How Two College Students Earned $500K with Lyft and Turned It Into a Startup

How did two college students earn over half a million dollars while in college? I caught up with Ari Stiegler (Founder and CEO) and Myles Hunter (COO) to see what led to their success and why they decided to start, a live online education platform that allows students to connect with a network of over 7,000 high-quality tutors in under 30 seconds.

Early days at the office. (Myles Hunter, Ari Stiegler, Victor Kotseruba)
Early days at the office. (Myles Hunter, Ari Stiegler, Victor Kotseruba)

What led to your success with Lyft’s nationwide ambassador program?

Ari: These days, every startup has an ambassador program as an essential component of their growth strategy. That wasn’t really the case before the wild success of Lyft’s program. We envisioned a highly scalable ambassador network based model that utilized innovative growth techniques specific to this program. We brought this model to Lyft, and, to their credit, they let us innovate and perfect the model. Eventually, our program employed thousands and spanned the entire country. The growth hacking tactics we pioneered are still widely used by Lyft and other tech giants.

I think the success we had, really comes down to one thing: Myles and I simply worked harder and smarter than anyone else out there. We spent upwards of 15 hours per day, 7 days a week brainstorming and testing new marketing strategies. Sometimes you just need to grind it out and see what works.

Where did the idea for TutorMe come from and what makes it different?

Ari: The seeds for TutorMe were planted in 2013, the night before my Statistics final. I realized that I had some serious catching up to do, the problem was it was 3 AM. Obviously, the tutoring center on campus wasn’t open, I couldn’t reach out to my professor or TA at that hour, and most of my friends in the class were sleeping. That’s when the idea struck me:

“Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of bugging my friends for help, I could get a high quality tutor that I could easily work with online, even at 3AM.”

Now to be fair, there were a couple online tutoring sites at the time, but it was a real hassle to schedule a lesson, there was no video or screen sharing communication, and all tutors that were available at that hour were low-quality and non-native English speakers. I was amazed that there wasn’t an effective online tutoring solution, so I decided to make one myself. I think if you take a look at TutorMe, you will see we accomplished that.

How were you able to raise money so quickly after the MVP?

Ari: I used around $100k of my Lyft earnings to create an MVP, so we could demo potential investors. Our success with running the Lyft ambassador program made it much easier to raise a significant amount from angel investors in our network. We are thankful to have such a fantastic group of investors supporting us.

What’s next for TutorMe?

Myles: Along with our consumer market, we also provide our tutoring services to institutions. Our Director of Partnerships, Alex Convery, has spearheaded these successful institutional campaigns, and we’re now working with many universities across the country, including our alma mater the University of Southern California.

Our platform has increased student retention and course completion rates at our partner schools. You would be hard pressed to find another student service that has had such a significant positive effect on student success. The goal here isn’t to replace traditional tutoring centers at universities, but to supplement them for the hours they are not open.

We are also testing out a new approach with online universities where we embed our platform within the actual course curriculum. This bridges the gap between online courses and traditional instruction by giving the students a digital equivalent of “raising their hand”.

Additionally, we will be expanding globally, and with the help of some international partners, we are excited by the large growth potential available. We believe our online tutoring platform is the best on the market, but we don’t want to stop there. The online education space is evolving quickly and we will be at the forefront. I can’t share too many details, but our CTO, Victor Kotseruba, is hard at work with our development team. You can expect significant product roll outs and a mobile app for Fall 2017.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? (in three sentences):

Myles: “Good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment” – Mark Suster. This applies to anything in life, but it’s especially pertinent when running a startup.  We never stop learning, just like our students.

Photo credit: Ray Daily, MGMT LLC

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