MARKETPLACE: Venezuelan-Born Entrepreneur Miguel Kudry Finds Success With HelpHub, an Instant Tutoring Network
Marketplace is a new Latin Post feature profile series about Latino entrepreneurs who have successfully turned their ideas into thriving enterprises. From unsung startups to prominent businesses, we spotlight the dynamic men and women who founded them.
Miguel Kudry is aware of the irony, on the face of it, that he is the founder of an educational startup.
Growing up in Venezuela, he had trouble meeting expectations at school. "I should have spent some more time getting better grades," said Kudry, in an exclusive interview with Latin Post. "You should get good grades. It's... it's not good," he stuttered bashfully, "... failing."
When asked if he literally failed a class or just didn't do well, he said, "Oh yes, of course. Definitely. A lot of them," he laughed.
"I would have been my very first client," he added, transforming that initial irony into a lesson in life's logic.
Kudry is the 22-year-old founder of Vancouver-based startup HelpHub, a virtual tutoring platform poised to disrupt traditional offline institutions and transform online education into something more personalized -- more human.
HelpHub could be described as a mix of LinkedIn, Yelp, Google Hangouts and eBay. But at its core, it's an instant marketplace connecting tutors to students in need of academic assistance outside of class.
Students can search for help based on criteria like subject, location, spoken language and connect with tutors in real-time without scheduling anything in advance. Tutors set their own rates (HelpHub charges a 15 percent commission from each transaction) and availability.
Kudry got the idea while still a student at Douglas College, studying for a midterm the night before and struggling with one concept. "When you're an international student, you don't really have a lot of people to talk to when you need help," he explained. But he didn't want to sign up for a traditional, weekly tutoring session. Besides, it was too late for that anyway.
"I wanted to just ask one question -- that was all I needed to understand the material and move on," he said.
In an age where social media allows people from around the world to connect with each other at any time, and where instantaneous communication shapes the habits of young digital natives, Kudry found a way to bridge the gap between the human-centric, but rigid, tutoring system of the 20th century and the expectations of students of the "now generation."
HelpHub enables students to find tutors on any subject "whenever they need it and wherever they are." Besides being instant, HelpHub's online nature means it's far more flexible to meet students' needs. "Whatever they need help on... whether it's a single question that should only take five minutes for a tutor to walk them through, all the way to hour-long, recurrent tutoring sessions every week."
Kudry has always found his niche outside of traditional institutions.
"I was always thinking about my projects while at school," said Kudry of his teenage years in Venezuela. "I never really spent too much time trying to study and sit down at my desk and read through a textbook. I was just focused on my own thing and my own projects."
That explains the bad grades. And though Kudry's school life might have been rocky, he excelled in his self-directed extracurricular activities, which involved burying his head in a laptop for hours at a time, teaching himself how to code. "I would talk to people and look at other peoples' code, and try to understand it and then build my own. I built a lot of little projects along the way that really helped me learn," he said.
"Little projects" is a bit of a modest euphemism for what he was actually doing: Building startups in his bedroom.
Despite his grades, Kudry's parents saw potential in his personal ambitions, even though "they never really understood what I did," according to Kudry. "My Mom bought me my first hosting for my very first project. We went to the bank together and she paid for... like, 25 Megs of hosting. Eventually, she didn't have to pay for it at all because I started to make money."
Kudry started his first moneymaking "project" at the ripe age of 14. It was an image-sharing web app with social media dimensions called Ondalmagen. Since then, Kudry has experimented with several startups, like Sellter, a commerce app for Twitter, and Shopgram, a location-based classifieds web app, but he's since moved on from all of them. He built them mostly "for the fun of it," anyway.
Already a serial entrepreneur of sorts and now with his college degree in business management, HelpHub has become serious business for Kudry -- and for the people who have encountered it.
Kudry began building HelpHub while still a student, and in its two-year lifespan, it's developed from a phone-based directory to a full-on social media marketplace and virtual tutoring platform.
(Photo : HelpHub)
It now incorporates instant messaging, video calling, file sharing, privacy safeguards, tutor credential verification, secure credit card payments, tipping, a 30-day refund option, and a unique instructor ranking system, Tutor Karma, that rates tutors on their responsiveness. More recently, the company launched its first iOS app in January, and Kudry divulged to Latin Post that a new screen-sharing feature is on its way soon.
In those same two years, Kudry attracted the attention and support of Sora Capital, an investment firm headed by NHL retiree-turned financier Paul Reinhart and Greg Hope, former Microsoft executive and Partner Architect of the $20 billion-a-year Windows Server and Tools platform. Both now play an advisory role on HelpHub's Board of Directors, after making an initial investment of $250,000 last year.
Even the organizations HelpHub threatens to disrupt are seeing the benefits of going online through the platform. In late November of 2014, University of British Columbia student services group the Alma Mater Society announced that its partnership with Kudry's startup had generated dramatic instant growth. "HelpHub helped us grow our paid tutoring operations by 600 percent in a single month," reported the organization's spokesperson. One tutor managed to make more than $2800 through the site that month.
Around the same time, from September until the end of last year, HelpHub itself saw 400 percent growth, boasting tutors using the site from over 700 schools and in over 60 countries. Perhaps the rising cost of college and the real possibility of of making good money right from home, tutoring in their spare time, is helping the supply side of HelpHub's equation.
(Photo : HelpHub)
The UBC experiment -- and a desire to aggressively expand HelpHub through more partnerships with traditional institutions -- might be why Kudry shies away from terms like "disruptive" and "revolutionary" to describe HelpHub, gravitating instead towards language like "enhance" and "enable."
"Online education will not replace traditional (education)," he cautioned, "not anytime soon, at least... computers are not good enough to go without the human touch." Kudry likewise said he didn't expect HelpHub to replace "the more traditional tutoring options that are out there," reminding us that HelpHub also facilitates conventional, scheduled in-person tutoring sessions. "I think we really complement that very well."
In the same vein, he doesn't see HelpHub as a challenge to free online educational organizations like Khan Academy or Coursera. Instead, HelpHub will enhance, and be enhanced, by them. He sees a cooperative future where traditional classes and tutors take advantage of new educational resources online, with HelpHub in the role of connecting students to the extra instruction they may need, online and off. "Because," he said, "at the end of the day, we all want to win."
Diplomacy aside, and though he insists he's currently focused only on the academic sphere, one gets the sense that Kudry has thought about the logical extension of HelpHub's platform -- beyond academic tutoring into a broader knowledge-for-hire online marketplace.
"We're all good at something. Everybody can help people at something. If we can tap into that thing that you're good at, and somebody can just ask you a question, you could go on your coffee break and answer that question from your smartphone," said Kudry. "This could really help everybody ... to tap into the world's knowledge would really benefit everybody."