In recent years, social enterprises have been thriving. As of 2019, there were approximately 70,000 such non-profit companies in the UK, making up one of the most innovative portions of the economy, and the sector is expanding. Contributing to this growth is start-up EasyA, a not-for-profit tutoring company that focuses on providing problem-focused help to students on demand. Since its founding in 2019, EasyA’s app has built a base of several thousand users and has since become completely free for all users. To find out more, Ben Blackburn sat down with founders Phil and Dom Kwok to discuss their experience founding EasyA and their visions for the future.
When EasyA was founded in 2019, it entered a large market of existing tutoring companies, but Phil and Dom are quick to point out that EasyA is different. “What we decided when we built EasyA was really to start with solving the problem, rather than just trying to build out another tutoring platform,” Phil tells me. So, instead of starting with an online catalogue of tutors, Phil and Dom started with the question or problem the student was struggling with. “We really started from the beginning, which was being stuck on a question, and not having somebody there who you could ask,” say Phil. “EasyA allows you to just take a picture of a question with your app, then you will get connected with a tutor on the other end who can help within minutes.”
More recently, EasyA made its services free for all users, a point that both men are clearly particularly proud of, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the generosity of their tutors. “It’s all volunteer power,” Phil explains, “really tapping into everyone’s sense of collective good.” Many of these volunteer tutors are university students, and Phil thinks this is no accident. “I think we’ve all been in that position where we’re a student and we’re stuck on a question,” he says. “That really resonates with a lot of university students, and a lot of recent graduates as well.”
Of course, this is not to say Phil and Dom played no part. What EasyA expects of its tutors helps tap into their generosity. As Dom tells me, “it really is just a matter of going online whenever you’re free, helping out with a couple of questions here and there, and then going offline when you’ve had enough.” Indeed, this seems to be a large part of EasyA’s success. “It’s really core to what we’re doing,” Dom adds “we make it as effortless as possible for students looking to get help, but also for those looking to help out.” By demanding very little from their volunteers, it seems, EasyA makes more of the human spirit than they could otherwise.
As the interview progresses, Phil and Dom’s passion becomes ever clearer, and this passion was crucial when founding EasyA. I decide to delve deeper into their motivations. “There was really this problem that I had been seeing and had been latent since I was doing my GCSEs,” says Phil, explaining why he decided to give up his job to start EasyA. “We decided that this is a problem we should solve once and for all.” However, even if making the decision was easy, taking that critical first step was, unsurprisingly, daunting. Dom was particularly aware of the downsides as he had to leave a well-paid job in finance “One of the nice things about working at a company is that there’s always someone to turn to for the right answer whereas when you do your own thing you really don’t have anyone to ask.” But that was not enough to stop them. “When we decided to work on this solution, we were pretty steadfast about knowing that this is something we’re really passionate about, something that we really want to solve.” Says Phil. “I think that made the decision a lot easier.”
Now, almost two years later, EasyA is looking to the future. The initial minimum viable product that Phil and Dom built only offered help with maths, but now they are ready to move beyond that. “Our core goal is really to support any subject and any students across the world over the next ten years,” says Dom. Still, he admits that won’t happen all at once. “Immediately, we’re looking to add support for other sciences then, hopefully towards the end of the year, humanities and languages.” This is particularly important for Phil and Dom because they have seen the good EasyA can do, both first-hand and through the data. A recent impact study, Dom tells me, showed that just one term of using EasyA improves a student’s performance by half a grade on average. With success like that, it is no wonder that they are keen to expand.
But for their plans to be successful, they need to recruit new tutors, an exercise that wasn’t helped by the pandemic. “One of the ways that we’ve really tried to build communities on campus is by holding events but obviously, it’s been a bit hard with coronavirus,” says Dom. Instead, EasyA resorted to virtual events like coffee mornings and drinks nights, which seem to have been met with some success. Nevertheless, I could tell that Phil and Dom were excited to be able to host in person events again. “We were actually in Oxford just a couple of weeks ago and down in Cambridge as well,” Dom tells me, “just meeting with everyone, having lunch with them, and hearing their thoughts on how we can improve the experience.” It’s through this sense of community that EasyA hopes to encourage people to volunteer, facilitating the expansion they have in mind. Whether or not the expansion is a success, Phil and Dom’s achievement is already remarkable. As a startup in a world where over half of startups fail within the first two years, EasyA has survived and thrived, helping students in a way other tutoring services can’t. In conversation with Phil and Dom, however, their success is easier to explain as their passion and determination becomes abundantly clear. With these dedicated founders, and no doubt a portion of good fortune, there is a very real possibility of EasyA becoming a unique and valuable part of the tutoring landscape in the long-term.
If you would like to get involved with EasyA as a tutor, you can fill in this online form.