Getting tutored can be a seriously draining task. The idea of school for school can be tough to swallow, and having a tutor who you have no connection with never helps the situation.
We all want to be surrounded by people who understand us and get where we are coming from because that just makes everything a little more comfortable. Tutoring is no different.
We spoke with a group of three friends from UCLA who saw this problem and decided to do something about it. Ignite Tutoring (not to be mistaken for Dan Bilzerian’s Ignite) has been around for 18 months, but the small team of leaders already employs over 50 tutors and is continuing to grow.
They recently announced that they’d be expanding their reach outside of just UCLA and their first destination is UC Berkeley.
We sat down with them to chat and learn more about what they do, why they do it, and what it takes to start a business out of college with your best friends. Hope you enjoy!
How did you guys all meet?
Izzy: I always take this question, haha. We are all from the class of 2020 at UCLA and freshman year Graziella and I were in the same sorority. We met on one of those tradition nights and we both got along cause we were both just so weird.
Graziella: We were being so strange to each other.
I: After that we were best friends from that moment. I met Kay our sophomore year, but we weren’t that close. Junior year, Graziella went abroad to Spain for a full year and Kay and I got really close then. So I had these two best friends who had never seen each other in real life. Flash forward, Kay and I are living together for our senior year. But when I left for a month, I had Graziella sublease my space and they ended up getting along too.
Kay had this idea that she wanted to start and I offered to help with the social media. Graziella also wanted to help. So that’s kind of how we got here a year and a half later.
G: How we started was kind of random. I just built the website and we had no plan past that. We just wanted to get one customer and yeah it kind of worked out.
In terms of starting the tutoring business, was there a particular inspiration?
Kay: I grew up with a little brother who I was tutoring forever. I tutored in high school. I tutored at UCLA in the Watts program, which is a tutoring service for lower income students in LA. I kind of just fell in love with making an impact.
I: Pause, Kay is being way too humble. She was tutoring one student for 20+ hours a week, including weekends.
G: We saw how much opportunity there is, and saw that we need tutors who are relatable. Not creepy people, or people who are unaffordable for any student, and so there’s just huge need that exists. Not to speak for Kay, but that’s what she saw.
K: Exactly, I just saw a gap in the industry. There was all these tutors being paired with kids where there was no connection. I remember being in high school and having tutors that I just didn’t connect with and that doesn’t work when you’re tutoring. I would go to those sessions and the material would make sense but it was just so much more effective when I was able to connect with them.
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Do you focus on kids from any particular groups, or is it just anybody who needs tutoring?
G: We focus on K-12 and market mainly to parents who have kids in that age range. Especially kids in local schools. There is also special cases where we’ll take on college students who need help. With COVID, there was so much need for social interaction in addition to need for basic learning blocks, so we have made some exceptions for that. But, we mainly focus on K-12 and that’s what our tutors are expecting to teach.
I: That’s one of the things I love about Ignite. If you go to our site, it doesn’t say high school biology, middle school math – we are a really personalized company. We target an age range, but within that, we like to say that our tutors can teach anything. For the most part, we’re able to fulfill every single request because our base is well qualified and diversified so we can serve a lot of needs. Besides that, we focus on them being well rounded and working with people who can connect with the students and the parents. We have parents who’ll ask for the tutor to come in and play soccer with their kid twice a week and then do homework (or not).
We are able to provide true companionship.
From your early stages to now, you have 70 people working for you. How did that happen in 18 months?
G: It kind of comes and goes with supply and demand. First we started by finding these real quality tutors to create a base. But once COVID hit, we found a niche in online parent groups where we could advertise to them and they were all looking for tutors so we suddenly did not have enough tutors. It was great having that solid base to start because it attracts more people like that.
Also, with connections at UCLA we were able to take advantage of that and meet the demand we suddenly had.
I: It was a steady growth and then with COVID we shot up in demand.
How did you find a way to manage that rapid growth while dealing with school?
I: The rapid growth really happened over the summer so we had graduated and were trying to enjoy our final freedom in life while taking ten parent calls a day.
K: Yeah, senior year while being undergrad students and growing the company, we had to learn to manage our time. And there was definitely a learning curve.
