- “Let me get this straight. You gave up your career as a lawyer to tutor kids?”
- “You cannot focus on giving back until you’ve made enough money first.”
- “This will never work.”
Add a quizzical look, a nonplussed tone, and a sprinkle of judgment, and you’ve nailed the typical reactions I initially received from peers when they learned about my decision to shift gears from business litigation to create a tutoring company that built giving back into its business model.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking: why on earth would you consider giving up such a tug-at-your-heartstrings, make-you-feel-good-inside job of aggressively suing and staunchly defending businesses for a living?
Well, after six years of working with some amazing people, honing my critical thinking skills, fortifying my work ethic within a 6-minute-increment billable hour system, and increasing my daily coffee intake by at least three-fold, I was ready to find something that was more personally fulfilling and meaningful.
So I rolled up my sleeves, traded my briefcase and BlackBerry (note to Gen Z: no, that’s not a fruit) for a backpack and pencil case, pulled a Christina Aguilera and went back to basics.
The idea came naturally to me, as I had started tutoring in fifth grade & continued throughout middle school, high school, and college. As one of nine people on the planet who actually enjoys taking standardized exams (yes, I was clearly the popular kid in school), I decided to get back into the game by teaching the gamut of acronyms, including the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), ACT (American College Testing), GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), GRE (Graduate Record Examination), LSAT (Law School Admission Test), CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test), and, yes, even the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery that, mercifully for me, did not include any feats of physical strength).
Well, students referred me to other students, and the requested subjects, grade levels, and number of clients increased until I finally realized that, as much as I loved my corner office gig at the local Starbucks or Panera Bread, it was time, as Bachman-Turner Overdrive says, to start takin’ care of business, every day. I expanded our team to include academic rockstars in specialized subjects with more collective degrees than a thermometer, and soon we were tutoring virtually every subject and grade level out there. And just like that, My Private Professor, LLC was born.
At the nascent (SAT word!) stage of the business, it was not lost on me that we were providing personalized academic support to give a competitive edge only to students whose families could afford to pay for extra help. Meanwhile, students without the means or resources to benefit from individualized support would be at a disadvantage in this privileged academic marathon. This disparity was even more pronounced for me as I had become actively involved in some educational nonprofits and youth-focused philanthropic endeavors at the same time that MPP was growing.
I saw the paradox of volunteering and donating to support educational resources for youth in underserved communities on the one hand, and getting paid to provide high-quality tutoring from top tutors across the country to help students with means on the other hand.
After much thought, I decided to pull a Joey Tribbiani from Friends and put my hands together to combine my two passions of educational support and giving back. Why not create a tutoring platform that provides exceptional tutoring in all subjects and earmarks a portion of each hour to support resources for students in underserved communities? That sounded like a win-win to me.
So I built an educational services company around the following seven principles:
Step aside, Olympic committee – the bar we set for our tutors is even higher. We are very selective of who gets onto our team, and vet tutors from top schools across the country with the expertise, experience, and passion to help students succeed. Our rule of thumb is that every tutor on the platform is someone with whom we would be happy to have our own children work.
Mad props to Aretha Franklin. If we take good care of our tutors, they will take good care of our clients. By encouraging our tutors to set their own rate and availability, our team is incentivized to provide our clients with the best service.
We provide more support (and coverage) than Victoria Secret with exceptional customer service for each and every client, whether that’s an individual student or a 2,000+ employee company. For us, size doesn’t matter.
When it comes to our website, we took a page out of the Hombres’ playbook and just let it all hang out. You don’t need to create an account, speak with a sales agent, or give us your kidney to see the rates, videos, profiles, and availability of all of our tutors. Families should be in charge of who they feel would be the best fit for their student; hiding access and information behind the curtains should only be left to the Wizard of Oz.
You’re gonna like the way you learn. I guarantee it (thanks, George Zimmer).There’s no need to encumber you with long-term contracts and prepayment plans. We’re confident that our clients will like our services enough to want to book again. And in the incredibly rare case that, like Angelica Schuyler, you’re not satisfied, you won’t be charged.
- Adaptability and Creativity.
Like Pascal in Tangled, we are constantly evolving to meet the needs of our students in this ever-changing environment. When schools closed last spring, we offered free online office hours. When summer camps shut down, we launched summer classes to keep students entertained and learning. When working parents struggled to juggle work and online schooling in the fall, we partnered with companies to provide free tutoring to employees’ children.
- Educational Equity.
By earmarking 10% of the net profits from each tutoring hour to support academic resources for students in underserved communities, we can do our part to ensure that all students can get access to the help they need to succeed. While we vary the ways in which we give back (from offering need-based tutoring grants, to sponsoring summer classes for nonprofit organizations, to making donations directly to educational nonprofits), our commitment to giving is steadfast.
As Montell Jordan says (at least 20 times within 4 minutes), this is how we do it.
To all of our students, we truly appreciate the opportunity to be part of your educational journey.
To all of our tutors, it is a privilege to work with each of you.
To all of the tsk-tskers, we are grateful to be able to continue to prove you wrong.
Sona Shah, Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of MPP
Not so young, scrappy, and always hungry. 🙂