What impact did you want to make with UniTuition?
Orla: When we were in college there was no place that you could go to get a tutor. Some people stuck up notes. In Ireland now we have 350 tutors around our colleges. So there is now a new breed of tutors who didn’t exist before. Generally they are current students, a recent graduate or a phd student.
What we’re trying to do is to provide the best possible quality tuition that that the college student can get for a very affordable prices. While also paying tutors a much higher rate than they could get in a similar student job. So say working in a shop; so it’s a win win for everyone.
The alternative is for students to go around looking on notice boards spending a lot of time trying to find someone. Typically the kind of person they’d find would be a professional in the field, like an Accountant, who would charge them very high rates, and wouldn’t necessarily know their course material.
As winners of Trinity’s Launchbox you got a trip to Silicon Valley; how was the experience?
Orla: We had already been looking at the Enterprise Ireland Silicon Access program so we were able to tie the two in together. The Silicon Access program sets you up with a mentor and we were able to get introductions to educational stakeholders. People in Universities and Community Colleges in the tutoring centres. Through our own networks we were able to source student focus groups and talk to people who would be tutors over there to see if they have a perspective on what we’re trying to do.
Trinity Launchbox connected us with Stuart Coulson who is an Angel Investor. He introduced us to a few more startups over there. Generally it was great experience; we learned a lot that we couldn’t have just by researching over here. So by actually going out and talking to stakeholders we learned the differences between here (Ireland) and there.
How much does completing accelerators in the right sequence matter?
Sean: Trinity Launchbox, a more junior accelerator for students, was our second accelerator after NDRC launchpad – which is a more advanced accelerator. In NDRC we were only looking at the Irish market and starting to look at the UK market. In Trinity Launchbox we started to focus the strategy on the UK over the summer when operationally we’re not at our busiest time.
It gave us two different networks as well. NDRC has their own contacts and their own network of Angels or general business people who you’d want to meet. While Trinity Launchbox was great for the whole University focus which was our market at the time.
So it doesn’t matter about the order of programs.
Orla: No not at all. We were really lucky with the way it fell. Launchpad ran from March – May, and Launcbox ran from June to the end of August.
How do you think the values of founders influence their approach to managing a startup?
Sean: I think we both take a very collaborative approach in that we want the career for our staff members to be as fruitful and as beneficial as it can be. I try at the end of the week to ask our staff what we could change and what they felt went well and if they’re ok at the end of every day.
I know when I started out my career and in the first company I was in I was rarely asked that. So I think that would be something people would be afraid to voice if they weren’t asked.
Orla: And related to that is also enabling them to grow in whatever way they want. So we would much rather try to provide opportunities to a person to do what the wanted to do within the company rather then have them leave to explore that elsewhere. And we are growing so fast and there’s so much work to do so there really is scope to do that.
Please define what a Great Life means to you:
Sean: working on something you really enjoy but also being able to enjoy outside of work. So having a good work life balance and being able to define that yourself while you’re in a startup is what you make it. You could stay in the office until 10pm every night if you wanted to, but that’s not what you’re in it for. You want to be able to enjoy both sides of things.
Orla: In my opinion it’s your work life enabling you to be autonomous in your other areas of life as well. Even though it can be long hours and hard work and there’s obviously the sort of stress that goes with that, so far, I am really enjoying it. And no matter what way it goes, I think it’s what I will do in the long run because it does just give you that control over your own day to day living that does give you a sense of wellbeing that can be stifled a bit when you work for someone else 8 – 8 every day. So I would recommend it.