They have established their presence in Slovakia and Czech Republic followed by a successful entry on both German and Austrian markets. Now they are improving their product and plan to expand to new countries in 2016. A matchmaking platform for tutors and students and its co-founder Juraj Svincak.
Let´s start lightly. Recently you appeared in Forbes´ 30 under 30 2016 list. What does it feel like?
It is worth to mention, that everything is done by hands-on approach of the whole team. All team members are younger than 30.
If you had one sentence to explain meet’n’learn project, what would you say?
Meet’n’learn is a matchmaking platform for tutors and students, just select a subject and city and we will provide you available tutors.
What is your unique value proposition when compared to competition?
We are both experienced from commission based marketplaces and we have seen all the difficulties related to business model. We decided for a different business model, so meet’n’learn is a pure matchmaking platform.
Could you describe the steps that led you to meet’n’learn? What was the first idea and what it became in reality?
We have seen inefficiency in process how tutors were looking for new students. Tutors were posting their offers to classifieds websites more times per day, just to be sure their listing will be visible. It was pretty time consuming and parents or students did not have a chance to recognize reputation of person advertising.
So the idea did not change at all during the process. How do you secure the reputation of the person advertising?
The idea is more or less the same, but the product has changed a lot, but maybe it is not visible from the first sight. Nevertheless our business model and payment method have changed a few times. We focused a lot on quality of profiles and leads. It is extremely important to secure as much details as possible about the student request and it is the same on the tutors´ side. We are evaluating activity of the tutors, collecting feedbacks and measuring overall quality of the user profile – response time, response rate, etc.
In 2014 you unsuccessfully tried to become part of Wayra Prague. However, you were given a chance to join Wayra Family in Munich with 40K EUR seed investment. What did the era looked like? What was the difference between Prague and Munich? Why do you think they were fond of your idea in Germany but not that much in Prague?
The pitch day in Prague was a 2 days event. We had good feedback after the first day but it turned out the next day we were not able to explain our business model properly to jury members. At least we had valuable feedback for the future. We realized that the combination of EdTech and marketplace is extremely hard compared to e-commerce or SaaS models. We have to speak with people who have need for our service or deep understanding of business. That was the case how we got to Wayra Munich, the director of Academy was looking for tutors for his kids and recognized the simplicity of the product so we had a chance to pitch again in Munich.
In retrospect, what do you think was the most important or crucial when pitching? Do you maybe have a general advice?
It depends from project to project. In our case it was important to show there is a market and need for service. As I mentioned above it works great especially when we are dealing with somebody who is a parent and experienced the situation before.
What were the lessons you learnt as a member of Munich´s Wayra?
It was like an MBA degree but in real life. We learnt how hard it is to find and hire right team members, deal with legal issues and we had a chance to share knowledge and contacts with other, from my point of view, top founders. Six out of six teams from our cohort received further investment, one was acquired by Rocket Internet.
What have been the biggest challenges you faced? How big and strong the competition has been in Germany and Austria?
Users are really sensitive to privacy and much more demanding. It is hard to explain by words, everything needs to be aligned with law and transparent. Try to check Google street view in DE as example.
There is a huge demand for tutoring in DE and AT but for some reason the business has been operated by offline tutoring institutes for ages. You can see a new startup in field of online tutoring on „daily basis“ but due to some complexity of the business, they do not survive. Tutoring is still a location based service so there are many small local players on both markets.
Amusing street view I must say. How did you cope with the privacy issues?
First of all, it is important to say we were not dealing with privacy issues, but feedback from users helped us adjust the product according to specific requirements. We developed a privacy tab for users. They can setup visibility of profiles in search engines, full names are not visible, etc.
What is the status quo of meet´n´learn these days (eg. how big the team is, how many users do you have, what does the business model look like)?
We are team of 6 based in Berlin, Vienna and Slovakia. We have identified the best channels for tutor acquisition and our biggest focus right now is on promoting meet’n’learn towards students/parents. Our business model is very easily comparable to dating sites, you can create a profile for free, but you need a subscription in order to get in touch with students or to get more visibility.
Can you reveal any plans for the near future? Maybe a new investment ahead or a new market?
There are lot of challenges ahead. We are improving quality of service and the whole matchmaking process – we think this is an ongoing process which will never stop. Of course, we have to work hard in order to improve market share in DE and AT. We want to expand to 2-3 new countries in 2016 and we realized it is extremely important to release a mobile app for our users.
If you think of Slovakia, what product, service or project comes to your mind first?
They made it:)
If you are in the picture of Slovak startup ecosystem, where do you see the greatest potential and what are some challenges we need to face?
There is no doubt there are great people with technology background in Slovakia, comparing to lack of top sales and business development guys. Our team also has space to improve in this area.
You are located in Berlin right now – one of the centres of European startup world. How would you describe the atmosphere in there?
It would be really time consuming to join all the events, but it is easier to meet the right contacts there. Costs for living in Berlin are very similar to Bratislava and sometimes I have a feeling you can hear more English than German.
Can you compare Slovak and German startup ecosystem? In terms of skills, projects, ideas, potential, capital, etc.
It is a completely different world. Founders are more ambitious with „drive“, there are much more VCs and angel investors which we have never heard of before and of course there is Rocket Internet and Axel Springer.
What has been recently the most interesting project you can think of in Germany?
I am always impressed by new Rocket and Axel Springer companies, but the most interesting projects are ProGlove – and Number26.
If a Slovak startup would like to „attack“ German market, what 2,3,5 hints would you give?
Find a local person with great network, adjust the product according to the local standards and run the extra mile for your customer.
Could you go deeper in the explanation of “product according to the local standards”? What are those?
It is almost mandatory to have implemented a 3rd party rating system like ekomi.de. Lot of users are doing research about the company before registration, so it is really common to see “meet´n´learn erfahrungen(experience)” in search engine queries. You have also an option to ask other 3rd party companies for a test and an evaluation of your service.
Another interesting topic is the methods for online payments. Credit cards are very unique. Banks are issuing mostly EC (electronic cash) cards. Those are assigned directly to your IBAN, so there are different payment method providers for online payments. Standard credit cards are not even accepted by the biggest retailers like Lidl.
Photos: Juraj Svincak