TutorVista – Ganesh Krishnan

© Ganesh Krishnan

Ganesh Krishnan, a serial entrepreneur with four successful ventures, is the Founder and CEO of TutorVista and CEO of SMARTHINKING. He has been featured in several media, including The Economist, Fortune, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and BBC World. Krishnan is a post-graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, and has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Delhi University. TutorVista is the top ranking paid tutoring service for students K-12 and into college. The Company has grown rapidly with over 5 million online sessions. SMARTHINKING a higher education tutoring provider, serves nearly 500 post-secondary institutions, including four-year schools, community colleges and for-profit institutions. Pearson, owner of the Financial Times and book publisher Penguin, has got a substantial stake in TutorVista.

Interviewed by Stephen M. Thompson, Ph.D.

OpenBeast: Could you describe yourself with three adjectives?

1) Passionate and Driven, 2) Enterprising and 3) Impatient.

Krishnan's inspiration cartoon (Source: unknown)

This whole idea of online tutoring is a trendsetter. How did TutorVista happen?

TutorVista happened in late 2005 when I was working and ideating my next venture (this is euphemism for being unemployed and unemployable). I had sold my previous venture CustomerAsset to ICICI – India’s largest Bank and after my mandatory one year lock-in was over, I got out and was chilling. Then a cartoon, I had cut out and placed in front of me from a US publication, struck a chord and was the seed behind the idea.

What inspired you into education?

When I then went to the US in late 2005 to meet with a few folks and brainstorm ideas, one thing that stuck me was the amount of debate and anguish that media was portraying in the US on the state of US school education system. That coming from India, especially since I have never lived, studied or worked in the US was very surprising. US produces maximum number of Nobel laureates in the world, US files the highest number of patents every year and the US has perhaps the best higher education institutions in the country and it is the dream of most of the Indian students who can afford it to pursue higher education in the US. For a country of that stature, to struggle in the schools education especially the basic skills of Math and English was unthinkable. According to an OECD survey, US was ranked 29th out of 30 countries in Math and 27th out of 30 countries in Science. This is in complete variance to the status in higher education. So when I delved deeper, I realized this is not because the schools were not good or the teachers were lacking in anyway. It was just that the system does not work. Every state of the union address, the President of the US talks about how he wants to change or reform and improve school education. The school system despite billions of dollars being spent does not meet the needs of any segment of the student population be it the struggling student wanting to get the basics right and move ahead or the good student wanting to excel and get into Ivy league institutions.  Personalized coaching was simply nonexistent or the privilege of the super rich. That is when the idea was given shape.

The practical implications of non face-to-face and off-the-rack online tutoring trend have been receiving mixed reactions and yet you succeeded. What was the one big challenge you faced initially?

Changing consumer behavior is always the toughest challenge. Making people accept that something which has till date been a face to face interaction can be done remotely and equally effectively was a challenge. So inducing a trial session was the first hurdle the fact that we could build technology that could make it simple and easy to try was important.

How did you utilize the social media to market your business and brand?

We benefited a lot from the fact that ours was a revolutionary model that caught the imagination of the media and public. That we could marry Internet, technology and Global tutors to make a service that only super-rich could afford into a service that anyone can conveniently access affordably was a huge draw. That helped us in spreading   the brand through word of mouth publicity.

Describe TutorVista’s proprietary technology?

TutorVista’s technology enables tens of thousands of students connect with Tutors – all working from home globally and undertake real-time, synchronous, live tutoring. In simple words, imagine all the departments and functions you would see in a school or a university. These have been replicated or mimicked in a virtual world through our software platform. The technology is a unified software that is a website, ecommerce platform, a tutoring portal, scheduling engine, payment gateway, subscription management system, tutor payroll and management system, student portal etc. – but all of it done in one integrated platform. We have invested millions of $ in building the same through 50 plus software professionals working on it over the past five years.

What’s next for TutorVista and/or SMARTHINKING? Any initiatives you would like to disclose today?

As we are now part of Pearson, the world’s largest education services company, we are sitting on a unique opportunity to be able to make disruptive innovation in the way the student learns and meets his or her educational goals. This is through the combination of content, personalized educational services and online resources by leveraging emerging trends in the way today’s students like to learn and live. The opportunities Social networking, Games, apps on tablets afford to make learning interesting, contextual and effective is huge. We are working on integrating all the channels to help the student succeed in their educational goals. Through Smarthinking and TutorVista we are working to make personalized education accessible to all sections of the student population.

What are your personal strengths and how did those help in your professional success?

Having started, scaled and monetized four green field ventures, I feel my strength is in spotting / identifying opportunities in areas which are yet unexplored. I am also a die-hard optimist who feels if you get going and try harder, world will conspire to make you succeed. This helps a lot in entrepreneurship. Being basically lazy, I tend to delegate a lot, so always have great teams working with me which ensures success due to their combined strengths. I am good at getting people who are far better than me to work with me!

What are your favorite leisure activities?

I love Tennis and play every day when I am in Bangalore and sometimes even when outside. Last month’s even played at Miami (Hollywood beach) where I was attending Smarthinking/Pearson sales conference. Road trips and Travelling to the hills is another one. I do mentoring and angel investing with start-ups – working with young entrepreneurs on new ideas is something that I enjoy immensely.

Thank you!

To learn more about TutorVista visit their official websites and