Startup Spotlight – BITE-SIZED ONLINE TUTORING

Siplo, an Ed-tech startup, is changing online tutoring by placing the student at the center of the equation

Startups tend to enamor the imagination of the public as companies with billion-dollar potential. But most startups fizzle out after a few years in business. Either you grow or you die. That’s the nature of the game. To play it thick skin is a mandatory requirement.

The startups listed in this section are new and still in the infant stage. Some of them have won accolades in glitzy startup competitions, some are opening up un-ventured markets and some think they have just the right idea.

This is their story.

Bite-Sized Online Tutoring

Siplo, an Ed-tech startup, is changing online tutoring by placing the student at the center of the equation

Siplo is an education-technology company that specializes in on-demand online tutoring with a focus on providing quick clarifications or assistance for students.

The Opportunity: Private tuition is an inescapable reality in Sri Lanka’s secondary education system. Students preparing for the main secondary school public exams, Ordinary Level and Advanced Level, and those pursuing professional qualifications seek private tuition service providers.

However, the private tuition industry is limited to the singular channel of classroom teaching. The online space for private tuition is yet unexplored in Sri Lanka. With high internet penetration and a computer-literate population, online teaching has the potential to transform the industry.

The Epiphany: “Many university colleagues who were providing private tuition to supplement their income found it difficult to allocate enough time for study commitments as a result,” says Buddhika Jayawardhana, founder of Siplo. What distinguishes Siplo is its ‘on-demand’ approach. He observed a vacuum for students who wanted quick clarifications for a problem or guidance on a singular topic without going through the hassle of a full-length class. “I want to bridge this gap,” he says.

The Execution: Through Siplo’s web platform, teachers and students can conduct video or audio live streamed study sessions with the aid of an online whiteboard. Students can register for a class in the allocated time periods set by a teacher.

“Screening teachers is the most important thing” says Jayawardhana. Teachers who subscribe to the platform are interviewed by the company to ensure that they meet teaching quality standards. “The whole service depends on it,” he says. Siplo categorizes teachers into three sections: top rankers in A/L, university students and school teachers, and industry professionals. It has recruited the students who scored the highest marks in the Arts and Commerce streams as teachers on the Siplo platform. The fee for each class is determined by the teacher.

Taking It Forward: The service was launched in December 2016. Currently, the platform has 150 teachers and 400 registered students. The company has also partnered with the creators of Guru.lk by Headstart. “Under the Guru.lk umbrella, we expect to get the much-needed marketing boost to scale our company.”

It’s planning to enter the high-potential professional accounting qualification tuition market soon. Recently, the company collaborated with a private education institute, Edulink Campus, to extend its services to Cambodia through Siplo’s online platform.

Challenges and Insights: Most of Siplo’s classes are scheduled for either 8pm in the evening or the wee hours of the morning at around 4am. “Apparently, these times are the most convenient for both students and teachers,” says Jayawardhana. At the time of launching, the company expected high traffic from Colombo, but was surprised to find that students from the Galle and Matara districts made up a majority of early adopters of the service.

At commencement, the company also miscalculated what subjects will attract the most number of students. This led to a mismatch in student demand and teacher supply. “We thought subjects like math and physics that would generate the highest demand. In contrast, it was Arts subjects, especially languages like Japanese, or subjects where teachers were hard to find, that were the most sought after on the platform.”