How Two Cousins Turned Social Activism Into a Tutoring Business
They sensed a need for good tutors in their challenged community. But they both had well-paying, full-time jobs. Should they give that up?
Prema Choudhury’s love for tutoring started at an early age. Her Bangladeshi-American parents are both educators who have been offering free tutoring to kids from their Bronx community for years.
“Before bedtime, my mother would tape a multiplication table next to my bed so I could absorb the information easily.” Prema, now 29, smiles at the memory. “It was a brilliant idea, actually! The table was the first thing I would look at in the morning and the last thing I would look at before falling asleep.”
Starting a Tutoring Business
Prema and her cousin, Preeti Choudhury, recently co-founded ScholarSpace, a tutoring center in the Bronx. Their goal is to provide tutoring and test-preparation services at affordable prices compared to their competitors. ScholarSpace’s two-hour-long sessions run as low as $5 an hour, though prices vary by grade.
Prema and Preeti sensed a deep need from their community, which is mostly made up of first-generation Bangladeshi and Latinx immigrant families.
“Essentially, low-income communities have a hard time preparing for higher education due to socioeconomic issues,” she explains. “Many inner-city students in the Bronx do not have access to expensive tutoring services, either. We want to bridge the gap by providing help outside the classroom.”
Not Quitting Your Job to Start a Business
Inspired by her parents’ commitment to education, Prema initially thought about pursuing a career in teaching while attending Barnard College. But after accepting an internship with a major financial firm, she decided to focus on growing her career in financial services.
“I love my job, but I knew my calling was tutoring,” Prema explains.
After a weekend of brainstorming, Prema and Preeti created a business plan for a tutoring center that would operate on weekends so that they could both keep their full-time jobs in financial services.
The stability that comes with having full-time jobs would allow them to not only invest in ScholarSpace (covering rental costs in New York City isn’t easy!), but also invest in themselves. “We weren’t ready to let go of our health benefits, and hey – we have bills to pay!” Prema said.
Prema and Preeti are among a growing number of entrepreneurs who are keeping their regular jobs while working on their own business ventures. In 2013, researchers Joseph Raffiee and Jie Feng published a landmark study called, “Should I Quit My Day Job? A Hybrid Path to Entrepreneurship.” Their research revealed that entrepreneurs who started companies while keeping their day jobs were 33 percent less likely to fail than those who went all-in.
Prema and Preeti, both being financial professionals, helped with planning and running the new business on a tight budget. They strongly recommend learning how to budget and forecast, especially if you’re likely to go out-of-pocket for the first couple of years.
Setting Realistic Goals
Early on, they also learned the value of setting realistic goals for your business.
“Prior to our soft launch, we marketed ScholarSpace heavily for two months,” Prema says. “We received several calls from parents. Let’s just say we were very confident they would all attend our soft launch. Of the 30 parents who inquired, only five showed up! We set high expectations on our turnout and saw that as our first failure. After the launch, we regrouped and committed to heavy grassroots marketing. We were more realistic this time about the turnout. We learned to focus on the process than the outcome.”
As they slowly build their business – largely stress-free because of their steady jobs – Preeti and Prema are able to focus and enjoy their mission to help underserved communities by dedicating their weekends to ScholarSpace. They not only get to know their students, but also their larger families. “As entrepreneurs, it is important for us to connect with them on a human level,” Prema says.
ScholarSpace currently has 25 students between the ages of four and 18 enrolled in their tutoring program. The courses help students prepare for competitive exams like the SATs; and some students are even applying to Ivy Leagues, so they require intensive coaching.
Working seven days a week may seem cumbersome to many, but not to these guys. “It honestly doesn’t feel like work! We are serving our community, and that’s rewarding in itself.”
Featured image: ScholarSpace co-founders Prema Choudhury (left) and Preeti Choudhury (right). Image credit: Prema Choudhury.