After running his own tutoring company for five years – while studying engineering – South African Kyle Dodds recognised underlying inefficiencies in the way the traditional systems connected tutors with tutees.
Motivated by the fact that once he leaves university he will have even less time to manage his tutoring business, Dodds – with the help of his co-founders – started Cognition.Online (Cognition) an app that helps connect tutors and tutees, as well as facilitating payments.
“I realised going into the professional world as an engineer I wouldn’t be able to manage the tutoring company [in a way that was so] hands-on. So, moving with technology, the only way to go was to automate the entire process of a tutoring company.”
With their recent victory at the Samsung Launching People – Mixed Talents competition, Cognition may be off to running start.
What it does differently
A big difference between Cognition and the traditional process in South Africa, according to Dodds, is that tutors aren’t at the mercy of tutoring companies when it comes to being given work. The app allows the tutors to locate all available lessons within a radius of 150km.
Jobs aren’t dished out indiscriminately either. The lessons tutors see are filtered according to a pre-determined age group and what the tutor is vetted for. For example, if you signed up to teach maths to a grade fives, then only jobs requesting maths tutors for grade five learners will be displayed.
Dodds describes it as a free-market system, as the tutors themselves determine their rates, what jobs they work and when. The flexibility of the application is also extended to the parents and learners – as they get to choose the tutor, where they meet, what time, and for how much. If two or more tutors ‘bid’ (put forward a price) for the same lesson, it’s up to the parents or learner to choose the best offer.
Unlike the current system – where tutoring companies take commission – Cognition’s tutors receive 100% of what they charged, and parents or learners pay a small booking fee when a lesson is finalised.
Also in contrast to other tutoring companies, which may only pay their tutors two to three weeks after the end of the month, Cognition facilitates payment at month end.
Dodds explains that, “a student tutor runs on a very tight month-to-month budget. They can’t afford to wait an extra two weeks at month end.”
There is, however, an option for a parent or learner to be reimbursed if the lesson was unsatisfactory. Complaints are reviewed on a case-to-case basis. But each tutor has a public profile that displays what they studied or are studying and the ratings they received after each lesson, which should motivate them to do a good job.
Dodds says that, like the tutoring system, the process of starting a company in South Africa is sluggish and inefficient.
“We [as the founders] are fortunate enough to come from diverse backgrounds – financing, engineering, IT, and business – but it still has been a real mission for us to go through those processes. From opening bank accounts, opening a merchant account… to registering the company – the entire process is just too slow and people wonder why we don’t have more entrepreneurs.”
“I think the whole process… is way too complicated for the average person. If you working in a team of five qualified individuals that have access to all the information and it is still a struggle for us – it is not wonder that any other guy along the line is struggling to find help to get a company off the ground.”