It’s been said that teaching is an act of love. For teachers who enjoy teaching privately, the proof of that truism is in the hours of extra work they do each week to prepare for the class. Those evening classes in cooking techniques, Spanish conversation and relaxing Hatha yoga come with their own share of after-hours paperwork … as well as student enrollment duties, door-to-door marketing, sales phone calls, student consults about payment schedules, and the many other potential headaches that makes it possible for teachers to offer great courses.
WeTeachMe, a new Melbourne-based company, provides an innovative online method to schedule, promote and manage the booking of private courses. It fills those areas that self-employed teachers often find the most challenging and energy draining, by automating the process from a website that potential students can access freely.
According to co-founder Kym Huynh, the company was launched in December 2012 after some soul-searching reflections by several of its founders.
“One of my co-founders woke up and decided one day that he needed to change the oil in his car. The problem was, he actually wanted someone (else) to teach him how to do it, so he could have that experience. But finding someone who could do that was actually very difficult. So he thought, OK, wouldn’t it be good to connect with someone who could?”
At the same time says Huynh, a friend of his who showed great promise as an artist wanted to start a business, but had no idea how to handle the administrative end of the daunting process.
“I thought, if we could structure something that would help her share her passion, that would be rewarding both intrinsically and financially, then that could be a really powerful message we could send to the community.”
Interactive program for teachers and students
The WeTeachMe concept says Huynh, thrives not only because it fills a niche, but because of the interactive characteristics they’ve been able to build into the platform, and which complement both the teacher and the potential student, such as maintaining a list of students’ interests and preferences, and which of the instructor’s courses are the most attended.
“We found most people were running into the same problems over and over again, such as payment handling, how to market their courses, how to efficiently manage all the admin processes so they could just focus on what they love, which is sharing their knowledge.”
At the same time, the website makes it easier for students to find classes and to network with professionals within their areas of interest. The Melbourne WeTeachMe page for example, provides classes ranging from walking tours to self defense instruction, although its most popular topics generally focus on cooking and the arts. Huynh points out that WeTeachMe is designed to accommodate just about any interest or venue there is, making it suitable for a wide range of student interests. This can be a powerful feature for independent teachers with niche specialties.
The Sharing Economy
The WeTeachMe concept also complements the goals of the sharing economy movement, which Huynh says has been gaining momentum in Melbourne.
“In Australia, what we’re seeing is there is a (shift) in collaborative consumption types of businesses where people share knowledge, people share resources. Rather than focus on the consumption of resources now, which can be seen as a selfish thing, what we see now is we can actually consume resources and share the resources at the same time. At least part of this movement is gaining quite a bit of traction in Australia, particularly with the number of companies launching under this (concept).”
But Huynh says that isn’t the only reason he’s put his support behind WeTeachMe.
“More generally why I work on WeTeachMe, and why I believe in it so much, is that in any instance in an economy where there has been significant improvement or advancement has always been underepinned by a free flow of knowledge and education in the community itself.
“And what we’ve seen is when people in the community are educated and are actively learning, and are actively passionate, are actively curious, what you see is this uplift effect. And now more than ever, we have the opportunity to empower individual members in the community to share their pockets of knowledge.”
United States and Canada markets
Since the launch last year, the four founding members, Cheng Zhu, Martin Kemka, Demi Markogiannaki and Huynh, have realized that there is potential demand for their program not only in Australia (where it has already launched in more than four cities), but in North America. Huynh says he expects they will be able to open business in the U.S. in 2013.
As to cost, Huynh says the company takes a small administrative fee that is incrementally set according to the size of a course fee. A class that costs $50 AU per student for example, has an administrative charge of $2, whereas a class that costs $500 AU per student is charged $10. Huynh says the fees are deliberately kept low to be fair to beginning instructors who are just launching their careers.
“We’re not doing it for the money itself. The reason we’re doing it is essentially changing the way knowledge is shared within our communities.”
He adds that as instructors gain more students and their revenue increases, he hopes that repeat users will keep the fledgling company in mind, and agree to increase their fees. It’s an attitude that is meant to reflect the ethics of the sharing economy, what he calls “paying it forward.”
It will be interesting to see how WeTeachMe fares when it debuts in North America. As one who has taught in both the public and private arenas, this writer can appreciate the challenges of the private marketplace, especially when it comes to teaching something you love to share. WeTeachMe’s first hurdle may be its financial conversion system: At present, fees are calculated in Australian dollars, something that may be a stumbling block to U.S.-based teachers and students.
Still, WeTeachMe offers a service that may be valuable to hard-to-market courses, and makes it easier for teachers who teach engaging courses to focus on what they do best. And that, as Huynh points out, gets to the core of what a functioning sharing economy is all about.
Images courtesy of WeTeachMe’s Facebook page.