I’ve been scouring the Interwebz lately and asking around for potential businesses or interesting personalities to be interviewed. I heard about a tuition agency, from some parents, which provided pretty spectacular and personalized services.
Curious, I went to check the agency’s Facebook page in hopes of being able to contact the owner of the business. As it turns out, it didn’t take much to find him!
I was half-expecting a wizened person on the other end but it turned out to be a fairly young man. We had a short conversation, involving me demanding an interview, and he revealed himself to be a rather professional and very personable person.
But… that’s history. Here’s the interview! Also, all photos were shamelessly ripped from his personal Facebook page.
Hi! I’m with the owner of SmileTutor today! Please introduce yourself!
Hello! Thanks for having me here. My name is Rum and I run this tuition agency. I’m also entering into NUS Business School this year.
Hm… okay. In our brief conversation just now, you mentioned that you run a tuition agency, NOT a tuition centre. What is it about?
Basically, what a tuition agency does is to link up students and tutors. We find out the academic needs and learning styles of the students and try to pair them up with the appropriate tutor. That’s about it.
Ah, okay. Any particular motivation for you getting into this business?
I was part-time tutor for a while before stopping for National Service. After that, I resumed and became quite involved in it. In those years, I got to know quite a few contacts. From there, I began linking up students with tutors informally. I later began learning more about the education industry and saw a demand for such services. At the same time, I also had a desire to set up my own business. I also thought that this would be good experience for me in learning how to run a business. So… put all those reasons together and here I am!
As Singapore has developed, education has evolved a lot over the past few years. What’s your opinion on the current standard of students as a whole in Singapore?
Hm… that’s a bit of a general question. All students have their individual needs and standards. I’m going to answer as if you’re asking about Singapore’s education system. It’s widely known that Singapore’s education system is supposedly one of the best in the world. I personally feel that the system has its merits but more can definitely be done to improve it to better serve the needs of the students. I can go on for a long time about the pros and cons of our system but perhaps you’d want to ask a more specific question.
Alright~ well, what do you think is a weakness in Singapore’s education system?
I would say that the weakness is more of a cultural issue that’s been developed rather than a direct weakness in the system. The system is merely a response to the demands of the present culture.
I think there’s too much emphasis on raw grades. From my observations, and the feedback from tutors and parents around me, a lot of parents are extremely worried about their children’s grades and have extremely strict requirements and expectations on both tutors and pupils. It almost seems like these parents are obsessed with grades. It’s all about being the best and scoring the highest. I need to qualify though – I’m not making a broad sweeping statement regarding all parents but just referring to a specific demographic. Sometimes, I feel that other aspects of the child’s education and growth are being neglected. The overall focus on high grades puts a lot of stress on students. I mean, I’ve studied here and come from that kind of background, and experienced that kind of stress.
In that case, what changes do you think need to take place and how do you feel the education system can be improved to better serve the needs of the students in Singapore?
In my opinion, a lot of the studying and education in Singapore is based on pure mugging. I feel that too much emphasis on pure studying is not healthy and that a lot of areas of a child’s development can be focused on. So, to answer your question, there needs to be a shift in the attitude that a person’s significance and value, and a lot more about life goes beyond what one scores in their school exams or their future pay check. Regarding the system, one area that it can be improved on is to further focus on encouraging and fostering the pupil’s creativity and sense of individual identity, along with the ability to work with others as a team.
That’s quite an opinion! What’s your motto as a service provider for education in Singapore? Any selling points in your business?
Well, as we’re a tuition agency and not a tuition centre, I can’t say what kind of education we provide. Home tutoring is a very personalized service. Different students have different needs and different tutors have different styles of teaching. What we try to provide is the best match for students and tutors.
That’s being said, our motto is comprised of three words: Efficient, Effective and Easy.
We want to be efficient in finding tutors for students quickly. We want to be effective in providing the tutor that’s catered as closely to the needs of the student as possible. We also aim to make it easy for parents and students to find what they need through us.
