On the up · 11 March 2016

TutorCruncher: How accidental intrapreneurship lead to a new business which is shaking up an industry

TutorCruncher co-founder Malachy Guinness

After spending five years developing an in-house invoicing and timesheet platform for his tutoring agency, Malachy Guinness wanted to save other companies the hassle – and in doing so created another successful business.

The software offering – which combines invoicing, payroll, scheduling and management tools – was initially developed by Guinness and his business partners for their tutoring agency Bright Young Things in order to reduce the admin associated with the company so they could focus on customer service.

In an industry which was still dominated by agencies spending hours turning paper timesheets into manually created invoices, the potential for disruption was clear.

“We built something which allowed us to spend all our time speaking to clients, and probably saved us three members of staff – suddenly we were able to run far more efficiently than other tutoring companies,” said Guinness.

“But from the point of view of Bright Young Things, it was distracting and expensive to create – we were spending £50,000 a year on development,” he added. So in 2013 Guinness and his co-founders began to offer the platform, TutorCruncher, to other agencies in their industry, before jettisoning it off as a separate firm altogether – an idea which modernised their industry as well as helping them recoup their investment.

The collaboration didn’t stop there, either – TutorCruncher now shares office space in Victoria with another tutoring agency, as well as the firm it grew out of. “There is no need for competition in this industry,” Guinness explained. “What’s sensitive? Perhaps your client list and your tutors. But it’s a big market and most agencies are quite small – many only work with 40 or 50 families.  The real competitive advantage is your brand, and no one can take that away from you.”

Growth so far has been predominantly organic: “We’re getting around ten sign ups a day with very little marketing. To date TutorCruncher has mainly been used by agencies, but last year we allowed individual freelancers to sign up and now we’ve got 10,000 monthly users,” said Guinness.

Only around 150 of these users are paying to use the product – but its founder is confident that they will become paying customers in time as his platform helps them grow their businesses. ”Like most Software-as-a-Service (Saas) platforms, the cost of providing it to additional customers is very low,” he explained, adding: “SaaS is always going to be a slow sell though – that’s the challenge of this business.”

He now has his sights set on other industries, starting with childcare and nannying, but with many additional opportunities further afield too through the less industry specific TimeCruncher offering. “To date it’s been mainly used by agencies, but it could be useful to anyone who needs to do multidirectional invoicing, anything that is timesheet based and charged at a fixed rate,” Guinness explained.

Further international expansion is on the cards for the company, following tentative steps into foreign markets. TutorCruncher is currently available in French, German, Cantonese and Greek versions – though 60 per cent of the company’s clients are UK-based.

The biggest growth challenge that Guinness is currently facing is trying to expand into the  rapidly expanding US market ­– where private tuition is a $7bn industry. “We’re currently trying to sell software from London to the states, which is difficult – we are trying to find a partner over there to work with,” he explained.

And the original product is still evolving too, with the TutorCruncher team constantly developing new features. “We’ve just added a location mapping feature which can help tutors schedule their lessons better by working out how long it will take to travel between them,” he said.

In keeping with the company’s mission to open the industry up for collaboration, the feature was requested by one user and has now been rolled out for everyone to use – and It is this attitude that Guinness is most proud of.

“For me personally, the high point of creating TutorCruncher is that it’s forced the industry to mature,” he said. “In every other industry people sit down and have coffee together – tutoring should be no different, and I’m glad to be part of that process.”

As a non-tech co-founder of a technologically driven business, Guinness believes that having an in-house person who does have those competencies is invaluable. “Our CTO Samuel owns a significant share of the company, and without him life wouldn’t be easy,” he explained.

He also advised entrepreneurs who are looking at shaking up their own industry in a similar way to “keep it simple”, adding: “No one wants complicated-looking systems – keep that in mind when you’re adding features, and focus your energy on where there is real value to be added. Our clients’ purpose is to provide great education – the administration isn’t an important part of that, so we need to make it as effortless as possible.”

To find out how technology could help your micro business grow, check out this guide.

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Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

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