My entrepreneurial journey started by accident, quite literally. I was looking for a credible skating and dance tutor for my daughter. But the process of finding a reliable tutor was cumbersome, as there were no formal means to verify the tutor’s credentials. On the referral of a friend, I finally enrolled my daughter in a skating academy. But things went south when she was in an accident that resulted in a fractured arm bone. I immediately discontinued the class.
The experience got me thinking – there must be millions of parents like me across the country who worry about finding reliable tutors; be it for studies or extra-curricular activities, the expectations are not very different. I knew technology could play a key role, and after much brainstorming, I came up with the idea of WONK, (mirror word for KNOW), a tutor discovery and booking application, named since the dictionary meaning of WONK is “an expert in his or her field of study”. WONK allows students and parents to search for verified tutors in their locality, and they can analyse and compare qualifications and fees, and also book classes.
Ramesh Kumar is one such tutor. A qualified Chartered Accountant, he has been a personal tutor for over six years, on subjects ranging from Math and Accounting to Management. When he first heard about WONK, he was extremely skeptical about its success, given the age-old operating model of cash payments. However, one of the key issues he faced was having to constantly follow up with payments. When he finally signed on to WONK, he as well as other tutors were happy to receive fee payments directly into their savings account at the time of booking. In the times of demonetisation, especially, it proved to be a boon, as tutors can do bookings at one go. Today, Ramesh is part of WONK’s 20,000 plus (and counting!) tutor family.
However, getting a buy-in from tutors, though, was the easy part. It was much harder to convincing parents and students. One of the largest roadblocks is the tendency of parents to identify tutors through word-of-mouth or referrals. As is the case with any unorganised sector, making customers realise the benefits of technology is a challenge especially when a service like ours is unheard of. To address the problem, we needed to get very hands-on in the process and engage with parents, offline. We conducted forums and panel discussions, and these offline activities helped in building confidence. In a span of nine months, we have clocked close to 9,000 downloads and over 3,500 class bookings.
Interestingly, during our roller coaster journey, we came across a number of tutors who wanted to teach children from underserved communities for free. That’s how WONK for Society started, wherein we connected these tutors to students. Here I would like to share the story of Poonam whose parents work at a construction site at Gurugram. Poonam was unable to attend school due to poor health and her parents felt that she needs to be motivated to fall in love with academics. Vishal Singh, a registered WONK Tutor, agreed to teach her at 50% of his regular tuition charges, while WONK put in the rest. Poonam’s parents say that this tutoring proved to be extremely useful. Similarly, the feedback we received from other tutors and parents was so promising that we are now planning to cover a few other cities soon.
I’d like to end by saying this: any entrepreneur who seeks to organise an unorganised sector would face arduous challenges. There will be phases where you will hit severe roadblocks, and almost every day, you will question the very reasons for venturing into such a complex maze. But remember, as long as you have an understanding of your goals and confidence in your abilities, there are no obstacles you cannot overcome.