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Mon 26 Aug 2019 09:15 AM

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Ex-Googler targets the Gulf with new teaching app

Scoodle app offers teaching across a broad spectrum of skills, ranging from music to languages to economics

Ex-Googler targets the Gulf with new teaching app
Ismail Jeilani said the branding around his education platform is centred on ‘trust’.

The United Kingdom’s first ‘find-a-tutor’ app is set to launch in the United Arab Emirates, primarily targeting Arabs who want to brush up on their English language skills.

Ismail Jeilani, 25, set up Scoodle in 2017, connecting students with tutors so they can book lessons and get answers to questions they need help with.

The app offers teaching across a broad spectrum of skills, ranging from music to languages to economics.

Scoodle doesn't take a cut of the tutors' fees but students can pay for a AED45–65 ($12.25-17.69) a month subscription that provides access to unlimited resources, as well as priority to experts' answers.

Former Google employee Jeilani built the app together with two childhood friends and they started the business from an empty room in Jeilani’s uncle’s house.

In the summer of 2017, the trio presented their idea at an event for ex-Google staff where they could connect with investors. Since then, Scoodle has grown exponentially.

Stand-out subjects

The company now has 25,000 students and 15,000 tutors on its books across 200 countries. Jeilani says he is targeting a similar student-teacher ratio in the GCC.

The British Muslim entrepreneur said English will be one of the "stand-out subjects" in the Gulf.

He also said English students from the West will want to connect with GCC tutors to improve their fluency in Arabic.

Jeilani told Arabian Business: “We’re not just looking to grow a student base but also a teaching base. We’re looking to have one teacher per seven to nine students.”

The Scoodle founder said his team is currently working on building an in-house system to manage the learning experiences across borders, which would consist of a mix of video tutoring and on-the ground lessons.

“We’re planning to really start ramping things up in the next six months for our Dubai launch. We’re doing testing right now across different subgroups and markets and hopefully, if all goes well, we’ll be able to launch in time for the core exam period, which starts at around February and March time next year,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia is increasingly spending on R&D and learning so we do expect to see a lot of interest there. But the UAE is also a very established market as well.”

Education ecosystem

Jeilani said the branding around his education platform is centred on "trust". He explained that one way to build trust is through hosting focus groups in the region.

“We want to speak directly to parents, students and teachers. While the GCC education ecosystem has a lot of similarities to the West, there are also unique experiences that the GCC has that other parts of the world don’t have. For us, that’s a key starting point,” he said.

“The next step is to make sure that we have a team on the ground available to be able to continue and execute on some of the learnings that we have. That’s the best way of building something that people trust – that’s the path for us.

“We’re not looking to just be a UK-based company, we’re looking to grow out in the GCC and be part of the education ecosystem over there and to be able to do that, we need hands, feet and brains available to us in order to make that happen.”

Scoodle – which is backed by the co-founder of Twitter and ex-Google employees – is currently seeking funding to expand internationally. “We’re in conversations about that at the moment. By the time we launch abroad, we’re expecting to have the next pieces of the puzzle in place.”

However, Jeilani said building his business up from scratch has not been without its challenges.

“One of the biggest challenges on a personal level is the mental health impact. Building a company comes with stresses and responsibilities that you have with friends and family but also with the employees of the company and I think that’s understated,” he said.

The entrepreneur said it’s important to build a support network to share thoughts and conversations with.

“It’s also vital to make sure that your core vision stays intact. Sometimes you can have a lot of distractions, so it’s important to have touch points every few weeks to come back to the core reason as to why you exist.

“That’s what keeps us going: we want teachers around the world to be recognised. They’re not recognised enough. We want teachers to be on par with the Kardashians in terms of influence. In South Korea, they have teachers on billboards, for example. Teachers are incredibly impactful, but they are rarely recognised for it. We’re here to change that.”

Jeilani said the big vision for Scoodle is to positively impact hundreds of millions of lives.

“In terms of impact, it’s a global network that we’re trying to create because education is an international phenomenon.

“School and education is the only thing that can create jobs, it extends beyond the GCC, UK and the US. It’s global.”

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