Mandy Ginsberg Teaches Tutor.com Lessons in Connecting with Consumers

12/11/13Follow @jpruth

It keeps getting easier to find help with schoolwork—some good, some less so—thanks to technology, and Mandy Ginsberg thinks tutoring is on the cusp of a transformation.

Her bullishness is to be expected; she’s CEO of New York-based Tutor.com, after all. The company, owned by IAC, lets students connect with tutors in `round-the-clock online sessions. And these days, Ginsberg is exploring ways to change both her company and how students connect with experts who provide educational guidance.

“Tutors are expensive,” she says. “If you’re in New York, parents can spend between $100 and $200 per hour.” Finding a tutor yourself, she says, also presents logistical challenges such as vetting the tutor and deciding where the sessions will be conducted. She believes Tutor.com is more affordable option that gives students online access to carefully picked tutors across country.

The service is used by professionals and students of various ages who want help with challenging topics. That includes homework, career guidance, and overall tutoring. Ginsberg says her company carefully screens its tutors from an array of disciplines, picking only about 10 percent of applicants. Tutor.com is available through subscription plans that range from about $40 to $115 per month. (There’s also a 30 minute test drive available for around $10).

This push by Tutor.com to appeal more to the consumer market comes as education technology gets more and more crowded.

Khan Academy in Mountain View, CA, is a big dog on the scene, offering free content online in subjects ranging from biology to economics. Then there are up-and-comers such as Stoodle, which created a whiteboard app for students to help each other with homework.

With this upswell in the education market, there has also been some churn. Coursekit, for instance, was a graduate of the summer 2011 Techstars New York class. It changed its name to Lore, and then in March got acquired by Noodle Education in New York. Incidentally, Noodle’s founder John Katzman previously founded test prep company The Princeton Review and New York’s 2tor—now called 2U based in Landover, MD.

Tutor.com though is not a brand new name in this space. Started back in 1998, the company was acquired last January by Internet heavyweight IAC. In April, Ginsberg was appointed as CEO. She already had a trove of experience in consumer-facing Web business as CEO of dating site Match.com, another IAC company. Ginsberg says she also has the perspective of a parent who wants to see kids excel in school.

The prior leadership at Tutor.com, she says, focused largely on selling its service to institutions such as universities, libraries, and the military. Under her watch, the company is marketing directly to consumers as well. “As a parent, I couldn’t go out and buy [access],” she says.

Overhauling Tutor.com to be more consumer-oriented was no easy task. “It hasn’t been the most glamorous six months,” Ginsberg says. Part of the plan included adding more expertise to the team. “We had no one focused on Web design, no one focused on just SEO, no one focused on online marketing,” she says.

So Ginsberg brought in a couple of whizzes—the head of technology and the head of product from Match.com—to update the user experience at Tutor.com. In particular, they shared their methodology for developing consumer-facing services.

“Sometimes you guess what works but you really don’t know until you test it,” she says. “Match has a very data-driven culture that’s very test-focused.”

The company has rethought ways to boost its online presence, Ginsberg says, through social channels and search engines. The mobile version of Tutor.com is being revamped, she says, since that is a prime way to connect with kids. Tutor.com also retooled its online classrooms to make the flow easier to navigate, she says.

The new strategy, she says, opens up Tutor.com’s opportunities, but the company has not abandoned its roots. Right now, about one-third of the company’s business comes from sessions on college-level math, science, and similar classes, Ginsberg says. She sees a chance to help more parents find individual tutors for their kids. The business hosts 5,000 to 7,000 sessions on an average night.

The right balance of scaling up and individualized service, she believes, will help Tutor.com compete in this flourishing sector. “There’s some tech players who say `Watch a video,’ or do things for free; that’s a different model from us,” Ginsberg says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.