THE FUTURE OF PREPARING FOR EXAMS CRASH COURSES WITHOUT THE CRASH — THE NEW WAY OF STUDYING
Skipping a lecture, having a nice cup of coffee in the university canteen, long nights of philosophizing and red wine … alas, those easy-going university times have passed. Graduating from secondary school by the age of 17, a bachelors degree by 21 and a masters degree a year later — this is the norm in universities nowadays. Three young founders have made it their goal to help save school graduates and university students from burning out, by creating customized crash courses. Wellcome to the hive of the Studybees.
Hello Studybees! Could you give us a quick round-up of your operation?
Julia Hetzel: We’ve been in business since 2013. At first we were an agency for tutoring. And since 2015 we have set our main focus on crash courses for university students. By today we offer our services at 30 university locations all over Germany. According to demand advanced students can offer courses for their younger fellow students. The idea as born when we noticed the large number of business administration students were struggling with the exams on the fundamentals of statistics and microeconomics. Anyone that knew someone that had already passed the exams in question had a very clear advantage. We wanted to give access to this advantage to all the students.
And how does one turn the idea into a business?
Julia: When our first courses booked up overnight, we immediately saw the potential. Nowadays, in the times of bachelor and master degrees the pressure is way up – every grade is relevant. These days one has to internalize high amounts of knowledge in short periods of time. There is an great need for efficient exam preparation.
Alexandra Slabskaia: Our service is the missing link in the university system. We aren’t interested in changing the way things are, but rather in supplementing the curriculum in the periods before exams.
Did you guys study in Mannheim yourselves? Did you get to know each other here?
Fabian Klein: I studied political sciences at the Heidelberg university. After that got a masters degree in international relations abroad. With my intellectual background I am the odd one out among the Studybees. I met Julia in Paris during my exchange semester. We were in the same course there and became friends. At the time we often spent time discussing possible future start-ups in the education sector.
Julia: The course we met during was called „Crisis-Management“ by the way. Quite fitting for the start-up world. Alexandra and I met during our studies of business administration in Mannheim. During the master program we both spent time as working students at the successful start-up Stocard.
Alexandra: Those were very inspiring times. Julia was working in human resources management for Stocard, and I was in business development. We quickly saw that we worked well together and complemented each other. During the time we discovered the whole Mannheim start-up scene. The atmosphere was amazing, the people motivated — the experience definitely took away our fear of founding ourselves.
Are you still in contact with your former bosses over at Stocard?
Julia: Sure! They were very supportive and gave us great tips in the beginning.
During your time at university, were you more „better safe than sorry“, or „at the last minute“ in regards to studying for exams?
Fabian: We’re quite different to be honest. Julia keeps things prepared for the long run. I was less invested during the semesters. I would get involved in preparation just before the exams, only once things got serious.
Julia: Business administration in Mannheim is tough. There’s just to much subject matter to absorb. To prepare and follow up each course is basically impossible. Towards the end of the semester there will be six or seven exams over the course of two weeks, while at the same time the courses continue and every bit of material remains relevant to the exams. The pressure is immense and makes real preparation almost undoable.
What kind of courses can one find on your site?
Julia: Mainly economic sciences. But we also offer courses for engineers, for example: engineering mechanics and higher mathematics. We also have a lot of stuff for students of law attending the earlier semesters. Though the preparations for the final university examination we leave up to the tutors. Our fosuc lies most on helping the beginners into the larger picture of things.
Fabian: We’re all about methodology. Basic modules for the beginnings of university – this is what we focus on mainly.
You also offer courses for second school graduates. How do they tie in with the programs you offer for university students.
Julia: We offer crash courses in Math. We found it felt natural as we have such great tutors on board with us that are well versed in the required material. These subject matters are also required during the first semester of university, so there is fluent transition of sorts.
How do you go about recruiting your tutors?
