Had he been willing to pack up his family and relocate from New Canaan—say, to San Francisco, Boston, Phoenix or Charlotte—Steve Eno may never have hit on an idea for his own business this summer.
Caught in a startup company’s layoff two years ago, the father of two daughters has been searching for work and “it’s been a tough process, because we’re not in a position to move with the kids in school and my wife working,” Eno, 55, said on a recent morning.
“Much to my surprise, there are still a huge amount of companies that are really focused on having everybody in one place,” he said.
Eventually, Eno started thinking about something he could manage on his own, and soon hit on a market he judged—both as a parent and career marketing and customer service professional (GE, American Express, Citigroup)—to be in demand and under-served.
Within weeks, he launched Teachers Who Tutor CT, a user-friendly website that addresses the needs of both qualified teachers seeking tutoring jobs and the parents and students who need them, through an online service.
“As I looked at franchises and I looked at service businesses, I came onto [the idea] after I saw some services that were franchises, but they didn’t really have a good model because they took too much out of the tutor’s pocket, and they didn’t really have great tutors,” Eno recalled. “And I started thinking, I had such a hard time finding a chemistry tutor for my daughter last year. Why was it so hard? So I looked, and I looked back at the online service that we tried, and they didn’t have teachers.”
In September, Eno—who holds a bachelor’s degree in business and MBA, both from New York University—built Teachers Who Tutor’s infrastructure and website himself with Squarespace software and, using blind emails, swiftly registered 100-plus teachers from Fairfield County, most of them New Canaan Public Schools.
“A big advantage for the teacher is that they may teach in New Canaan but live in Danbury,” Eno said. “So it may be hard for them to find students to tutor where they live.”
He charges a $100 matching fee to connect a certified, qualified teacher with a students who needs a tutor.
Teachers need only complete a simple registration form (contact information, availability, fee range and areas of expertise)—it costs nothing and Eno does the leg work of ensuring that they’re state-certified, a process that includes background checks.
Parents also register—contact, tutoring subjects needed, open time slots for sessions and price range—and receive a list of prospects that Eno himself supplies from his roster of registered teachers. The parents are billed through PayPal and once the matching fee is paid, tutors connect with students and Eno’s job is done.
If parents are unhappy or unable to work a tutor for logistical reasons such as scheduling, they get back their matchmaking fee and Eno re-launches his search.
Registrant information is secure and confidential, he said.
“Teachers in general do not join tutoring services, either local ones or big online ones,” Eno said.
Part of the reason is that such services can take a 20 to 40 percent middelman cut right off the top—whereas Teachers Who Tutor takes none, he said. Eno also guarantees that his service is “completely private”—the only entities getting the teachers’ information are the parents and students with whom they connect.
“My hope for this is that I can get a broad enough coverage throughout Fairfield County in terms of customer base that I can replace my old salary,” he said.
Eno said his company will collect a $100 fee on a per-tutor basis, and that part of the business’s growth will come from successfully matched students returning as they move into different subjects where help is needed.
Asked how to protect against a successful tutor and student connecting through hFis service and then taking the conversation about future tutors “offline”—essentially cutting out the business that connected them in the first place—Eno said, “That is a definitive risk for years two and three, and going forward.”
“My plan is to appeal to both the teacher and the parent, that I helped you in establishing this relationship with the tutor, and the only way I can to do that both with you in the future and other parents, is if you do not do that.”
Eno has only just started to put the word out about his business and is planning to advertise online to build visibility, hoping word-of-mouth also follows successful matches.
In the meantime, Eno said, his wife’s income is keeping the family afloat and for the first time, he’s taken on the role of stay-at-home parent for his two daughters—a New Canaan High School junior and Saxe Middle School fifth-grader.
“We never had that before—that someone is home with the kids,” Eno said.
“I’ve been able to go to my daughter’s volleyball games, talk to the kids and sit with the kids when they come home, help with the homework and do more general household stuff like grocery shopping.”