five years is to scale by numbers. So far, so good, we have moved from Lagos to about four cities. We are currently in Port Harcourt, Abuja, Ibadan and Lagos. These are where we have tutors teaching currently. We have neither physically met nor seen some of these tutors and that is what technology has brought.
We have expanded over time with thanks to the power of technology. We have been able to connect and provide the learning experience. Additionally, we have grown from the level of 5 and single digit of clients to double and even triple. We have also been able to make reasonable cash flow not only from our clients. This is because of our ideology on spending. We spend on ‘‘need to have’’ and ‘‘not nice to have’’. We have made living and working conditions flexible with our staffs. We have also been able to track our parents’ feedback. Recently, we have also added coding into our platform.
AI: What solutions have your business provided or sought to provide in the education sector?
OO: We are a continuing school. We are the beginning of the end of school. We complement what the school does and not supplement it. We are not a school. We are not changing anything. We are not saying school is not good. That is why we don’t see school as our competitor but our collaborator. We have been able to support schools by expanding on what they do. Basically, at the moment, we are doing these three things: merging, connecting and tracking. We are also working on something, an application that will actually work like Uber. Before now, clients used to fill a form and submit and then we did the merging after vetting. But now it will be on the go via the app without stress. You get to see the teacher and order their services by yourself as a client.
Also, we can track progress of our teachers, feedbacks and all. We are also working on video visual audio materials. With this, you don’t need a teacher in your space to use it. And it is also helpful for the busy people who want to write professional exams, but don’t even have the time for someone to come to their space to teach.
AI: Every business at some point gets faced with challenges. Tell us the challenges that have been consistent and how you have been able to manage it.
OO: If I say there are no challenges, I’ll be lying. The start-up ecosystem is very tough and challenging. Especially when you have no investment and you’re just starting from scratch. The main challenge has to do with the previous producer, previous owners of what we do. Because we are not inventing, we are only innovating. When you look at the antecedents, you realize there were huge trust deficit that they had with clients.
So, today trying to onboard clients on our platform is seemingly tough because of the Dejavu experience.
What has helped us thus far have been parental reviews and referrals and the fact that people are seeing results. Agencies are acknowledging what we are doing. There is a rising need for high quality teachers. These days we have people who go into teaching because it is the simplest and easiest job to get. So, getting that committed passionate teacher is hard for us. We have to go through an extra vetting process because we don’t want to merge the wrong person for the right job. So, it’s not been easy for us. But as a social entrepreneur, what we’ve been able to do is to see how we continually innovate, work around the system to make sure that it works.
AI: For every business, strategies should be continually improved upon to maintain relevance. What new strategies have you brought to your business to distinguish you amongst others?
OO: We are not doing anything new. We are just doing it in a different way. For example, our matching of tutor to a learner takes less than 13 minutes if we have a client. The challenge is there are lesser clients and many tutors. There is urgency in the need and so we have increased on speed to meet up with it.
Secondly, we have been able to track and monitor from start to end. From day one of boarding teachers to those homes, there is already a file created. So, every day there is engagement, we receive feedbacks from parents. Teachers know they would submit feedbacks.
Thirdly, we have been able to make it more affordable and user friendly to those who could pay. For us, it’s customer centrism that has grown our business, we pride in our clients. We have been able to build our relationship with clients. For you to have a client pay for a whole year, and they want to be with you for the next five years, it shows that you are delivering.
AI: Grants and awards are meant for validation and improvement of already existing processes. What do you have to say to this?
OO: When I apply for grants, I always tell people that it’s not because of the money. Fortunately, I end up getting the money. The truth is, the first thing that comes to mind when I see an application is, of what importance will these people be to my business? In Nigeria today, you need relationship marketing to thrive. So, for us we look at the things that will help us scale our business. Grants for me, in my own way shouldn’t be the main revenue for a business. If that’s the source, then the business will die an untimely death. Grants should be a validation or could also be a way to improve on existing measures without having to break the banks.
If you use grants and money for your personal luxury; then, it’s a fraud.
Those grants should help your business look for ‘‘needs to have’’ and not ‘‘nice to have’’. The role of grant is also to help you increase the welfare of your staff. For us, it’s not just about profit; it is passion-profit-people.
AI: Have you ever received grant or awards since you started?
OO: Yes, we have received a couple. We have not got any awards until this year. This year was like harvest for us, we have received about 7 awards and grants.
AI: Has there been time your clients were dissatisfied with your service? How did you manage it?
OO: This is how you know a real business man. If anybody tells you they have no competitor, you know they’re not doing business. This is because there must surely be a competitor. If anyone tells you they don’t have issues or customers are all happy, there is surely a foul play there. We have at least 1.2 to 1.5 percent of negative feedbacks. And when you go deep, it’s not even your tutor. Because the kind of niche we deal with, there are some kinds of people who are not used to hard work. The challenge is trying to take the soft people through the process becomes a bit harder.
What we have done is, try to train our teachers in different ways to suit each learner’s style. There have been challenges of lateness to class, no assignments given. We track all those, and some clients will even say they didn’t get what they paid for. What we try to do is go back to our dashboard and see how to improve services with such clients. And for them to have stayed till this time, it shows they have seen improvement. What you see as a problem could be somebody else’s solution.
The moment an entrepreneur solves a challenge, he creates another problem.
At every point in time, we always try to understand the KYC, which is why we do weekly feedback tracker. So, we correct, reiterate and change.
AI: Any advice to up-and-coming young entrepreneurs?
OO: There are so many opportunities around especially for the females. Just look around and engage yourself accordingly. I would not hesitate to support any upcoming entrepreneurs that come to me. I can tell you that if you are a female and into tech, you are untouchable.