ISMAIL Jeilani is one of a few graduates without a gigantic student loan debt looming over his head.
In fact, the 25-year-old paid off his £27,000 tuition fees during his second year of university at King’s College London by working as a tutor – and it inspired him to start a £1million business.
While studying politics and economics, Ismail ditched going out with mates in favour of teaching kids Arabic and economics and it gave him an idea for an app.
Scoodle, which launched in 2017, connects students with tutors so they can book lessons and get answers to questions they need help with.
“Of course, it wasn’t easy,” Ismail who still lives in London, told The Sun.
“I wasn’t able to commit to anything else, no extracurricular activities and very little social life – but it paid off and I left university debt-free.”
But Ismail didn’t jump into working on the app full-time. Instead, he got his first job at Google working as an account strategist for just under a year.
He said: “Google was an amazing place to work at such an early stage in my career. But the bigger the company you work for, the smaller your impact.
“As great as it was, nothing was able to match the excitement of building something of your own.
“So, my close friends and I decided to leave our full time commitments to make Scoodle a reality.”
Ismail’s top tips for success
Ismail turned his part-time job into a successful business. Here’s his advice:
- Start – It’s really easy to make very good excuses for not starting or launching something. Lack of time, funding, family priorities. But once you get the idea my advice is to figure out the quickest way to make it exist.
You’ll probably make mistakes but you will also learn from them/
- Don’t do it on your own – It can take several years to build a successful business, so you want to be with someone who can understand and support you on that journey.
- Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – Everyone makes them in the early days. What’s important is how quickly you can bounce back from them.
- Use your network and ask for advice – It’s good to meet people who are a few steps ahead of you in terms of developing their business. Ask them for their advice. If you don’t know anyone use networking events or LinkedIn. These contacts are valuable if you want to grow your business.
- Allow yourself to dream – It’s very easy to get lost in the small details. Every now and again, it’s just really exciting to get lost in a future where your company reaches its full potential. Spend time describing that world, and it becomes so much easier to stay driven as a result. I’d recommend doing this at least once a month in a meeting with your co-founders.
Ismail built Scoodle together with two of his childhood friends, Mujavid and Imdad, and they started the business from an empty room in Ismail’s uncle’s house.
Mujavid was a software engineer and designer, with five years experience as a teacher and a private tutor. While Imdad was a developer at the UK Government’s digital services, specialising in large-scale web system development.
They both gave up their jobs to join Ismail in running Scoodle full time.
He said: “We went to the same school, and have probably known each other for nearly 15 years now. So the idea of working together was always on our mind.”
‘It was just three people in an empty room’
“At the beginning, it was just three people in an empty room.
“Literally an empty room. My uncle allowed us to have it rent free. We bought three IKEA tables and chairs. That was it,” said Ismail.
In the summer of 2017, the trio presented their idea at an event for ex-Google staff where they could connect with investors.
It was there that they raised £180,000 from early investors including Saad Choudri, chief commercial officer at Miniclip and Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter.
Ismail said: “Startups often struggle to turn a profit simply because they lack the funding needed to get their business going.
“For us, the trade-off between selling a stake of the business in return for cash was worth it. It’s a question of priorities.
“It meant we had enough capital to launch our business with some amazing investors behind us.
“We were still able to continue building our dream and make an impact on society even though we own a slightly smaller share of the business.”
Since then, the business has only grown from strength to strength and the three founders still own the majority of the company between them.
Two years after its launch, and Scoodle is now used by about 20,000 students from 200 countries.
It’s now established enough for the three founders to take out a “small salary” each month.
Prices vary from tutor to tutor but “they’re generally lower than you’d pay for someone local”, according to Ismail.
The company also doesn’t take a cut of the tutors’ fees so they aren’t under any pressure to try and increase their prices.
However, students can pay for a £10 to £15 a month subscription that gives them access to unlimited resources as well as priority to experts’ answers.
The app has turned over £70,000 to date and is on track to make £1million in the next year.
In addition to the three founders, the company now also employs two full-time members of staff who work from their office in central London.
‘Being your own boss takes a ‘thick skin’’
Despite, Scoodle’s growing success, being your own boss takes a “thick skin”, according to Ismail.
He said: “When you are an entrepreneur, you effectively are your business. You can have very high successes but you also need to be prepared to face very big lows.
“The rejection of your business is in some way the rejection of yourself and that can be quite difficult to take.”
His ultimate goal is to make education more affordable and accessible.
He said: “The best teachers are not always accessible.
“We want to build a world where an Arabic expert living in Egypt can create a class with students from around the world.”
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