Hm… alright. I’m sure that having been in this business for a while, you’ve faced a few challenges. Do you want to share some stories?
Setting up the website and learning the entire administrative process of the business were probably the greatest challenges for me. I mean, design and HTML programming were not part of what I learnt in school and I had to learn everything by myself. The learning curve was actually pretty steep.
Gaining awareness of this business from customers and earning their trust at the start was also a challenge.
All in all, the challenges were good. I learnt a lot of valuable lessons.
What are the perks of the business?
Perks? Hm… perks, perks, perks. Having an income’s definitely a perk. (laugh) I’m really proud of my own website. I mean, I got the chance to step out of my comfort zone and do something new. (pause) I guess one of the more attractive things about having my own business is that I’m my own boss. In that sense, I have a level of flexibility in the location of my work and when I do my work. It keeps me busy too, so I’m being productive.
One of the greatest takeaways I got from running this business is that I learnt a lot of life lessons along the way and had a chance to grow a lot more as a person.
A lot of my friends, who give tuition, rage to me about parents and students. What’s the dirt on that (for you)?
That’s an interesting question… Personally, I don’t really hold grudges or pay attention to offenses. So… no actual horror stories. The closest I can think of are just clients that I’ve dealt with who had special needs or were very specific in their requirements.
I’ve had a few parents, on separate occasions, who wanted an extremely cheap female full-time, NIE-certified tutor with many years of experience. And they only accepted one time slot for the tuition session. And… well… it’s difficult to find (naturally in-demand) tutors with industry experience who’ll throw aside their entire schedule to work for minimal wage.
I’ve also had parents and students who kept changing their minds about the details of the tuition or whether they wanted to engage in our services. I also had a student who refused to accept any of the tutors, claiming that all the tutors couldn’t teach.
Sounds tough! Well, any exciting news regarding your business or plans to advance it?
Oh, definitely! We recently started a very rewarding referral program. If you know anyone who’s looking for tuition or looking to be a tutor, ask them to check out findhometuition.com and sign up as a referral and you’ll get a referral fee from there.
It seems like you’re a pretty busy guy. After all, you were still doing work at 3AM before I interviewed you. How has this business affected your personal life?
That’s a pretty good question.
When I first started out on this business, I put in a lot of time and effort into it. A bit too much actually. I was working at least 12 hours a day and crashing in bed at 7AM. So it was pretty crazy and it DID affect my relationship with my girlfriend.
While we were chatting over Facebook messenger, I’m sure that you might have noticed a very cute and pretty young lady appearing in a fair bit of my photos.
Hold it. Let me go see. (5 minutes of scrolling later) This one?
Okay, sorry for the interruption. Back with your story.
I’ve been with her for about 2 years and she’s very special. Throughout this whole venture, she’s been very supportive. Backtracking a bit, starting this business initially caused me to neglect her. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with her. I was just too focused on the business. She put up with it, though, and was very understanding about the whole thing. After a while, I realized that I had to manage my time better and became a better person for it. She’s been giving me a lot of good ideas on what to implement for the systems and how to relate to the parents and students. She’s a source of inspiration and energy for me.
Support and understanding from loved ones is important as a businessman?
Any advice for people who want to start their own business?
Don’t forget why you’re doing the business and what the business is about. Always maintain integrity. It’s the backbone of a strong and sustainable business.
Alright! Random question of the day! What do you think is the most unorthodox way of teaching a student in Singapore?
I’ve heard of teachers who use simulation video games like Terraria or Minecraft as an incentive for paying attention or as a visual platform for learning.
Thank you so much for having been here with us. Any last words for our readers?
Check out our website. Like our Facebook page too. We’ll be posting lots of updates there.
Well, you’ve heard him! For those interested in checking out the tutoring services that SmileTutor provides, you can either check out their official website or visit their Facebook page at :