Published on November 17th, 2017 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Gary Vaynerchuk And Clark Founders Megan O’Connor & Sam Gimbel On Changing The Role Of The Tutor
A virtual assistant which helps tutors build small businesses, Clark simplifies the overall relationship between educators, parents and students. Officially launched in October 2017, Clark first received international attention after it was featured on Apple’s Planet of the Apps. Within the Planet exposure, Clark founders Megan O’Connor and Sam Gimbel received mentoring from Gary Vaynerchuk, which ultimately led Clark to receive millions of dollars in seed funding from top VC firms.
Prior to launching Clark, CEO Megan O’Connor was the Director of Development for Pencils Of Promise. She also served as Development Manager for Goods for Good and was the Chief Growth Officer for Human Ventures. Sam Gimbel, Clark’s Chief Product Officer, was previously the Product Manager at DramaFever. Prior to DramaFever’s acquisition by SoftBank, Gimbel was a Product Manager at DigitalOcean. With the founding of Clark, O’Connor and Gimbel are working to eliminate the administrative work that often plagues tutors, keeping the tutors’ focus on the education itself.
To learn more about Clark, I had the pleasure of not only doing Q&A with Megan O’Connor and Sam Gimbel, but also the aforementioned Gary Vaynerchuk. More information on the acclaimed platform, as based in New York City, can be found online at www.hiclark.com.
How did you first learn about Clark?
Gary Vaynerchuk: I learned more about Clark when I was a judge on Apple’s Planet of the Apps. They hit everything I was looking for: a buttoned-up pitch, a needed service for an untapped market, scalability and passion. Working with Megan and Sam deepened my belief that I made the right decision to mentor them and help bring Clark to millions of educators across the country.
How did you two first meet? Were you friends first, or did the business idea bring you together?
Megan O’Connor: We first met when I had just started working on Clark and I was acting as a personal assistant to a number of local NYC tutors, helping them manage their schedules and payments and finding new students. I was trying to learn what help they really needed to grow sustainable tutoring businesses and to find out if there was really a systemic need for my idea. I wrote a job description for what my ideal co-founder would be — I knew what my strengths are and I knew what I didn’t know.
I never posted this job description because I met Sam. I started talking to my network in the New York City tech community about what I was looking for in terms of a partner. A mutual friend introduced us and within the first 20 minutes of talking we decided to team up! Sam, at the time that I met him, was working on a project not all that dissimilar to Clark, on software for 1099s to support the gig-economy. Sam quit his job and we joined forces almost immediately after that first conversation.
How would you describe Clark to someone who hasn’t used it before?
Sam Gimbel: Clark is the first data-driven platform built specifically for tutors. The service consists of a mobile app for tutors and a web portal for parents, teachers, and anyone else invested in a student’s education. We empower tutors to create, run, and grow their businesses by making it easy to book sessions, track student progress, and communicate with decision-makers such as teachers and parents. By spending less time on administrative work, tutors are able to teach more hours and provide better education while also appearing more professional in the eyes of their clientele.
More than a personal assistant for tutors, Clark is democratizing access to tutoring services, including matching students with tutors, reporting on student progress, and simple nudges to assist in session attendance. Through our web portal, parents are able to take an active role in their students’ education without having to ask for updates. Clark is the best way for parents to stay involved outside the classroom for the entirety of a student’s tutoring experience.
Do you have a favorite feature of the platform?
Megan O’Connor: We’re very proud of our learning plan feature, which enables tutors to set parental expectations by making it easy to communicate learning goals and session details. We spent countless hours with tutors in the early days whose primary concerns including late payments and parental questions about student progress, stemmed from misunderstandings about the goals and parameters of the tutoring engagement. We’re super-excited to offer a simple solution to these problems that also serves as a way to calibrate progress reports submitted after each session.
How did the opportunity to work with Gary Vaynerchuk come along?
