Meet the startup guys who are going to save your CS midterms
It’s not too late to bump up your grade
After weeks of planning, sophomore Alex Kaufman and senior Erik Schluntz have launched their new tutoring platform, CS50 Pro.
It’s set to help you with the upcoming CS50 midterm and the two plan on expanding to a wide number of subjects and schools in the near future.
We sat down with them to find out more.
Tell us a bit more about who you are?
Erik: I’m Erik Schluntz, I’m a senior in Pfoho, studying Electrical Engineering. I’m from Washington D.C. I’ve spent pretty much every week this year helping my little sister who’s a freshman in CS50, so that’s sort of how the idea for this got started.
Alex: I’m Alex Kaufman, I am a sophomore in Dunster House studying Molecular and Cellular Biology and Statistics. I’m originally from Westchester, NY, which is just north of the city. I’ve worked in several tutoring companies in the past, and this always seemed like an idea that would be the next logical step to creating a better product. I’ve known Erik previously, so this natural partnership just came about.
Can you tell us more about the project?
Erik: The basic idea is to connect students with tutors instantly online with a video chat. We think a lot of the problem for a lot of tutoring right now, there is too much of a hassle trying to schedule something in advance, you don’t know when the tutor is free, and really what people are looking for is the on demand experience of just hitting a button and being able to talk to a tutor right there, like you see with Uber replacing taxis, so that’s the experience we’re trying for people to make as easy as possible.
Alex: Also a lot of the time when you have questions about school work, it’s not always that the questions will arise when you’re in a tutoring session on a Wednesday at 5pm, questions are more likely to come when you’re hammering out a pset at maybe one or two in the morning. We really want to create, as Erik said, an on demand experience where students can get exactly what they need answered when they need it answered for however long they’d like to work with a tutor.
So, given this is CS50 Pro, are the tutors just Harvard students?
Erik: Right now, it’s all Harvard students, and the idea is that we’re focusing on CS50 as a first trial run to see if this is an idea that people like but I think in the long run this is going to expand to all sorts of different schools.
And the beauty of it being a video chat is that I could be tutoring someone at Stanford or someone at Stanford could tutoring a freshman in CS50 here. So the time zones are different: someone here working on a pset at three in the morning, all the Harvard guys are asleep but the West Coast guys are up.
Alex: We hope to expand this not only to colleges but also hopefully high school academics and anything else where someone could use the educational experience of working with someone else on something they’re currently working on. We really have a broad scope for the project, and I think it’s a dynamic scope as well. We’re hoping to refine our ideas as we continue the development and beta testing.
How long has CS50 Pro been around?
Alex: We launched yesterday morning!
Where did it come from?
Erik: So Alex had done some tutoring before and he sort of brought the idea to me and I said, “Well actually, this is definitely a good idea. All these people have been asking me for help in CS50″.
And so we had the idea Thursday and so were just like “Oh, let’s try it out, like it seems that CS50 would be a good class to test it in. Oh shit! The midterm is on Wednesday!” We built the entire website in two days, and I got ten of my friends to help volunteer to be tutors for this trial run for the next two days leading up to the midterm.
Alex: We’re just busy plugging it, trying to get the word out a little bit.
Erik: There were a lot of tutoring sessions today, so requests are flying in.
How does it work?
Erik: If you want a tutor, you go in, enter your email, your name, and your Venmo account, and that sends a notification out to all our tutors on the back end. One of them can reply and claim it, so the first person who claims it will get that tutoring session. Right now, they’ll be able to send a link to the student to start a video chat.
Alex: It’s only 30 cents a minute, after the first twenty minutes that are for free. So we’re really just trying to focus on building a quality product right now and we’re not worried so much about revenue. We’re just hoping that we can reach out to as many people as possible with as much help as possible.
Have you guys made a buck off of CS50 Pro?
Erik: Yeah, we’ve had tutoring sessions and people have passed that twenty minute mark.
Do the profits go to you or do they go to the tutors?
Erik: Right now they go to the tutors.
Alex: At this point in time, we’re really trying to figure out the business and the strengths and weaknesses of our program and how we can refine it. The profitability will be a concern later on.
Erik: I think one of the reasons it’s so cheap right now is that because it’s so on demand and easy for tutors, this is something they can do if they have an hour between classes and can put in they’re available for a request. It’s not something that feels like a job, it’s something that feels like, “Oh, I can do this when I have some downtime and I enjoy talking about these topics.”
Alex: As someone who’s been a tutor before, it can be a pain at times just to block off an hour or two hours out your schedule. It makes so much more sense if you can string together little fifteen-minute chunks of time you may have in your schedule between classes or over lunch or whenever you’d like to just get paid for some free time you wouldn’t otherwise be using.
Do you see yourselves doing this after graduation?
Erik: Possibly, yeah, I graduate in four weeks. I’m off-cycle because I had taken some off to work on a startup before, and I also turned down all my job offers two weeks ago. I know that I want to work on my own project. I personally enjoy thinking about the technical side of things, building the website, but also thinking about the business side of things, and that’s hard to do at existing companies.
Alex: Erik and I met through HCCG last semester. He was on board and I was just applying at the time. I think we both enjoy the business side of all this and Erik has a lot of experience with startups so we’re really excited about this and looking forward to seeing where it’ll go.
What’s the goal for this?
Erik: The goal for this is to make sure that no one is frustrated and working alone on something. When I was learning how to do CS, I always had friends that were able to help me, but other people who might be the first person in their friend groups to take a CS class aren’t that lucky. So I want to make sure that no one is sucked in to trying to do something and being frustrated. There should always be someone there to help. And if you go to office hours even, you have to wait 45 minutes to talk to a TF.
Alex: And you might not even get all of your questions answered when a TF comes around, so this is a way to have individualized attention when you want it for however long you want it. We want to be as flexible to your schedule as possible and provide as much help as possible.
How long should you be struggling on a CS50 pset before you give up?
Erik: I think you shouldn’t struggle and I think you shouldn’t think of asking for help as giving up. Computer Science is very collaborative, and there are always things to get stuck on, so it makes sense to work with other people. And we see our product as a very good way to help people do that. Maybe you and your friend are working on something and you’re both stuck. You can call on a CS50 Pro to talk through it with you guys, someone with a bit more experience to show you where you’re stuck and how to get past it.
Alex: We’re also planning to add chat rooms where several people can get help at the same time. We can almost redefine and evolve the educational and pedagogical process of tutoring through our program.
Asking for a friend here: is there any way you can make one for LS?
Alex: Absolutely! As an MCB concentrator, expanding to LS1a, LS1b, and other introductory life sciences courses is a personal priority. Definitely expect to see these programs launched soon.
Erik: This is absolutely just the first step. We see this going to a lot of other disciplines, schools, and levels of academia in the near future.