The goal of Hardly Hustle is to provide inspiration, drive and motivation in a 10 minute read or less. What you see is what you get. This is hot off the press without an editing team. I started the idea as a side project but have now gotten the first few customers and support from NC State's Andrew's Launch Accelerator. Austin Ketola is up.
Who are you and what do you do?
I'm Austin Ketola, I'm currently a student at NC State studying computer engineering and economics and recently launched an education startup. TutorSmith (tutorsmith.org) is an online tutoring service that matches K-12 students with college tutors through 1-on-1 and group sessions with the goal of being as affordable and accessible as possible. I started the idea as a side project but have now gotten the first few customers and support from NC State's Andrew's Launch Accelerator.
What did it take/how did you get started?
Growing up I naturally enjoyed math and did well in school so I eventually became a peer and neighborhood tutor. I loved it, and wanted to see if I could find a job online to earn some more money. I realized that online tutoring companies exist, but they mostly require a bachelor's degree to become a tutor and they charge at least $50/sessions, sometimes upwards of $100.
This stuck with me over the years, as I was sure this could be done in a way that helped both the tutors and the clients better. I had the chance to work on an idea in one of NC State's entrepreneurship classes and took the opportunity to look into this idea. I worked with a group to start customer discovery work and kept going outside of the class, eventually getting into the Andrew's Launch Accelerator and having more resources to validate and start marketing the idea.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
Right now we're still looking to get the initial user base since we recently launched. The next few months will be trying to get as many customers as we can and refine the sign up experience and tutoring sessions. We're also starting a scholarship fund that anybody can contribute to that students in need can apply for to get their sessions paid for.
The grand vision is to have an easily usable website that connects you with a tutor from a similar background that can help with any subject while being affordable for anybody. We plan to eventually reach a national audience and expand our user base to that of the current top online tutoring companies.
What drives / motivates you on a daily basis?
I've been fortunate enough to have the resources and capacity to do well in school but recognize it could have been a lot harder if I was born to different parents. With cost being the largest barrier to quality academic resources, I wanted to take my passion for entrepreneurship and create something that would truly help people.
Education is such an important area that greatly affects the rest of our lives. I wanted to create a company that the world would benefit from, and I that's what TutorSmith is built around.
What advice would you give someone interested in doing what you do?
Believe in yourself. Especially as a student it seems really difficult to get into entrepreneurship, but there are ways to utilize your skills creatively. Try talking to people and learning from them even if it's awkward or uncomfortable sometimes, it's worth it to build the skill. There are so many nice people within the entrepreneurial community that are willing to help in ways you wouldn't expect.
What has been the hardest part of your business journey?
Balancing my time between school, my job, and TutorSmith has been difficult since there's only so much time I can work on TutorSmith. Finding ways to automate processes and get others to help makes it easier, but I'm still limited in my capacity and scale of work.
How have you managed burnout thus far?
Keeping up with things like staying active, eating well, and doing things I enjoy when I can has helped especially when it gets hard. Going to therapy has been really useful for understanding how my brain works and learning to communicate effectively with others. Things like journaling have also been great to help process everything.
What are a few resources that you'd recommend?
"Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman" is a great read, interview podcasts like Tim Ferris are great to learn about successful people and realize they're just people too
List the founders
Austin Ketola, solo founder
How many hours a week do you work on this hustle?
# of Employees?
Currently 5 part time
When did you start?
Started developing the idea mid 2022, officially registered in May 2023
How much did it cost to launch?
Main costs have been labor and advertising. We've gotten around $10k funding but have only used $2-3k so far.
What were your funding methods and ballpark amount raised?
I won NC State's pitching competition: Wolf Den and got $1800, then got accepted to the Andrew's Launch Accelerator which is tentatively $8000
Unknown; this year the goal is at least $3000
What's the #1 thing you need right now?
Customer outreach, we're working on ways to effectively reach parents and convert them to customers
FB/IG is tutorsmithorg