What happens when you’re a sought after SAT tutor who has prepared over a thousand students from around the world?
While most would probably be content with turning away students or jacking up their fees, Suniti Mathur took a different tack: She transformed her one-woman operation into a scalable Ed Tech startup.
Suniti sought help from her two daughters, Sonali and Urvashi, and together they founded TestRocker, a Singapore-based startup offering online SAT preparation through the use of teaching videos complemented by online quizzes, as well as personalized curriculum.
To make it happen, they engaged New York design firm Barrel to create the website, and it shows.
The website has all the latest bells and whistles you would normally in Silicon Valley, making it a great introduction to what the trio calls the ‘TestRocker curriculum’.
The curriculum is based on Suniti’s method of teaching students how to maximize their SAT and ACT scores, refined from over a decade of experience. Lessons are delivered through 1,200 videos, all focused on the SAT. That’s like watching 11 movies back-to-back.
“To put this in perspective, Khan Academy — a company we admire — has about 3,800 videos covering K-12 math, biology, chemistry, physics and so on,” Sonali told SGE via email.
Besides interactive content, a key feature of TestRocker is personalization. Students who join the site for the first time can complete a 70 minutes diagnostic test or a quick checklist that would result in a customized study plan based on their strengths and weaknesses.
How TestRocker’s SAT prep course works:
According to Sonali, having a plan reduces students’ anxieties and boosts their confidence in answering questions. That’s because they would know that they’re adequately prepared.
While startups these days would typically offer a freemium service or a tiered subscriptions scheme, TestRocker has done away with the concept. It still offers the prerequisite free trial, although a six month access to the site will cost parents a one-time fee of USD 699.
The price is steep, which was why Sonali explained that it wasn’t an easy decision. But they went ahead with it because they didn’t want to distract students with payment reminders or shut down the service just because the credit card expired.
“Nor do we want this to be a decision a parent has to make every single month,” she said.
In the 20 days after launching in mid-December, TestRocker has registered some 200 free trials and 20 paid users from Singapore — not including signups globally, which Sonali declined to reveal. That’s USD 14k in revenue right away — a promising start.
Ed Tech startups are the hottest ticket in Silicon Valley right now. Coursera, for instance, has raised USD 22M in venture funding led by KPCB, while Udacity has received USD 15M in Series A funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Charles River Ventures, and Steve Blank. There’s also Khan Academy, a non-profit that received an investment from Bill Gates, and Lynda.com, an online jobs training business that raised USD 103M.
TestRocker is certainly keen to raise money at a time when investor interest in Ed Tech is high. While there are a number of SAT prep software out there, the company believes it can set itself apart with the star tutor’s track record as well as its video-driven approach, which has proven to be effective thanks to these other Ed Tech startups.
This year, TestRocker is pushing to sell at least 1,500 units in Southeast Asia alone, peaking around the May and October SAT test dates. They also plan to unveil their ACT program, an alternative to SAT.
The startup will be expanding their team. Outsourcing is not a permanent solution, so they intend to hire their own development team. They’re also seeking qualified educators to get involved in other verticals, including language classes.
It’ll be nice if Asia has a few successful Ed Tech startups to call its own. Naturally, with the academic center of gravity still situated in the West, Asia’s entrepreneurs can’t leverage on the ability to offer students online access to lectures in a top-flight university like Harvard or Stanford.
They’ll have to find another way. TestRocker, situated right in exam-obsessed Singapore, might just be the ticket.