Alena Leonova watches for specific behaviors when she evaluates prospective tutors for her company’s tutoring service. She assumes the role of a student and judges the candidate’s response time and subject matter knowledge.
She has an important job—the 300 or so tutors her company hires are its direct line of communication with about 300,000 students in the U.S. and Canada in search of help for a variety of subjects, from English to chemistry.
“With the scale of what we do, we’re experts at dealing with a variety of individuals,” says Leonova, 21.
The company Leonova works for is Paper, formerly known as GradeSlam. And with a new injection of capital, the Montreal-based company looks to grow beyond its reputation for remote chat-based tutoring for K-12 subjects.
Paper has raised $7.5 million in a round of funding led by Reach Capital. Bullpen Capital, Birchmere Ventures, BDC Capital, Real Ventures, Google, Red House Education, Edovate Capital and Anges Quebec participated. Paper has raised $9 million to date.
This 2018 GradeSlam promo video shows the experience from students’ perspective
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The company wants to be what CEO Philip Cutler calls an “education support system” for schools. The name change is part of the new look—under the old name, schools associated his company with grading software, which did not represent the full scope of services his team provides.
Along with live chat tutoring, Paper provides reviewed and annotated essays to students and reports to teachers about which students are struggling, what questions are asked and other insights. School districts that use Paper include ones in Denver, and Irvine and Tustin in California.
He stayed mum on specifics of new features planned for the platform, only saying that schools shouldn’t expect any changes until next academic year. However, through the Google Assistant Investments program, GradeSlam has had help leveraging the search giant’s voice technology on its tutoring platform.
According to Cutler, the company sells licenses that cost schools about $125 per student per year. In doing so, Cutler hopes to ensure that families of means aren't the only ones who can afford extra help for their children. “Leveling the playing field for every student is on the strategic plan for every school district we talk to,” says Cutler, 31.
All the educators on the platform are from Canada, but Paper mostly sells to schools in the U.S. Most of its business comes from California, New York, Washington state and Colorado. With the new capital, Cutler wants to expand its footprint in Texas and Florida.
The platform matches students with a tutor based on the subject matter they want help in. An algorithm handles scheduling for a student and tutor. Students then learn through the Socratic method of asking and answering questions.
Online tutoring has captured investor interest internationally recently. Australian tutoring platform Cluey Learning raised about $14 million last year and Hong Kong-based Acadsoc raised about $15 million.
Leonova, the Paper employee, now balances full-time work at Paper with classes as a part-time student, working toward a bachelor’s in political science and philosophy. She began as a tutor two years ago, for subjects including chemistry and essay-writing. In her current role with Paper, she advises tutors on how to interact with students.
“We’re there to support” students, she says. “It works best when we’re not necessarily holding their hands through every step.”