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10 things we learnt from Keystone Tutors at last night’s Esc Wednesday

Last night about 30 escapees braved the cold to make it to the private bar above The Yorkshire Grey. It was the second Esc Wednesday since we put them on hold to concentrate on the website over the summer and it was a lot of fun.

This is a quick summary of what we learnt…

Firstly, a big thank you…

Our special guests were Josh Pull and Will Orr-Ewing: the entrepreneurial duo behind Keystone Tutors – a London-based school-facing tutoring company.

We just wanted to say a big thank you to both of them for sharing their time and experiences with the crowd.

Josh reeling out a gem - Will looking concerned!

10 things we learned last night…

1. Plans don’t always work out – but taking a leap opens other doors.

You might not necessarily end up doing what you thought you were going to do when you resigned from your job.

Josh’s resignation double plan involved: building up DysTalk into a profitable business and going to business school in the States. He now co-owns and runs Keystone with Will.

2. Not all businesses need to be based on original ideas.

Keystone Tutors isn’t the first tutoring agency in London. Chalkboard Learning isn’t the first online learning platform. It’s often about taking an existing model and tweaking it, improving it, and building your own niche within it.

Obviously it’s also nice to be the dude who came up with the idea for GroupOn.

3. The myth of the ideas-led entrepreneur

Following on from that, Will mentioned how he thinks that it’s a myth that starting a business is about ideas.

He explained how start-ups (and all businesses for that matter) need rigour, analytical thinkers, process gurus, numbers-focused people, etc, etc. At which point Josh reiterated the importance of things like reporting, forecasting, and budgeting!

4. Good business partners have complementary skills

We also learnt that having different strengths and areas of experience is just what a small business needs. Divvying up responsibilities within the team is essential if things are going to run smoothly as you grow.

5. In the early days you do everything

Will regaled us with some amusing images of him cycling from tutorial to tutorial with a big bag of tutoring brochures which he slotted through big West London houses en route.

Director of Marketing, Head Tutor, CEO, and (lousy by the sounds of it) Accountant all rolled into one.

It sounded like once your business model is proven and demand starts increasing is the time to put systems and processes in place. Before that it’s just about getting it all working (the thing that people pay you for – not all the nice house-keeping stuff that goes on behind that).

Now that they have Josh on board Will can afford to buy a three-piece suit which he wears it whilst roaming around London – thinking great thoughts.

6. Their marketing budget is £0

We learnt that more and more businesses (businesses that can afford it) don’t seem to be spending money on marketing. Instead, like Keystone, they reinvest it in their product, their systems, and their software.

The best way for people to spread the word about your business is by delivering an amazing service that people talk about.

7. Education is ripe for disruption

We learnt that there are masses of opportunities for progressive businesses to improve and evolve education. But… it’s quite a conservative sector, so be prepared for resistance to change (which isn’t always a bad thing in education according to Will).

We also learnt that the internet is a huge opportunity for businesses in any sector. You can start a business today with very little money. The internet has eliminated barriers to entry in so many areas.

8. Good ideas don’t come at your screen

The guys stressed how important it was to separate working ‘in’ your business from working ‘on’ it. I.e. you’ll never be able to think about the future of your business – the strategy, vision and purpose – if you’re running around like a blue-arsed fly cranking the pump.

They mentioned their Team Strategy meetings which sit loyally in the Google Calendar on a repeating weekly basis and are yet to actually have taken place.

9. Balancing profit with doing good is good

We learnt that although Keystone serves an affluent section of the tutoring market, they are also socially minded and want to build something that helps more than just a select proportion of the population.

What was great to hear is how Josh & Will are using the profits from that business to develop innovative education products that are accessible to a lot more people. They also use their tutor base to provide pro bono tutoring for less privileged students.

10. Esc Wednesdays can be a bit like the AA

And finally we learnt that if you stand up to ask a question at an Esc Wednesday and announce that you resigned the day before you’ll get a round of applause.

Despite the AA undertones it was a great moment, especially because the person in question had met his new business partner via Escape the City. Good luck to Toby and Carbon Census – their carbon footprint, energy conservation start-up.

What have we missed?

  • Did you come to the Esc Wed?
  • What have I forgotten?
  • What did you get from it?

We also learnt that if you get a bunch of likeminded people in a room, feed them beer, and provide an atmosphere conducive to chatting exciting connections will happen and great fun will be had by all.

Thanks to everyone who came. We’re already looking forward to the next one!