Editor’s Note: Our writer Grayce Zhu sat down with Ben Attal (Co-Founder, COO) from Nimbus Tutoring to understand their vision, their challenges, and their story.
The Nimbus Tutoring app is dedicated to delivering the most convenient way for students to connect with the best tutors for in-person, course specific lessons at the university level. If you’re interested in being or hiring a tutor, get Nimbus on the App Store or Google Play.
What does Nimbus do?
Nimbus is focused on connectivity and accessibility in student tutoring. In a lot of ways, it’s something that’s been difficult or expensive to get. We saw the value of a peer support system backed up by technology. We can also provide students who are willing to work during the year with a job that fits around their university schedule. When you think of a student job, it’s working as a cashier or a waiter and those are great but they’re not necessarily the most intellectually stimulating. They’re definitely a burden on your life because you can’t just easily schedule and reschedule. Nimbus provides a unique opportunity for students to find work that is interesting and less overwhelming.
Why did you decide to join Nimbus?
I heard about it through one of my friends, Abdul, the CMO of Nimbus. Abdul is one of those people who always has a million projects going on. We had worked together before but this project just stood out to me. This is something that’s missing in the world and something that I think I can have a really positive impact on. At that point, I was looking for something to be interested in outside of school. I’ve always had stimulating jobs in the summer but that fulfillment you get from working on something interesting and enjoyable everyday is missing in the school year. I heard about this opportunity so I simply signed up.
What was your role when you first joined the company?
In the beginning, I did anything I could to help. I spent the beginning of my time at Nimbus
doing tons of class announcements and handing out fliers. I was fulfilling the most basic functions. Luckily, I soon developed a good relationship with Will. We work really well together. With more responsibilities, I was promoted to the position that I am in now.
How do you balance your studies with your work at Nimbus?
I’m studying mathematics at McGill. I have six courses left in total. I’m trying to balance school and work but honestly, the balance is skewed in one direction right now. I don’t do much for school. It’s pretty much Nimbus all the time, but I can’t complain. I really enjoy it.
What has been the most difficult challenge in getting Nimbus off the ground?
In the beginning, the most difficult challenge is building credibility. When you first talk to people about this app, they think it’s cool but not something that is professional enough for them to want to pay for and use. We spent a lot of time going out and talking to people, people who would be our first customers. We explained the research and the work we put in. This is not something we’re just doing for fun. It’s useful. It was difficult because we had to put in a lot of our own time and effort into this first step, but it’s not something that we would look back on and call a tough time. It was exciting.
What is the most difficult challenge in running Nimbus?
What’s difficult, especially in technology startups, is balancing the different timelines of the different sectors of the company. From an operations or marketing perspective, it’s best to let people know what we’re doing as soon as possible but at the same time, we have to take into account that building an app takes a long time. For example, we launched a new version of the app this year that was fully reworked over the summer. We anticipated completion in August, but that got pushed to September, then October, then to the end of October. We had made decisions in planning based on the initial expected completion date of the app but the plans weren’t possible because the new version of the app wasn’t working to the extent that it was expected to. It’s difficult to keep marketing teams motivated without a product to market.
How did you overcome this challenge?
We’re still figuring that out right now. What we’ve done to keep people motivated is to focus on the fact that, at the end of the day, we’re not worried. We’re not worried that we’re a little behind on what we projected in revenue. The solution is not to panic. We’re going to get there. We do everything we can to prepare for when everything is ready. We do things that, although off from the original timeline, will definitely help for the future. Never tell yourself that just because things don’t go according to plan, that it can’t be done. It’s about just doing things that are always helping, always building, always moving forward.
How do you build a good team?
This is something we thought about a lot. One of the guest speakers from the McGill X-1 accelerator over the summer was telling the story of how he built his company. His name is Rubin Gruber, one of McGill’s most successful alumni. He said that your most important job as an early startup is to make sure that you are hiring great people.
We have a recruitment process where everyone currently in the company in a decision-making capacity has to approve every new hire. Instead of making a decision after one interview, we will have three or four interviews. Sometimes even after a long discussion, three of us will say yes and one will say no. In those cases, we don’t move forward with the candidate. It’s important to have everyone on the same page. There are so many amazing people out there and so many of those people are looking for this type of position. If you are patient, you will find the right person.
Everything is relative to scale. We can’t worry about a one-week delay right now if it’s someone we’ll be working with for, hopefully, three years or more. You don’t want to make the wrong decision long-term based on a short-term goal.
What makes a good team member?
I think the people that ask the most questions are people who we want to work with the most. We don’t know everything. They don’t know everything. If we keep asking questions, that’s how we best move forward.
How do you manage your team?
It’s important not to micromanage and it’s important not to overwhelm someone with too many jobs. I’ve found that it’s best to clearly define the goal we have as a company, how we’re planning to reach those goals, and the minimum requirements we expect. This way, people are thinking for themselves.
What are you most excited about moving forward?
Right now, I’m excited for people to see the new version of the app that our development team put thousands of hours of work into.
Moving forward, I’m excited about being in a period where we have teams everywhere who we can trust to do the work we want. We are able to go back to when our only focus is to be creative and think big. The most rewarding part of being in a startup is when there are just three of you around a white board talking about a specific issue and how to plan for it over the course of the next year. I’m excited to figure out what our real next steps are.
What are the next steps for the company?
We’re thinking about how we’re going to bring Nimbus to different levels of education. Right now, it’s a peer-to-peer platform for universities but middle schools, high schools, and CEGEPs also need tutoring. For those levels of education, there isn’t yet a reliable means to find tutors at affordable prices. Being able to cater to the whole range of education is something we’re really looking forward to.