Fabian: Students can request specific courses with us and we will seek out the right people for the job. Studybees receives around 500-600 requests per month. We also get emails from potential tutors with ideas for courses they are interested in offering. Most of these people have experience in lecturing. We check out their credentials, their grades and then set up a Skype-call or meet up in person. We schedule a demonstration lesson with every contestant, and often we’ll see that the grade don’t say as much as one might think. What is most important are didactic and pedagogical abilities.
Julia: To find the best people we focus on their grades, the demonstration lesson and their experience as a tutor. A further issue is the evaluation of all of our courses, which is very important to us.
Do you provide the course spaces on location?
Julia: Of course! We assume responsibility for the complete organization and take care of securing the seminar rooms.
Fabian: Our tutors can focus on their subject matter, while we take care of the rest.
What steps do you take when developing a new location? Osnabrück for instance.
Fabian: First of we find out how many people are studying a certain subject. We check the market situation and give a test course to see the response. Interesting that you ask about Osnabrück, as we have just set up business there and things are going well.
Do you guys spend time in person on site, to see things through?
Fabian: Initially we did. One of us was there for the initial phase. By now the experiences we have gathered on the ground have helped us manage things remotely. And we have a great network that we rely on.
Have any university cities surprised you out of the blue?
Fabian: I instantly thought of Hohenheim. A rather small university here in the south. Very often the smaller cities will be the most receptive to our system. It’s all about word-of-mouth recommendation. The smaller the city, the faster word will will spread that we have something great to offer.
How many students are usually in a Studybees course?
Fabian: About 20 people. So less than in any common uni-tutorial. And a lot less than in any lecture hall.
Julia: Our courses max out at around 30-35 people. And there is no minimum number of participants. We always try our best to make every course happen. It would be a poor show if the students are planning on our courses and we have to cancel. We’ve had courses with 2-4 people.
Give us an overview of your business model.
Fabian: We charge a course fee and pay for the room, the tutor and marketing. The online platform focused on tutoring that we offered since the beginning is free of charge now. It is still a matter that is close to all our hearts, even though we don’t make money off of it. Not every subject has enough students for us to pick it up, and this way we can still remain helpful to everyone.
Julia: With our many years of experience we know what students need. And the great thing about Mafinex is that we can use the seminar rooms on site to offer great courses from here.
What feedback do you get from universities?
Julia: At times we get some backlash from professors. They will say that any student that keeps up with their lectures won’t need any help. Though the failure rate in business administration speaks for itself. Many students are struggling to keep up, and that’s fine. Tutoring in school is normal, so why not for university students as well?
Alexandra: Often our crash courses are what triggers an interest in a subject. Our interest is not that courses are substituted, but rather in offering a useful addition. With us students will learn the relevant subject matter in a group setting. We find this a lot better than sitting in the library reading the wrong book.
Fabian: This allows us to relieve a lot of pressure. We achieve this through content preparation. In the end your time at a university shouldn’t be about torturing yourself, but rather about learning and taking along a benefit.
Are there stars amongst your tutors?
Fabian: Indeed there are! The high-flyers are those that are charming, humorous and good at communicating. For many of our tutors Studybees is far more than a job. These people really want to help. Our tutors experience fantastic success stories. It’s a great thing to help students overcome the stress and succeed. Every one of us has their part in helping students succeed in exams. Some of our tutors have even found jobs in their universities after their run with Studybees.
What is Mannheim to you?
Julia: Mannheim is the perfect home-base for Studybees. The proximity to the universities in Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Kaiserslautern and Darmstadt is a real benefit.
Alexandra: The start-up community with it’s lively exchange in Mafinex is awesome!We shared our floor with Road Ads, Mister Trip, Elaspix and Zingoo for quite some time.
Fabian: Julia is from the Ruhr area, while Alexandra was born in Ukraine and grew up in Nuremberg. Both of them have lived here for a while. A couple months ago I moved from Heidelberg to Mannheim, and I love it! We’ll be going strong from here until any economist in the country knows who we are!
Interview: Andreas Stanita / LA.MAG Content. Corporate. Communication.
Photos: Sebastian Weindel