Ho Junliang and Natasha Toh – First Class Tutors

Learn from the 21-year-old founders of tuition matchmaking service First Class Tutors, Ho Junliang and Natasha Toh.

From funding their own venture to designing their website the DIY way to hiring and managing people older than they are, these young entrepreneurs will not just teach you much about the tuition business but also serve as an inspiration for those raring to embark on the exciting route of an entrepreneur. 

1. What is First Class Tutors all about? 

First Class Tutors is a registered tuition matching service company that provides only the highest quality of tutors to help students reach their full academic potential. All of our tutors are graduates from top schools in Singapore and have done exceptionally well in their own examinations – more than half of them are prestigious scholarship holders. We also provide experienced ex-school teachers or full-time tutors to meet the different academic needs of our clients.

Besides our stringent selection criteria to ensure quality, we screen and verify our tutors’ identification and academic qualifications to ensure competence, credibility and commitment. There’s even a first lesson guarantee policy as a mark of quality and assurance to our customers. Our dedicated team also ensures an efficient and quick response, and they are always happy to serve our clients.

And the best part is, our service is absolutely free of charge for our clients! First Class Tutors is a platform to help match parents & students with the best tutor that suits their needs; be it home tuition or group tuition. 

2. When and why did you decide to become an entrepreneur upon graduation? 

From a young age, Natasha and I naturally gravitated towards entrepreneurship and business. We both had similar experiences in Primary School where we partook in trivial forms of business – selling marbles, Pokémon cards and country erasers to our friends. But at that young age, we did not yet have that that firm resolve to become entrepreneurs. We didn’t even know what an entrepreneur is. 

After graduating from Raffles Junior College, we decided to do something fun and interesting – designing and printing t-shirts. Natasha has very good designing skills, and we started an online t-shirt business, PimpMyShirt, that designs and sells authentic t-shirts. It was tough work, but we enjoyed every minute of it and we guess that really sparked off our desire and passion for entrepreneurship. Though it wasn’t common for graduates from our school to venture into entrepreneurship, we took the plunge and never looked back since. 

3. What are your reasons for choosing to do business in this particular industry?

While giving private tuition a few years back, we found out that the private tuition industry in Singapore possessed immense growth potential. However, it lacks organisation and structure. This resulted in numerous headaches and problems experienced by parents and students in sifting out suitable tutors among the thousands of people who are willing to teach – akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Therefore, we decided to establish First Class Tutors, which represents the congregation of the best minds in Singapore, to pass on their knowledge and studying tips to students. 

And of course as we all know, the education sector in Singapore is constantly growing due to our pragmatic culture and increasing importance of paper qualifications. Tuition is not just a bonus but it is becoming more of a necessity in many Singaporean families nowadays. Hence we believe it is an industry with immense potential to venture into. 

4. What are some interesting stories you have in starting up the business?

Besides sleeping for an average of only three to four hours each day day for the first two weeks, we became the biggest fans of YouTube. In that same period, we learnt how to design and build a fully functioning website from scratch by watching endless YouTube videos on web programming and design. It was one of the craziest periods we’ve experienced. Food, coffee, video, more coffee, more food, and the cycle continued. I think the worst thing was that we must have gained some extra weight during that period!

At the beginning, we also had to do everything by ourselves. We went everywhere we could think of to distribute flyers. At that time, we couldn’t afford to spend any of our precious start-up capital to hire flyer distributors. It was really tiring running around the island giving out flyers, but it made us feel good about working hard and we even managed to lose those extra pounds gained during the coffee crazy cycle at the beginning.

5. What are some of the challenges you faced in starting up, and running your business now?

The start was always the hardest. There were so many things to plan and we really had to prioritize which aspects of the business we had to focus on first. Initially, a lot of effort was made to create really strong brand awareness, which was essential in getting the business up and running. 

Another major challenge is people management. We realize that it takes a lot of effort and good judgment to find the right people for the business. People are really so unpredictable, and it takes good judgment to be able to trust the right people. 

6. How did you overcome these challenges? 

At the beginning, we came up with a timeline and a detailed plan to organize all the important things we had to do. It is very important to stick to the game plan and meet all the deadlines set. You have to be realistic about the things you can accomplish within a certain timeframe, so it won’t do you any good to set overly ambitious goals. 

In terms of people management, we found that aligning personal vision to that of the company’s certainly helped to strengthen the relationship. 

7. Can you share some of the lessons you learnt from overcoming your own business challenges that you think will help other businesses?

Always test and measure whatever you do. This would help you to have a very good understanding of your company’s efficiency and help to identify key areas where you should be allocating more resources to that would maximize the growth of your business.

8. What are some of your proudest business achievements to date?

After JC, we have been very involved in Singapore’s entrepreneurial scene. We do have our joyous moments, such as winning the Asia Pacific Enterprise Experience (APEE) Competition during the Global Entrepreneurship Week in 2009, being a Finalist at the Start-up @ Singapore National Business Plan Competition, achieving 1st Runners-up position at the National Youth Council’s Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge and the like. 

Through these competitions, we really honed our business acumen and we are humbled by these experiences. But the proudest achievement to date was to be invited as a panel speaker at last year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) in November, together with Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Manpower, Mr Lee Yi Shyan, and other respectable entrepreneurs. It was such a great experience and we are very honoured to be given this opportunity to share our business experiences with others.

9. What do you see for your business in the next 5 years?

We would be looking to expand overseas in the next few years and into other areas as well. There are several things in the pipeline… Look out for it! 

10. What advice would you give young people who want to start their own business?

Natasha: Don’t be afraid to fail. You will only be considered a failure if you stop trying. Like what Napoleon Hill said, “Every adversity brings with it the seed of an equivalent advantage.” 

You will realize the experiences gained would eventually play a very important part in building and expanding your subsequent ventures. On hindsight, we have our very own “failed” business attempts which taught us a lot about entrepreneurship. So be bold. Dare to take the first step – and the road would naturally open up for you.

Junliang: Idea generation is not the only aspect to focus on at the beginning. You might think of the best idea in the world, but if you can’t deliver it and make it into reality, you’ll still be stuck at square one. Many people overlook the importance of execution and only care about coming up with the most creative ideas. Innovation is not achieved by creativity alone. Innovation = creativity x execution. With all the talk about having a creative idea, but no walking the talk of effectively executing it, innovation can’t be achieved. 

So before you start your own business, think of how to execute your idea well. You need not have the most wacky and creative idea, but as long as you can execute a solid idea well, you can still achieve significant innovation.

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