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Tutoring comes to apps

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NATHIER ABRAHAMS started his first tutoring business in 2010. Now the young entrepreneur is hoping to capture a bigger share of the market with a new app he’s named TutorFy.

Don’t for a moment think that tutoring is small fry.

One recent study estimates that the global private tutoring market would be worth well over US$128 billion by 2020. In South Korea, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2013, “rock star” tutor Kim Ki-Hoon makes as much as US$4 million a year teaching English online, in an after-school learning market valued at some $17 billion. According to a Times of India report, India’s tutoring market would be worth $16 billion by 2017. In Japan, online tutors alone do around $10 billion in business every year.

The market is likely more modest in South Africa, but Nathier Abrahams, for one, knows it’s growing.

Abrahams, now 25, had started tutoring maths and physics after he finished school, employed by another business. But he felt he could do better on his own, and set up a company called In Tune Tutoring. He opened a learning centre at a mosque in Rondebosch East in 2010, running classes with a handful of other tutors he’d recruited and trained. By 2012 he’d established a second centre, this time at a shop in Goodwood that he converted into suitable spaces. He also extended In Tune to home tutoring.

The venture flourished, but it took its toll. In 2011, Abrahams, who had cut short his psychology studies at the University of Cape Town, had registered for a BCom degree at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Keeping tabs on the learning centres and managing the home tutoring business while a full-time student proved to be too many irons in one fire.

“It was a nightmare,” he now recalls. “When tutors cancelled, for instance, you had to run around to find another tutor. It was just hectic.”

At the end of 2013, just as he was finishing his UWC studies, Abrahams closed down the home tutoring part of In Tune.

But he knew he was missing out on a huge market. In 2015, he thought of a way back in – an online marketplace where clients could connect with qualified and endorsed tutors.

And so was born Tutorfy, which serves as a “curated online marketplace” for parents to source tutors. To give them the peace of mind as to the credentials of the tutors – you’re never quite sure what you’re getting on, say, Gumtree – Abrahams would recruit, screen and train a pool of tutors.

“For parents, our main clients, we offer convenience, easy access to tutors, fast turnaround times on bookings, and more professional tutors,” says Abrahams. “There’s a trust factor.”

But remembering his troubles with running a home tutoring programme, Abrahams has in part modelled Tutorfy on companies like Uber and Airbnb.

Clients and tutors meet and arrange scheduling sessions in a streamlined process via Tutorfy, with no need for any centralised administration. This gives Tutorfy an edge over competitors, believes Abrahams.

And much like Uber, Tutorfy makes money by taking a share of the fees paid by clients for lessons. Clients pay Tutorfy, which then pays tutors. (Better than the often casual payment arrangements of private tutoring.) “Tutors love the platform because it allows them to manage their own profile and booking times, and that the website automates the process,” says Abrahams.

Abrahams is not short of business mentors, as his father runs a successful garage-door company. But with Tutorfy, he figured he needed assistance.

He turned to FutureMakers, a Telkom initiative to drive innovation in South Africa’s ICT sector. After an audition process, he won a place on InnoTech, a bespoke programme that aims to take black-owned tech start-ups from concept to market. The programme is run on behalf of Telkom FutureMakers by the Bandwidth Barn in Woodstock, which forms part of the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi). The project provides successful start-ups with R20 000 in ‘angel funding’, as well as office space, internet and telephone access, and business training. (The InnoTech program has been dubbed by some as the “Y-combinator of the Silicon Cape”, in reference to the acclaimed American start-up incubator.)

The input from FutureMakers has made a dramatic difference to his business, says Abrahams. With the funding he has, for instance, been able to brand the company, which includes purchasing the Tutorfy golf shirts that tutors wear to lessons. In turn, the office space creates networking opportunities with other start-ups, and allows him to focus on the business at hand. (“The brain thinks differently at an office than it does while working at home,” he says.)

Tutorfy went live in March 2016. And while it may take a while for Abrahams to match the revenue of a certain Korean tutor, the marketplace does add a fresh new element to the South African market.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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