I: During the year it was a lot of give and take to learn how to balance time well. Since UCLA is a big school, you get a lot of choice with your schedule and that, plus Ignite tutoring and everything being online, it raised the question of how do I schedule my day to make sure I get everything done. It was really helpful for us to learn how to work together. Some of us would work hard for a month and it would change maybe with finals. We’ve found our own individual best practices for it.
G: I think the benefit of starting the company while we were in school gave us the safety blanket of “I’m doing this right now when between classes I can allot some hours to start building something, but if it doesn’t pan out, I’m still in school”. Then, it was something that we can take with us to job interviews and on our resumes. Now, with higher expectations of what we should be doing, it’s “why’re you wasting your time trying to start a company when you should be trying to get a job”.
Something that we focus on at BeSababa is using stress as a way to grow. For you guys, how did you find ways to do that?
I: I think one of the things that I touched on earlier is that finding those boundaries was really, really important. For me, when I get in the zone, I can’t stop working. It’s a blessing and a curse. So finding out for each of us what those boundaries are was crucial. When to take time off and when to do my homework, etc. On top of that, since we are all best friends, we had to figure out how to manage that stress. In the beginning, there were times where two of us would get into a tiff and it became difficult to balance the friendship-business partnership. Here we are 18 months later and we figured it out. A lot of communicating and working together to learn how to have those difficult conversations and setting the boundaries. Like: do not text me after 7pm about work.
K: Yeah, I think it’s really hard to work with your friends. You sort of have to restructure your friendship in a way. You have to adjust your expectations for both. That’s the most important part, I think, if you want to start a business with your friends. You have to make sure your relationship is good and solid so you have those boundaries set.
G: To touch on what Kay was saying, we managed by moving a lot over to Slack. We had a group chat that was specific for friend stuff in iMessage and Slack was for business. It partitioned the two relationships really well.
Personally, I have to have a schedule in a sense. I have to have time blocked out for different things otherwise (like Izzy said), I’ll get carried away and lose touch on what I’m supposed to be doing. Over the summer, when we were blowing up, I had two other jobs nannying and working for another startup. So I would get up every morning and made it a routine to have my coffee and lemon water, then I’d walk the perimeter of UCLA and listen to a podcast to start my brain on the right page. Then I’d sit down and work until I had to leave for my other job. That’d separate my day and unless I had something pressing, I’d be done with work for the day.
The discipline to set yourself in a routine is really important. Making sure you take care of your mental health, it can be reading or podcasts (my personal favorite) or working out. When I moved home, I signed up for gym classes to hold me accountable to leave the desk and move my body.
What’s a resource you’d recommend to students to help balance yourself?
K: Wine, so much wine. But also 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was a great book that I read. I highly recommend it.
I: Kay is always reading. She’s learning about astronomy, women’s empowerment, and something else at all times.
G: And it’s not Astronomy for Dummies, it’s a textbook.
K: As for your question, though, I do not have that discipline to read all the time but I try my best. I would say for me, the greatest resource I found while going through this process would be other people. Especially adults, whenever id tell my parents’ friends or a mentor of sorts, they’d always want to help and they’d have amazing ideas. They’re always offering to do little phone calls or sessions. I think a lot of people are scared to ask for help, but at this time in our life, you need all the help you can get. Just reaching out is key. Graziella just found a mentor bank that she can talk about.
G: I’ll give one for business and then one for students.
For business stuff: I became obsessed with finding online organizations that are meant to help entrepreneurs and anybody who is fresh in business. Small Business Association, they have a “score” where there are tons of mentors who they can pair you with. And you just tell them what you need help with in your business and they are vetted, volunteer, and experienced people who’ll just give you advice and help you. Aside from that, a lot of other companies like the Tory Burch Foundation, Career Contessa, and other sites have weekly webinars where they touch on different elements of how to grow your business. They talk about everything from legal, to marketing, to branding, or whatever you can imagine. As somebody who has no idea what they’re doing starting a business at 20 years old, it’s been really helpful to see what other people are doing and get some fresh ideas on how to improve our business.
I’d say in college: keep learning as much as you can outside of your classes. Learn about the world, life skills, what’s going on around you, what’s new in the world. Just keep your brain fresh and always thinking about new stuff.
I also love podcasts, personally. That’s my everyday thing. Dax Shepherd’s Armchair Expert. It’s so fascinating and I get to learn so much.
K: That’s key for entrepreneurship, keep learning. That’ll facilitate a lot because your subconscious will connect a lot without you realizing.