Mercurius Saad: It’s only the misfits who have a chance

Mathematics with Business Management, 2017
CEO & Co-founder, Tutorbloc

I woke up to a notification that changed everything. 'You received £40,000 from Innovate UK'. It was 4:50am when I checked my phone before quietly tiptoeing out the front door for my daily run. I couldn’t scream or shout but the minute I was far enough away, I did both, very loudly and then cried.

Growing up my younger brother and I didn’t have much, and so we forced ourselves to oversleep to increase the time we had to dream. We lived in a 3 bedroom council house situated at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. We enjoyed it there but knew there must be more to life than this. We played video games to shelter ourselves from the racism that circulated around our neighbourhood. We saw ourselves as misfits. Having immigrated from Sudan, our parents imposed high academic expectations... and so when I failed my first year of college, I thought it was game over. Luckily I was granted permission to re-sit on the basis of one condition: mentor students who needed help with maths during lunchtime.

Fast forward three years. My father and I are driving down the motorway in a small white van that we’d rented stuffed with all my belongings. I couldn’t believe it: I had been accepted into the University of Birmingham to study Mathematics with Business Management. Mid-term class tests arrived like a bullet and I was not prepared. One week later I was handed back my paper and on the front it read 2/25, my heart sank to the bottom of my stomach. The only difference this time was that my parents had no clue.

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I played it cool, but I was scared. I honestly thought it was the end of the road. I ran back to my dorm room and started to plan. For the first time in my life I actively sought support, I knew I couldn’t do this alone. I spent the next three years glued to the desks in the Library’s Maths Learning Centre and regularly visited my lecturers' offices — I wouldn’t leave until all my questions were answered. There really is great help available! Day by day I started to feel the progress I was making; it motivated me to keep going, and I didn’t stop until June 16 2017 — third year results day. I logged into the online portal, said a little prayer and took a deep breath. I clicked through and saw 86%. My jaw crushed my slippers and I freaked out; but at the same time, I expected nothing less.

This brings me to where I am today. After spending three years working with some of the largest brands in the world (Apple and H&M to name a few); spending £3-5 million running their digital marketing campaigns, I co-founded Tutorbloc with the mission of making personalised learning accessible to everyone. We empower parents with the tools to instantly book and manage lessons with verified tutors. Since launching earlier this year, we have onboarded over 150 tutors who teach a variety of different subjects and levels. It’s important to note that each of them have had to pass our safeguarding criteria—that means we have verified their identity, checked their qualifications and ensured they hold an Enhanced DBS certificate. 

I saved up £10,000 to start the business and we recently secured a £40,000 government grant from Innovate UK which has allowed us to expand our team (from two to four people) and ultimately reach even more students. Despite its size (£6 billion) and value to the school ecosystem, the private tuition sector is in desperate need of creativity and we're here to shake things up! So it really was seeing myself as a misfit that gave me the drive to succeed.

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