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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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SA startups in Visa final

Leading fintech companies from the Sub-Sahara Africa technology startup community have made it to the finals of Visa’s Everywhere Initiative.

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Among the 12 chosen, from the 238 total entries, South African startups Howler and FinChatBot will compete against innovators from across Sub Sahara Africa for a chance to secure funding of up to US$50,000 to develop their ideas when the initiative concludes in Johannesburg on July 24. 

Fintechs in Africa are making incredible strides; not only to bring more convenience to consumers, but also to enable people who would not otherwise have access to financial services or even a way to connect to the formal banking system. Venture funding for African startups jumped by 51% to $195 million in 2017 and fintech in Africa is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years as it continues to disrupt the traditional financial sector. With a clear goal of reducing reliance on cash, building digital payment based economies and increasing financial inclusion, Visa is committed to fostering an entrepreneurial spirit and driving innovation in its payments landscape. 

The Sub Saharan Africa edition of the Visa’s Everywhere Initiative challenged local fintech startup to deliver solutions based around three real life business challenges: 

  • How can startups leverage Visa Developer APIs to either:  Enable smaller merchants to accept payments in-store digitally OR Provide a safe and secure solution for online merchants to drive eCommerce and reduce cash on delivery?
  • How can startups use Visa’s APIs to leverage mass reach and social media partner platforms like Facebook to help businesses operating in fast-paced consumer centric environments improve cash flow and receive payments? 
  • How can startups leverage technology to provide services that are functional for illiterate customers to provide them with secure transaction experiences that build and enhance their confidence in the banking system?. 

Entrants were asked to submit ideas to leverage Visa’s network and technologies to resolve against at least one of the challenges. One winner per brief will be selected, with each receiving funding of US$25,000. Winners will be invited to a working meeting with Visa and may be presented with the opportunity to create a prototype. Visa will then select one overall winner to receive an additional US$25,000.

Geraldine Mitchley, Senior Director – Digital Solutions, Sub-Sahara Africa, Visa, said: “We are delighted with the response to our Visa’s Everywhere Initiative and the quality of submissions we received is an indication of the region’s rich talent pool and innovative spirit.”

“Launching this innovation program in the region has been an exciting time for the Visa SSA team, and the takeup reflects Africa’s enthusiasm to develop and pioneer solutions to the continent’s challenge – particularly in the payments technology space. I would like to congratulate the finalists and  wish them luck as they enter the final stretch.  When they come together for the final, they will not only have the chance to turn their ideas into reality, but also potentially help shape the future of payments in the region.”  

Howler which enables cashless transactions and end-to-end ticket handling for consumers and event organisers is competing in the first challenge and FinChatBot, which aims to automate part of customer services for financial service providers through AI-powered conversations is competing in the third challenge. 

The SSA edition of the Visa’s Everywhere Initiative will wrap up on July 24 in Johannesburg, with each finalist having an opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of expert judges from Visa and the payments industry. 

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Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entries via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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