Michael Sorin '18 and Michela Hendell '18

Imagine this: it’s 1 am the night before a big midterm, and you’re desperate for someone to teach you everything you need to know by 10 am. It’s a situation we’ve all been in. That’s where InstaTute comes in handy! InstaTute is an on-demand tutoring service, pioneered by Colgate’s very own Michael Sorin '18. For this week’s campus profile, I sat down with founder Michael Sorin and head of Marketing and Recruitment Michela Hendell '18 to hear about the start-up project they've been working on to help Colgate students with everything from homework to late night cramming!

What is InstaTute?

Michael Sorin: InstaTute is a 24/7 on-demand peer-to-peer tutoring service.  We match students with qualified peers who have previously taken the class and earned an A, or are currently in the class and earned an A on the midterm. When a student requests a session, tutors are instantly notified and can accept or deny it on the spot. This allows the tutors to create their own hours while also helping students get the most help possible. The 24-hour aspect is so great because it works around college student’s busy schedules, which was something that was really important to us.

How did you come up with the idea?

MS: Last year I was on the soccer team, which took up a lot of my time. One night, I returned from a game late at night and still needed to prepare for a test the next day. Unfortunately, I had to miss office hours because of the game and it was too late to make an appointment at the learning center. Not only this, but all of my friends were asleep, and at that point I thought to myself  how useful an on demand tutoring service would be.

Can you give a brief explanation of the TIA mentoring process?

MS: TIA is the Thought Into Action student incubator here at Colgate. If accepted to the program, you’re given mentors who help you along with the process of building a company. They give you advice, since most students don’t know how to develop a company, and they serve as a step-by-step guide for all the questions you may have. They’re volunteers who dedicate their time to this program and get nothing in return, so its pretty awesome.

Michela Hendell: It’s also nice that the mentors went to Colgate, so they know the resources that are available and the education that we're getting. Because of this, they are able to take what they know we're learning and mold it to help us in ways specific to our own project.

How do you think previously being an athlete has helped you run a company, if at all?

MS: I do think previously being an athlete has helped me in my new role. I think whenever you're in an entrepreneurial environment, it’s pretty competitive and cutthroat, and so that was something I could relate to being an athlete. When I decided to leave the soccer team this past fall, it just made sense for me to translate that kind of competitiveness into this project.

What was the hardest part about creating this?

MS: I would say back to my last point, you’re doing something that’s new to you, and you're new to the game, so I think just adjusting to that learning curve has been the biggest challenge. 

MH: Also, because we're so excited about what we are doing, we always want to be reaching new milestones. However, it's hard because we're new at navigating a business and don't know how to do it all yet. This forces us to be patient and take the process one-step at a time.

What is the most rewarding part of this?

MS: I guess the most rewarding part of this for me was seeing something you’ve created come to life, and no pun intended, turning a thought into action, is kind of the most rewarding part. Starting out with an idea last year and seeing it turn into a business, and see people want to be tutors and request sessions with tutors, has really been a pretty cool and surreal experience.

MH: The most rewarding part for me has been using InstaTute myself before a statistics test. After doing significantly better than I ever previously had or would’ve done without it, it felt really rewarding to see how my own hard work really helped me, and to realize that it can do the same for others.

What are your respective jobs at InstaTute?

MS: I started this last year. I ran it and did all the research until I fianlly started to get some guidance and more of a clear vision of where I wanted to take this idea. At this point, we have myself as Founder and Chief Executive Officer, and then Michela Hendell as Head of Marketing, Recruiting, and currently Operations.

MH: So what that means right now is that I’m the one who’s creating and distributing the marketing materials, such as business cards and posters. Anything to get our name out there and spread the word. I also create a lot of our written materials, like the pages on our website. We are also always looking for new tutors, and constantly trying to expand to other subjects. The more tutors we recruit and the more subjects we offer tutoring for, the more people we can help.

Is it hard to be a student running a company? How do you balance it?

MS: Yes, it is tough becasue I always want to move forward with the venture while also trying to balance and stay on top of my schoolwork. I would say I definitely have committed myself to my venture as much as I can right now, because I know that school is an essential part of growing up and doing well in this company. It’s difficult because I want to commit myself wholly to the venture but I also have other responsibilities.

I’m lucky to have a good support system though, and good family and friends who help me prioritize everything and put things into perspective. And my mentors in the TIA program really help, because they remind me of what I need to be doing both with my academics and my company.

MH: Also, on top of balancing school and this business, it’s hard because we’ve never gone to business school or taken any business classes. This makes everything we do a new experience, which is challanging but also very exciting! I think manging InstaTute and school helps us regiment our time. Because this is a real company with real expectations on the line, you have to keep yourself on track.

What is the culture of instatute? What do you want it to be in the future?

MS: That’s a good question. I think that we want to be new and modern, and take a new approach to how tutoring works with the technology that's available today. We want education to be easily at our disposal, and so getting this qualified help, by people who know the classes you're taking, we’re trying to commit to valuing education as much as possible and making it as easy to get as possible.

MH: I think the culture of InstaTute is enjoyable and laid back. Everyone who is involved are friends and truly believe in the idea. We enjoy putting in the work because we want to see it succeed.

Michela, how does it feel to be the only female at this currently male dominated company?

MH: I love it, mostly because of the culture that we talked about earlier. I feel so welcomed and while I might be the only woman, I get to work with my friends. I’m happy to be doing something I’m proud to be a part of.

What is your most exciting accomplishment thus far?

MS: Our most exciting accomplishment… I would say its hard to pick just one. Because this is a start up we face new and exciting things all the time as we continue to see our company grow and develop. However, if I had to pick one, I would say the biggest milestone so far just happened 20 minutes ago. We were just accepted to pitch our venture at Shark Tank during e-weekend, or entrepreneur’s weekend, here at Colgate, to a panel of A-List entrepreneurs and investors. This is a really big opportunity to hopefully get some funding and some amazing exposure.

How did you guys launch InstaTute?

MS: Well, I guess to talk about future plans I have to talk about when I actually got into the TIA program, which was last November when I launched the MVP, or minimum viable product. So basically that was me and Michela running the app essentially without the app, and so we were recruiting tutors and getting texts from students requesting sessions, and then sending out the tutors we had to go work with them, basically doing everything the app does now, on our own. And this all started in my 150 person stat class, which really helped us see the value and potential of this idea. As the year’s gone on, we’ve launched our website, and so now we’re seeing people go on there too.

Future plans, if any?

MS: I am really looking forward to this summer! The goal is to get accepted into another incubator here at Colgate, and then to get an investment in order to hire a development team. After this, we will be able to develop the beta version of the platform.

MH: We also hope to one day, when we’ve more concretely established what works and what doesn’t, bring this platform to other universities so that students around the country can get on-demand help.

Final words?

MS: Yes! We are looking for a technical partner, so if you’re good with comp-sci, please contact us!!