The next in our series of Upstarts case studies is Eamonn Toland founder of Themathstutor.ie, Ireland’s leading online support system for Project Maths students.
Originally from Carndonagh, Co Donegal, Eamonn studied Physics, Maths and Computers with stints working as a data analyst in the market research industry, before moving into software development in Belgium and the UK before returning to Ireland in 2007 with his wife and 3 young children and settling in Co Mayo.
What is themathstutor.ie?
TheMathstutor.ie is a new website which specialises in Project Maths support, tailor-made for secondary school students in Ireland. TheMathstutor.ie provides Video Lessons, Interactive Exercises, and Online Support. So it’s like having your own private
tutor, 24/7, without the pressure to understand everything first time.
What were you doing when you decided to set-up themathstutor.ie?
I returned to Ireland with my wife after living in Belgium and London for 7 years. Initially I worked from Mayo as an IT consultant for client in the UK and the US.
When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?
When our 3 children began to arrive in quick succession, I knew I wanted to develop something that would fit around family life, and also something that would use my experience and skills to date. I started providing a professional maths tuition service from my home in 2009, and very quickly I realized I couldn’t meet the demand for support using the traditional one-to-one approach. So I gradually started incorporating elements of technology in order to help more students. In June 2011 I set up The Maths Tutor Ltd, trading as themathstutor.ie, and started building our online system to provide affordable and effective maths support to students throughout the country.
What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?
I funded the business using my own savings, to allow me the independence to make my own decisions. This also meant that I had to be very careful in how I budgeted and spent money on themathstutor.ie, and so I had to carry out a lot of the work myself. The main initial costs were specialist IT hosting and consultancy, legal and accountancy costs. Later, I had to spend money on professional graphic design, marketing training and advice, marketing activities and materials, and more recently on staff costs.
What was the biggest obstacle?
The biggest challenges were two-fold: the sheer amount of time and effort to create high-quality learning resources for Irish maths students, and the challenge of getting our name and product to the students and parents, bearing in mind the number of competing products in this space. Once we reach the students, it is relatively easy as they can see the value in what themathstutor.ie provides.
Who supported you?
Support has come formally from South West Mayo Development company, in the form of LEADER funding, which has been essential for our IT development, our branding and our marketing, as well as providing excellent advice and guidance. We’ve also developed a great relationship with the IIBC in Castlebar, with Moy Valley Resources, and the County Enterprise Board, and their teams have been incredibly supportive of themathstutor.ie.
Informally, my number one supporter has been my wife, Kay Roche, who also runs a business from home, in the area of medical communications. I’ve also been given incredible amounts of help from a huge network of family, friends and neighbours who are experts in many fields, and they have been very generous with their advice and time. We’ve also had great support from the media, both locally and nationally. I’m very grateful to all of these supporters.
How long did it take you to get everything your business off the ground?
We had a soft launch of the business 8 months after registering the company, and a full launch 8 months after that. We are still adding to themathstutor.ie every day, in terms of content and features, and we intend to continue to do so.
What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?
I love the fact that I have complete responsibility for making this business succeed. This means that I have to use every skill, experience and ability that I possess to create something new and to make themathstutor.ie a success.
It is extremely difficult to switch off from the job. When you are believe in the value of what you do, and you are obsessed with making it happen, you can’t help working on it around the clock. So it’s important to set aside time for family life as well (easier said than done!).
Where do you work from and do you have employees?
I work from home, and I have part-time consultants and collaborators who are an essential part of driving themathstutor.ie forward.
Do you have entrepreneurial role models?
No one person. I’ve picked up lessons from my parents, parents-in-law, and other family members, as well as friends and past colleagues who have been very successful. As a Donegal man, I found the example of Jim McGuinness and the Donegal team, and how they overcame the odds, very inspiring.
How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful? How do you continue to grow and learn?
Some of the skills came from formal education, but far more important has been hands-on experience. I’ve worked in a few different fields at home and abroad, and in different capacities. It’s great to apply some of those lessons to my own business.
Getting stuck in, trying new ideas, making plenty of mistakes and getting on with it! I also try to make time to read books on technology, business and psychology so as to get fresh ideas.
If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
I’d probably invest more time implementing a simple and workable project management method for a small business, and then make sure to focus on the priorities, and try not to sweat the small stuff. Hopefully that would lead to burning less midnight oil, while still making lots of progress and giving the customers the best support possible.
What is your best selling item/service?
The core product of themathstutor.ie is our online support system for Irish secondary level maths students, covering the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert courses. We provide video lessons, interactive exercises and online support. This allows students to get high quality maths help, 24/7, without needing to travel to expensive maths grinds. We believe that every family should have access to support in this key subject, so this is our single focus.
Are you a LookWester (previously living outside the Western Region) and if so why did you decide to move home or relocate to the West?
Yes, the last time I lived in the west was in 1991, and after that I lived in Belfast, Dublin, Brussels and London. I moved with my wife to Mayo in 2007, just before our first child was born. It was a very natural time for us to move back to be nearer to our families, and we have been made very welcome here.
What advice would you give to anybody Looking West?
Spend as much time here as you can before you make the move and find out which part of this very diverse region will work best for you and your family. And try not to get spoiled for choice!