The life of a stereotypical university student as presented in popular culture seems pretty sweet: sleeping through lectures, drinks at the uni bar between classes, and house parties on the weekend.
Reality is often harder, with many students managing work and their coursework as the amount of quality facetime they get with academics shrinks.
In turn, many turn to private tutoring, however Brisbane startup Vygo, founded by Ben Hallett, Joel Di Trapani, and Steven Hastie, believes there are flaws with existing models that it wants to solve.
“Private tutoring is known to be one of the best forms of academic support but it doesn’t work at the university level because it’s unaffordable, unreliable, and not specific to university courses,” Hallett explained.
A River City Labs Accelerator grad, Vygo aims to solve each of these three problems by connecting students to tutors who have previously gone through and aced the exact subject they need help in. This means that, rather than launching to all students everywhere, the startup is taking a university-by-university approach.
The idea evolved out of Hallett and Di Trapani’s own experiences at university and as tutors.
“Joel and I attended university together where we witnessed too many of our peers fall behind, drop-out of the system and suffer the consequences. As long time tutors ourselves, we had a deep passion for peer learning and supporting the underdogs,” Hallett said.
Teaming up with Hastie, another friend, they decided to solve the problem. Beginning work on Vygo in November 2015, they launched the following May to students at the University of Queensland.
“We’ve learned a million invaluable lessons and the learning curve has always been vertical. The passion, grit and most importantly long-term friendship of our founding team is what has allowed us to push through all the startup challenges thus far and come out with a product that’s meaningfully helping people.”
Once the platform has launched at a particular university, students can head to Vygo and search by their class code to see tutors available for that subject. They can then review tutor profiles and ratings, chat with those they’re interested in working with, and then schedule in person or online sessions.
Vygo then works to track the length of a session and, in turn, handle payments.
With tutors applying to the platform needing to receive a grade of 70 percent or above in the subject they’re looking to tutor in order to get through to the on boarding process, Hallett described Vygo as a “complete business in a box” for tutors in that it helps them with booking, payments, and marketing.
Tutors are charging on average $25 per session, with Vygo charging a service fee of 18 percent.
“By taking out all the messy parts of tutoring we’re actually attracting a new wave of tutoring talent and are able to offer hyper-specific help, for example Assignment 2, CIVL3140 with Professor Smith,” Hallett said.
The startup has a couple of universities on board, including the University of Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology.
As Hallett put it, the proposition to universities is rather simple: “there are large financial incentives for them to address student attrition,” he said.
“Opening the Vygo platform to their campuses is one of the quickest and most cost efficient ways to support and retain their students. The Vygo platform [also] allows universities to extract unique real-time data across all their faculties so they can improve their student experience.”
The startup now has a “detailed playbook” it follows when launching into a university, Hallett said. Given the importance of early traction, the service looks to quickly cover core classes, and is usually covering around 300 unique classes within three weeks.
Beyond making the platform available to their students, universities can also choose to provide tutoring through Vygo free of the service fee; the startup has struck up such a partnership with the Queensland University of Technology through its QUT Guild arm.
As to who is using the Vygo service, Hallett said a “broad range” of students are using Vygo consistently.
“We have students who are currently at risk of failing and we have students who are high achievers and just want to study more effectively. Our largest demand for sessions come from first and second year STEM classes; everybody struggles with statistics,” he said.
According to Hallett, students are giving Vygo sessions an average rating of 97 percent and reporting an average improvement of 20 percent on their grades.
Despite the competition in the tutoring space, which Hallett said Vygo is well aware of, the startup is of the mind that not many other offerings are truly solving the key issues for university students, with the specificity of university classes in particular key.
Vygo is hoping to be active at 15 universities across Australia over the next 12 months.
Had enough of all the startup buzzwords? So have we. That’s why we’re asking the startups we chat to to send us a video where they pitch their business in a way that’s easy enough for even the most technophobic of grandparents to understand:
Image: Ben Hallett and Joel Di Trapani. Source: Supplied.