ASU alum grows business while getting degree
While many recent college grads vie for interviews to work in the company of their dreams, Todd VanDuzer left school already running the company of his dreams. The coursework and connections he found at Arizona State University helped him grow a tutoring business he had started back in high school.
“I saw the need and I just started doing it,” VanDuzer says. “I was tutoring a ton on my own and I couldn’t tutor anymore, so I started hiring my friends. That’s how Student-Tutor originally got started.”
Six years later, Student-Tutor has come a long way. VanDuzer now works with a business partner, Laura Petersen, whom he met two years ago through a mutual friend. They recently hired a salesperson to handle client relationships and a digital marketing specialist to manage Student-Tutor’s online presence. They also started offering SAT prep classes.
"In helping families over the last two years, we have encountered a lot of parents needing answers to questions about the SAT exam and how it can help their kids get into college and earn scholarships. We're finding some gaps in their knowledge and want to help," Petersen says. Recognizing that need allowed the company to expand into a new market. They now offer SAT prep classes in Chandler and Scottsdale, with plans to add classes in Mesa.
As a graduate of ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business, VanDuzer found that his coursework was directly and immediately applicable to his career after graduation. A double major in computer information systems and marketing helped him determine the best way to market his service to a targeted audience.
“I tried various things, like mass-mailing of postcards, signs on roads and networking events, but digital marketing has worked the best,” VanDuzer says. Increasing visibility through search engine optimization, Google AdWords and social media has helped the company grow and gather business.
“That’s been one of the biggest learning curves I think, because technology is increasing and changing so quickly,” says Petersen. “Figuring out what works for us right now took a bit of time and trial and error.”
Petersen hires K-12 tutors and is responsible for one-to-one networking for the company. She completed a bachelor’s in psychology at UCLA and a master’s in education at the University of Phoenix, while working as an academic counselor. She later taught at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Ariz. for five years.
“I’ve been tutoring since I was in high school myself,” says Petersen. “I’ve always gravitated toward education and helping explain things.”
Student-Tutor has grown significantly since 2012, when VanDuzer presented it as his honors thesis project for Barrett, the Honors College. The thesis outlined the process of planning, creating and implementing an in-home K-12th-grade tutoring company. It contained his business model, with detailed plans of how the company could be expanded nationwide.
VanDuzer says the relationships he developed with professors at ASU ended up being assets to him both in school and in the business world. One of those assets is Amy Ostrom, a professor of marketing at the W.P. Carey School. Ostrom served as VanDuzer’s thesis director and was a mentor to him throughout his time at ASU.
“Todd has a lot of drive and he’s in a constant learning mode,” Ostrom says. “He continues to look for and apply new ideas that can help make his business better. He has a strong focus on understanding his customers, as well as creating a service climate that is very attractive to his employees.”
Now that school is starting, VanDuzer and Petersen are hiring tutors, many of which are ASU students themselves. Petersen says this is ideal, as current students are in touch with what it takes right now to be successful in school. It also helps potential future entrepreneurs get a foot in the door by gaining some professional experience and learning how a business works.
Ostrom offers additional advice for students who want to be entrepreneurs.
“Look for opportunities in your classes and extracurricular activities to identify important problems that need to be solved, or opportunities that exist that could be the basis for a new venture,” she says. “Actively look for ways to gain needed skills and to apply what you are learning so you are better able to develop, launch and grow your business successfully.”
Learn more about resources and opportunities to pursue your business idea at entrepreneurship.asu.edu, and check out these five ways for students to be entrepreneurs at ASU.
Written by Allie Nicodemo, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development