Sam Gimbel: We had the opportunity to be on Apple’s Series, Planet of the Apps, and we were so excited to be able to have Gary as our mentor. We met such an esteemed panel of judges that included Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, will.i.am, and of course, Gary Vaynerchuk. It all started more than a year ago when we first applied to participate. Megan and I went through multiple rounds of interviews and demos of the Clark features. Then last November, we received an exciting call to go to Los Angeles for a final round of interviews, which is when we found out we were officially on the show. It started with a lightning pitch, where each entrepreneur has 60 seconds to share their idea in front of the judges… on a slow-moving escalator. This was not our favorite part — there were no handrails and Megan has a serious fear of heights!
Our pitch to the panel of judges was successful and from November 2016 to February 2017, we worked with Gary, whom we choose to be our mentor. He gave us insight on how to perfect our product and get it to where it needed to be. We were thrilled to be advised by Gary, who created VaynerMedia and has built and invested in America’s most well-known brands. Gary’s mentorship and advice was invaluable, and he made sure we stayed true to Clark’s mission.
The next step on Planet of the Apps was to pitch to the VC firm Lightspeed Venture Partners. Megan and I were thrilled that they saw the potential of Clark and agreed, on-air, to invest. Following this successful pitch, we received additional participation from Rethink Education, Flatworld Partners, and Winkelvoss Capital and — led by LSVP — we raised $2.5MM in Series Seed. To date, we have now raised $3.5MM in funding. With this latest round of funding, we’re one giant leap closer to making a meaningful impact in the lives of tutors, independent educators, and students across the country, starting with New York City.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months? What do the next few months look like for Clark? Any public events planned?
Megan O’Connor: We have a few primary goals. First, we just released the true V1 of our product on iOS in early October and then shortly thereafter we plan to launch on Android. We plan to continue to build out parent-facing experience on the web and then build out our advice on standardized testing. We’re excited to apply all of our learnings over the last year to a best-in-class experience for tutors and their communities. Beyond that, we’re looking forward to partnering with schools in the New York City area to bring Clark to the teachers whose daily experience is vital to a full picture of how a student performs. We can’t wait to celebrate the awesome work tutors are doing in our area and around the world!
As far as public events, Sam and I are being invited to speak at conferences and we are thrilled to be able to get the word out about Clark along with learning what other game-changing entrepreneurs are doing!
When not busy with Clark, how do you like to spend your free time?
Sam Gimbel: What free time? (laughs) Kidding aside, I’m an avid homebrewer, runner, and writer. I try to keep my hobbies limited to the things that provide me with the most fun while letting me stretch my creative side.
Megan O’Connor: Free time right now is hard to come by! But when we are not working on Clark I love traveling and do as much as I can. I also enjoy going to as many performances, dance, music, and theater that I can.
Away from the office, what has been the highlight of your 2017?
Sam Gimbel: My girlfriend and I traveled to two places on our list of places to see before we die. We rented cars and traveled around Iceland and Scotland, even managing to get off the grid for a couple days. Iceland was other-worldly, and Scotland was beautiful, even in the rain. I’d love to spend more time in both places.
Megan O’Connor: This year there wasn’t a ton of time away from the office, but I would say my highlight was getting to travel to Mexico City with friends.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
Sam Gimbel: I never appreciated school while I was in it, but looking back, I have to say that access to good education and teachers who cared made me who I am today. It may always be uncool to enjoy school, but odds are there’s a teacher somewhere in there who speaks to you with patience and respect. Find a mentor, a tutor, or a teacher who encourages your curiosity and you’ll reap the rewards for the rest of your life.
Megan O’Connor: Receiving extra help to understand a subject or getting tutoring is not something you should be ashamed of. I know what it is like to struggle in school and not understand why a subject might take you longer to grasp. After my tutor helped to diagnose my dyslexia in 3rd grade, I started to get straight A’s. My advice is to be kind to yourself and know that everyone has a different learning style — yours is unique to you, and that’s ok. Mine was that I needed extra help and once I got it, I thrived! Getting extra help shouldn’t be embarrassing. Some of the smartest people I know, who have gone on to achieve great success, had tutors growing up all because they struggled with algebra or didn’t quite grasp chemistry. Asking for help is always worth it in the long run.
Gary Vaynerchuk: What I also love about Clark is that it’s our kids who will ultimately benefit and their education will be enriched as a result of having more access to talented tutors.Tweet