Top of the class

A lightbulb teaching moment at home was the spark for this family-run education business, which now helps kids of all ages.

Kinetic Education is a family business, focusing on helping young Australians to achieve their full potential in maths and English. The company was founded by the parents, Mary and Bharat, of CEO Jonathan Sanghvi, who today runs the enterprise with his brother, William. We spoke to Jonathan about the ethos behind the business, and the technology that allows them to educate young people all around the world.

ISB: What was the inspiration behind the founding of Kinetic Education?

JS: When I was very young, I was hearing and speech impaired. I had an operation when I was five that fixed my hearing, but I was so far behind the other kids and I really did not enjoy school. My parents used their combined skills to create some fun learning activities for me on the computer, and that was a “lightbulb” moment for them. Years later, inspired by how successful these activities had been in my development, my parents started developing maths programs.

They initially created programs for Years 11 and 12, as that was when most parents were looking for tutors, and they needed cash flow from “quick” sales, but really wanted to help children as early as possible, just as they’d helped me.

“When you have family working with the same goal you can have confidence that things are still getting done properly.”

We now support the maths and English curriculum all the way through primary and secondary school. The primary activities are Look, Listen and Learn so the kids enjoy themselves. We try to make secondary school maths as painless as possible, with continuous assessment throughout the program.

ISB: You and your family have been helping children for over 30 years and I understand you and your brother have taken over – how is running the business with your brother, and are your parents still involved?

JS: William and I have clearly defined responsibilities, so it works well. He looks after the customer support, tutor team and development projects, and I head the day-to-day operations and sales. We have had some pretty robust conversations, but it works really well because we know we both have the best interests of the business at heart. Mum and Dad still play a part, and it is nice to have them around and have their input as they are still so passionate about the business.

ISB: How have you all maintained that passion for 30 years?

I guess that is the biggest advantage of having a family business. There are times when you are flat and burnt out and someone else needs to step up. When you have family working with the same goal you can have confidence that things are still getting done properly. And it is so fulfilling knowing that we have helped so many children. It’s a buzz when you hear from a parent how much difference you’ve made.

ISB: Why did you decide to combine tutors with computer-based learning?

JS: Originally, we didn’t. However, we found that kids really needed guidance about where to start and what to do. If the kids were “lost” at school, they could be equally “lost” when they got home. We became aware that the kids need to be learning good study habits and feel they are in their comfort zone to be able to make the most of their online learning. So we brought in tutors who are available on a helpline to give encouragement and support to the families as well as the children. The kids have a weekly lesson plan, driven by artificial intelligence and overseen by our tutors to ensure each student is learning what they are ready for. This is very important, because if students are left to their own devices, they could jump into an unsuitable lesson they’re not ready for … or not do anything at all!

With our tutors we can really personalise the learning experience and work with parents to help get their

children real results. In many ways we see private tutors, rather than other online learning providers, as our main competitors.

ISB: With your tutors working online, how do you train them and maintain quality?

JS: That’s really important. When we first started hiring tutors, they worked from home but we quickly realised, from a quality and training perspective, the tutors need to work from our offices so we can ensure they’re saying and doing the right things. Our tutors are so integral to our success that on average we would go through more than 100 applicants before hiring a tutor that’s a great fit for our team. We have a great mix of university students, ex-teachers and even customer-service professionals. The most important thing is that they have a passion to help kids, have great communication skills and are able to tutor maths or English to the grade level of student that they are given.

ISB: How have you managed to keep up with the huge changes in technology since the business started?

JS: That’s a constant challenge. As there are so many maths and English programs available now because of the internet, we made some big changes to our model three years ago. It was scary at the time, but it has enabled us to prosper. The key is to provide great value and look after your customers – doing that has seen us get great reviews online and on social media, the cornerstone for any small business nowadays. Having the technical ability to market to anyone in Australia and deliver our tutoring to them has been a game changer for us. In the past 12 months we have seen 200 per cent growth and we expect a similar trajectory in the next year. We have also expanded internationally and we’re getting some good success there.

ISB: What impact has the ever-changing technology environment had on the business?

JS: There is no doubt that this has been hard work for all the family. This is a very complex product, requiring constant innovation, research and development, keeping up with the curriculum, recruiting, training … and running a business. Looking back, we could have done something easier, but there is a lot to be said for having your own business and doing something very creative and helping kids.

When we started out, educational programs were almost unknown. Teachers were suspicious that technology would put them all out of a job. And parents were afraid their children would be in trouble for getting help out of school. In those days, parents thought it could be taken as cheating! We were competing with a centuries-old concept, that if a child doesn’t do as well as they should in school, it is his or her own fault entirely and they’re not good enough, end of story. That attitude led to a privileged few going to university and to professional jobs, with the rest dropping out early to become factory workers or labourers – in other words, the educational system maintained the class divide. At Kinetic Education, we are firmly convinced that children need all the help they can get. Computing is a very good way of delivering that help, straight to the kids, in the comfort of their homes, giving them all a chance in life.

ISB: Maths and English are integral to that, but many kids find the “boring” – how do you get the kids to actually enjoy these subjects?

JS: We make our lessons seem easy, so that they understand the stuff that they are finding difficult in school. Furthermore, we have an incentives program with real prizes for good work done, which gives them a sense of achievement.

This story first appeared in issue 27 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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