The last time we caught up with Audrey Nakad in 2017 she had recently launched Synkers, an app that matches students with qualified tutors. Five years later, the platform now rebranded to Ostaz, is part of the UK based Inspired Education Group, the leading global group of premium schools educating over 50,000 students across five continents.
Ostaz by Inspired, is a digital educational platform that aims at promoting education, improving academic performance and preparing students for a better future. It offers flexibility, accessibility to global subject matter experts, along with affordable and convenient solutions for private tutoring.
We talked to Audrey to learn more about the acquisition, what has set the platform apart from other online private tutoring platforms and how the acquisition came at a pivotal time for the education industry.
Q: Last time we talked Synkers had just launched a platform that connects students to tutors in Lebanon, how did your solution pivot/grow since?
A: We are now focusing on building a personalized learning journey and not only matching student to tutors. We care about results. Hence, the impact of our tutoring sessions on the performance of our learners.
We are working on offering a personalized learning journey based on the needs of our learners. Once we identify the learning objectives of our learners, we start tracking their progress.
Q: What were your main challenges and how did you overcome them?
A: As a CEO, my role was to make sure we raised capital every 1.5 years to support the growth of our company. Financing is challenging, especially before the pandemic where most VCs and investors did not have a big appetite for education space. Despite this, I was able to close a round right before the pandemic thanks to the tremendous growth that we were able to achieve in Lebanon and the UAE. Recruiting talent is also challenging. You need to constantly attract passionate and talented individuals
Q: What were the opportunities that presented themselves to you and how did you grab them?
A: When the pandemic hit, I grabbed the opportunity by offering our platform to all independent teachers, to all the schools that needed a tool to conduct online sessions. I was also proud to have offered our Lebanese tutors access to international clients via Ostaz. This was a great added value since our international clients now had access to quality education at an affordable rate.
Q: What was your strategy of expansion?
A: We are mainly focusing on the MENA region since the demand for private tutoring is high and there is not yet a dominant player in this market.
Q: As the pandemic imposed long distance learning, how did that catalyze your growth and what challenges did it bring?
A: Since we had our own online learning platform ready a few years ago, we were able to take advantage of this opportunity and offer Live online sessions during the pandemic.
90% of our clients are now taking online sessions versus 100% offline before the pandemic. This was great for our growth and has tremendously increased the utilization of our application.
Q: Did you have a first mover’s advantage being in the EdTech scape before the pandemic?
A: Yes! Most of our competitors who did not have an online tutoring platform went out of business.
Q: How do you see the future of your industry post pandemic?
We will see more of a hybrid model in education: a combination of online and offline. The online learning will allow our students to personalize their learning journey and learn at their own pace. The offline will always be there since it allows our students to develop important social skills.
Q: What motivated the acquisition, and how will it impact the future of Ostaz?
A: The fact that the acquirer is the second largest educational group worldwide, it will help us accelerate our growth in international markets by starting with their schools and then branching out into similar premium schools.
Q: How did the solution evolve/grow/pivot?
A: We are offering the same solution but we are looking to expand to new markets in the MENA and in Europe.
Q: What are the new clients/markets that Ostaz is working to acquire?
A: Parents in Saudi, UAE, and Spain.
Q: Was it your first investment? If not, who were the investors?
A: It wasn’t! We previously had on board 500 startups, Speed@BDD, Phoenician Fund, Seeders, Crescent Energies, Dubai Angel Investors, Mulcan and Saudi angel investors.
Q: What needs to change in your sector?
A: The mindset of parents, educators, educational institutions and students. Parents and students need to focus more on skills acquired rather than grades. This is definitely understandable because grades have a big impact on the future of any child but the change needs to start by looking more at the skills of the child and his or her evolution during his or her school journey.
Q: What would you advise the younger version of yourself when you were starting your company, or an entrepreneur looking at your company and saying, “I’d like to build something like that?”
A: I wish I knew early on in my journey that selling the vision and mission of the company would help me attract young talented individuals.
The most important thing in a startup is to surround yourself with like-minded individuals that would complement you and bring a different perspective to the business.
Q: What kind of advice would you give to startups going through the current crisis in Lebanon?
A: To partner with companies abroad if they find synergies or export their product/service to international markets.
Check out Ostaz on this link.