The Bright Young Things and TutorCruncher founder shares his opinions on the tutoring industry with The Tutor Website
In 2008, with his business partner Malachy Guinness, Woody Webster set up Bright Young Things, an independent tutoring agency in London. Amongst other bespoke services, the agency specialises in offering high quality private tuition to students for entry into the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Following the success of Bright Young Things, Woody went on to create a new business based around his agency’s management software. Two years later and TutorCruncher is the market leader in tuition agency technology and is used by many of the top tuition agencies in the UK.
We caught up with Woody for a Q&A session following the success of the UK’s first National Tutoring Conference, which he organised.
You’ve shared your start-up story on a few websites before, but to put this Q&A into context, let’s start at the beginning. What was it that led you to start one of the leading tutoring businesses in the UK? What was your inspiration behind the venture?
We understood that school-based teaching wasn’t the only way to learn and pass exams. We realised that focused tuition in a high quality learning environment was not only more effective but also had a growing market of parents looking to give their children the best possible chance of succeeding
In 2013, your second business, TutorCruncher was voted one of the top 100 start-ups of the year. What do you think has led to the success of your unique software?
TutorCruncher has been compared to people who sold shovels in a gold rush. Tutoring companies were cropping up all over the world in this boom in the industry. Bright Young Things had grown to a point that made it hard to grow it any further and we already had the system that we had built for managing our business. We branded the software and showed our competitors and friends who were impressed to say the least. We now license the software to over 100 companies worldwide and we get over 10 enquiries a week.
In February this year, you organised the UK’s First National Tutoring Conference. From the reports I’ve read on some of the attendees blogs, it sounds like the event was a great success. What gave you the idea to organize the conference?
We felt that people in this industry don’t speak to each other enough! Tutoring can be lonely work as you go from family to family without a stable office environment and it’s great to group together and meet other education professionals. We had around 150 people in one room and the atmosphere was great.
What were some of the themes or issues that were raised during the event?
I spoke about the rise of tuition centres. Will Orr-Ewing from KeyStone Tutors discussed the growth in the industry over the last 10 years. We heard from Alex Nikitich from Carfax Education on the internationalization of the market and how the boom was not limited to the UK. The final talk was from Toby Young, author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People and What Every Parent Needs to Know. He inspired us to encourage tutors to do as much volunteer work as they can in free schools, and he entertained us with stories of himself being a pushy parent.
Due to the success of the conference, you’ve organised a second event for the 1st of April called The 11 Plus Conference. Can you tell us a bit about this?
The 11 Plus Conference will be in a similar vein to the National Tutoring Conference. We hope to bring together tutors, teachers, and other professionals who are regularly involved in teaching for the 11 plus exams.
What do you hope The 11 Plus Conference will achieve for the private tutoring industry?
I hope it will help teachers and tutors to share good teaching techniques, interact and learn from other industry professionals. We also hope that it will be a platform for discussion on how the 11 plus can be improved. For example, author and journalist Harry Mount will talk about the sciences and humanities and whether there should be more of a focus on these in exams.
You’re a big advocate of taking steps towards closing the educational gap that exists between schools and private tutoring. What do you see as being the main issues here and what solutions might there be to narrow the gap?
At the National Tutoring Conference we heard from Susannah Hardyman who is doing great things at Action Tutoring to reduce education inequality. She encouraged tutors to volunteer when they can and Toby Young told us how he set up a free school and how we could too.
According to the market research firm Global Industry Analysts, the private tutoring industry is set to surpass $102.8 billion within the next three years. How do you think the industry will change during this time? What do you see as being the future of private tutoring in the UK?
There have been attempts to “uberfy” the tutoring industry by taking out the middle man, but I believe the personal touch of businesses are an important part of getting the right tutor for the job and therefore they will always be around. We have seen the number of businesses in London go from around 5 - 10 to over 150 in the last ten years. I think the next few years will see a lot of these companies reach maturity and we may start to see some mergers and acquisitions.
What advice would you give someone looking to make an investment in the private tutoring industry of today?
I would advise them to look at the team, rather than the product. A good team is the key to building a good business and will go far in the industry.
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