In 2015, when Malieh Maxime wanted to leave home in Bamenda, a city in northwestern Cameroon, to study software engineering at the University of Douala, a school in the country's capital Littoral Region, his parents told him he couldn't.
Bamenda is one of Cameroon's English-speaking cities, while Douala is a French-speaking city and home to most of the country's universities. So, leaving for school meant moving to a new location where he and his family knew nobody.
"We didn't know anyone there, and we had to pay for everything, including rent and fees, which we couldn't afford," Maxime says.
But Maxime had heard from his friends that he could tutor children from their homes and make enough money to live on. He thus assured his parents that he could take care of himself.
To his greatest surprise, however, he found it extremely challenging to find clients willing to pay for the services he wanted to offer when he resumed school.
Nevertheless, he got a client. One of his friends introduced him to a parent looking for a tutor for their child, who was in Form 5 and studying for the Cameroon General Certificate of Education (GCE).
In 2019, one of his lecturers asked his classmates to build and present a software project to the class.
That was when he came up with the concept of Prepdia. He reasoned that he could create a tutorial platform for those looking to have home classes while helping them meet their financial obligations by connecting them with parents who would pay for their services.
Interestingly, he began researching the project. Nonetheless, he presented another project because he realised he couldn’t build the idea in time.
After the project, he began developing Prepdia's software. Between 2019 and 2021, Maxime gathered information on how the startup would operate.
He also observed that parents did not verify the tutors who came to them, which he found disturbing. He pondered what might happen if the tutors proved to be less than they claimed.
"For example, the first parent I met had to rely on the word of a friend that I'm a good teacher. I had never taught before, and they were unaware of my credentials.
"The parents didn't care to find out more. They didn’t ask questions like, 'Is this person real? Can they teach what they claim they can teach?' There was nothing like that. After we reached an agreement, I began teaching,” Maxime points out.
Additionally, he learnt from tutoring more learners how challenging it is to connect parents with tutors.
So he set out to solve these issues. He researched several business-related topics, including how to launch and fund a business. He also attended some leadership training sessions.
In June 2021, Maxime launched Prepdia.
How does Prepdia work?
Prepdia is an edtech platform that connects tutors to learners and parents to tutors.
“It is a platform where parents can look to find tutors for their children, either online or at home. It’s a marketplace where parents can sign up and request a teacher, and we will provide them with what they want," Maxime says.
Prepdia then connects those parents with tutors. It also processes payments for those tutors and keeps track of the lessons they teach.
Parents can call Prepdia on the phone, send a direct message on WhatsApp, or fill out the form on its website to request a tutor.
“We have real-life people reading and responding to messages. A person is available to pick up the phone when parents call. A representative will contact you after you submit an online form to discuss the services you want,” Maxime says.
However, parents are more comfortable using WhatsApp to request tutors. Prepdia says it does most of its business on WhatsApp.
"Before we switched to WhatsApp, parents thought the website was a scam, but communicating with them through WhatsApp or phone calls proved otherwise. The website is still live. Simply put, parents would rather converse with people than fill out forms.
"Now that we have established a foundation of trust and competence, we intend to create a platform through which those tutors can interact," Maxime explains.
According to Prepdia, the first thing it does is try to send qualified tutors to parents. It vets them because it knows most of these parents are so busy.
Responding to how they are vetted, Maxine clarifies the process.
"After they apply, we preselect tutors who meet our expectations and schedule an interview. During the interview, we test their competency in the subject they want to teach, pedagogy, and personality.”
Before conducting competency and personality-based interviews with tutors, Prepdia considers their educational background and professional experience.
Consequently, Prepdia ensures the tutors it sends to the parents' homes perform their duties; this helps parents make on-time tutor payments.
Prepdia also provides follow-up and bi-weekly feedback to keep parents up to date.
"And for the tutors, we not only provide them with jobs, but we also ensure that they have some level of security on which they can rely," Maxime adds.
Because some of its rivals don't do this, the startup claims that by thoroughly screening its tutors before hiring them, it stands out from the crowd.
Learners receive a progress report that includes feedback, which parents are notified about.
Challenges, growth, and expansion plans
Currently bootstrapped, Prepdia earns money through commissions on teacher payments. Due to limited resources, managing the edtech startup is challenging.
The startup says one challenge is determining how to manage its tutors and how they want to be treated. Fostering cooperation between parents and tutors is another one.
But Maxime claims that the company has done some research to understand and streamline its operations.
Prepdia, which started as a one-man team, has worked with more than 500 tutors since its launch in June 2021. It now has a staff strength of 12.
In January 2022, the company hired two people, and Maxime converted one of his rooms into an office. In June of that year, the company moved to a bigger space.
It has also worked with over 1,500 learners and taught for over 75,000 hours. It plans to reach 10,000 families by the end of 2023.
Because most of its processes are currently manual, Prepdia wants to create a fully functional online system where users, such as tutors, can apply and go through the platform's vetting and payment procedures.
Since the problem that Prepdia is solving is not specific to Cameroon and Gabon — the countries where it currently has a presence — the company wants to expand into other Francophone African countries like Senegal and Ivory Coast.