Jono Field signed contracts with his first two tutors on the bonnet of his dad’s car in 2015. Now he and his partner Kosta Kappatos have 90 tutors and 150 clients on their books. The UCT third-year business science students are growing Get Smart Tutors (Pty) Ltd on what they learn in class − and a belief in building community.
There are days that Field (22) and Kappatos (21) pinch themselves.
Not long out of school, and a year and a bit shy of completing their BBusSc degrees, the duo own a registered company that’s growing steadily while helping scores of other students – mostly from UCT – to become financially independent. It’s also filling a niche in education support.
“Occasionally, we stop and realise, hey, this is actually happening,” says Field, who manages the clients. Kappatos manages the tutors.
Their business has been created on a client-focused model that provides tailored tutoring and mentoring to learners from grades 1 to 12 in every subject, including French, German and Greek.
Their aim is not to simply improve maths marks or make homework easier, but to approach each client’s educational journey in an integrated way. It’s the value proposition that they believe sets them apart.
“We work with educational psychologists, teachers, remedial teachers and parents to build a picture of each child and their needs. We also work together with the schools’ educational support units,” says Field.
Picture of a journey
“We’re not just logging tutoring hours, but compiling a comprehensive educational profile of each child and tracking their educational experience – an overview of what the child’s journey has been like.
“The first things I ask the parents are: Is your child an introvert or an extrovert? Do they have learning disabilities? What are their interests? What makes them tick? What are their aspirations?”
Whether the child is an introvert, sports mad, has attention deficit disorder or dreams of becoming a musician, the profile helps Field and Kappatos match tutors and learners.
“There’s a major demand for what we offer (We learnt supply and demand in Ecos 1 at UCT!),” says Kappatos. “There are countless tutoring businesses, but it’s the personal side that sets us apart. We want to build educated, successful and socially aware human beings. A big part of our focus is to understand the unique individual we work with.”
Shared vision and values
Field is a former head boy of neighbouring South African College Schools (SACS). He met Kappatos, a graduate of Somerset College, at UCT. They were drawn by the same values and vision. Neither is shy of hard work.
Kappatos’s day starts at around 04:00. It’s a family thing, he says. He’s been scooping ice creams in his father’s business, Gelato Mania, since the age of 13.
“The retail environment helped me immensely in my degree. I learnt a lot of skills behind the ice-cream fridge!”
But the long hours didn’t appeal to him.
“The push was always to get a degree. Business makes me tick. I love it. When you do what you love, you’re enacting change.”
“When you do what you love, you’re enacting change.”
Field’s life-changing experience came in grade 11. After a rugby injury sidelined him, he turned to academics and outreach: Domestic Animal Rescue Group (DARG), The Emma Animal Rescue Society (TEARS), the Maitland Cottage Home ... And then in grade 11 a couple of things came together for him. He collaborated with a learner who was a recipient of a SACS Opportunity Fund grant, who’d come to the school from Steenberg High School in Retreat.
“He told me about his junior school, Floreat Primary School, which desperately needed assistance.”
Field mobilised the SACS community and for 18 months drove an awareness and fundraising campaign to gather stationery, food, clothing, sports equipment and other support for the school.
“That’s when I realised my passion lay in education, and through education, uplifting those around us.”
It was a heady call for a 17-year-old, but education and upliftment became the foundations of Get Smart Tutors.
“From day one, the vision was to combine education, entrepreneurship and outreach. Currently, we’re successfully doing all three.
“My primary driver is to enrich the lives of others with a special focus on those who have less. SACS shaped me; it created an awareness that there are so many with so little. You’re judged not by where you come from, but by what you stand for and how you help those around you.”
Through the school, they signed their first few clients and things gathered momentum.
Tutor one, mentor one
But there is an added dimension to their business: mentoring. It’s not the most profitable part, says Field, but by far the most important aspect of it.
“We provide learners from all backgrounds with the very best tutoring and mentoring. Our goal is to bridge the inequality gap, one learner at a time.”
This includes opportunity-funded students, who receive bursaries from the city’s top schools and other sponsors, but sometimes not the additional educational and emotional support they need.
Says Field: “We take care of the things that are overlooked. Their fees are paid, uniforms, books and togs provided, but when mom works five days a week at a different location every day and dad is not in the picture and the boys are staying in hostel, or commuting a long way to school each day, they have no halfway house.”
“We fill that gap,” adds Kappatos. “We help them with subject choices. We help them find their voice and become a sounding board for them. We’ve seen phenomenal results.”
“With these students, their tutor might be the closest many will get to a role model in their lives. So, this work has opened our eyes to so much more,” says Field.
The events at UCT over the past two years have also shaped their thinking about change through education.
“We’d like to call on our opportunity-funded counterparts at university to bring them onboard so that the process goes full circle.
“We want to attract tutors and mentors who understand what it’s like to go on that journey; what it’s like to experience adversity. In growing a diverse offering, we want to formalise the mentor programme for opportunity-funded kids.”
To embrace growth, they’re developing an app that will help them reach more students and cement the relationship between the tutor, the pupil and those who contribute to the child’s educational experience.
The app will automate the administrative side, allowing the partners to develop the company and approach other schools. They also plan to launch a new website, publish a video and to attract a greater diversity of tutors to the business.
There’s a lot they’ve learnt at UCT that they’ve integrated into the business. In establishing a proprietary company, they tapped what they’d learnt in Company Law and Business Law 1 and 2. They will also be using knowledge from courses in accounting and tax to prepare their first set of annual financial statements.
Kappatos: “We’re constantly applying what we’re learning.”
Field adds, “There are many ‘a-ha’ moments. There’s a reason we don’t fall asleep in lectures, because what we learn comes into everything!”
As for the two founding tutors that Field signed on the bonnet of his dad’s car? They’re still with the company – Michael Gildenhuys and Travis Raa. And Mike’s first pupil, then in grade 4, is now in grade 6 – a shared educational journey of three years.
But it’s not all plain sailing.
“There are times three hours before a test you realise you haven’t looked at chapters 3, 4 or 5 … but we’ve made it work. The most important thing is that because we’re emotionally tied to the business, anything is possible,” says Field.
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