Meet the gurus behind the TutoringZone -- a startup business developed by two UF alumni to help business school students study better for exams.
By Marlen Mursuli
In the ballroom at the Holiday Inn, students sit and lean on practically anything that can support them. Aside from the red notes and the stacks of flash cards that were given to them at the door, they all have one thing in common—the hope that the man standing in front of them, beside the overhead projector, can pave the way toward a passing grade in four hours.
As stragglers walk in, they scour for empty space to settle in. That's not so easy today. The room is only supposed to occupy 200 people, but there's a lot more than that already.
When it's finally time for the TutoringZone review session to begin, the students sit and stand in awe, paying close attention to every word their Dalai Lama says.
Matt Hintze and Ethan Fieldman are the pioneering
masterminds behind TutoringZone, now in its fourth year, which brings a sigh of relief to a plethora of business students at UF.
“It's the cost efficient way of giving students the help they want,”
Hintze says. “We're here as another resource for them. We make
the material they need to know a lot easier to learn.”
Road to Remuneration
Ten years ago, the thought of a tutoring business in Gainesville never crossed Hintze's mind.
After graduating with honors and a 4.0 GPA from the University of California in 1993, 22-year-old Hintze helped a friend open a restaurant which is still open and doing well.
At the same time, in Orlando, 12-year-old Fieldman was graduating from the sixth grade and getting ready to skip ahead to the eighth grade.
Hintze decided to move to Florida, pretty much on a whim, in 1994. Once in Florida, he became the youngest hire at a branch of a corporate financial agency, but decided it was not for him and applied to UF. In one year, he earned his master's in business administration and graduated first in his class.
While Hintze was just beginning his Ph.D. in 1996, Fieldman was just beginning his sophomore year in high school.
During the spring semester of 2000, a student Hintze tutored suggested holding large review sessions.
“I was like, 'What the hell, let’s do it,'” Hintze says. Flyers were made advertising the review and distributed throughout campus.
Hintze was expecting to walk into the Corry Village room, where the review was held, and see no more than 20 people. It turned out he was wrong.
“I walked in there, and there were 50 kids. Fifty!” he says.
For the equivalent of one afternoon's work, Hintze made $1,000—a profit he split evenly with the student who had suggested having the reviews.
Around the same time Hintze began holding reviews, Fieldman, then 19, began holding his own reviews—tutoring a few friends in his managerial accounting class.
“I would be tutoring four or five of my friends, and random people would begin surrounding me, asking me if they could just sit there and listen,” Fieldman says. “And all of a sudden I had like 30 people in Marston's Library just listening to me explain problems.”
Fieldman also had classmates pouring in requests for help the night before the final exam.
“And so we stayed up all night in the Reitz Union, until the exam time, 7:30 in the morning,” he says.
At the end of the grueling, caffeine-fueled night, a few of the students offered Fieldman $20 for his help. Fieldman denied it with thanks, but the idea stuck.
The idea remained idle until the following semester.
As the first managerial accounting exam neared, many of his friends began approaching him with exam questions and asking for tutoring, and Fieldman decided to hold a large review sessions and turn tutoring into a job.
“That night (Wednesday), I went out made some flyers on red paper and passed them out myself the next day,” he says. “Thursday I went out and bought an overhead projector, which I figured I could return, if anything. Friday I spent all day writing up the review sheet, Saturday I put it all together, and Sunday I did the review.”
About 120 students showed up for Fieldman's review at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, Fieldman's fraternity.
In addition to tutoring, Fieldman was also a full-time student. That semester, Fieldman was taking managerial economics—one of the classes Hintze was holding reviews for.
At one of the reviews, Fieldman introduced himself to Hintze, and two semesters later the concept of a tutoring business began to take form, and they merged into TutoringZone.
When TutoringZone began making its presence known on campus, many business professors didn't like them, Hintze says.
David Figlio, a researcher for Knight Ridder during the fall semester and UF's managerial economics professor during the spring semester, attended one of Hintze's reviews for his class and didn't seem impressed.
“I don't think they [TutoringZone Reviews] add any value to what
students are studying,” he says. “All he [Hintze] does is work through practice problems that I put up on the web, and to me that is a waste of students' time and money.”
Figlio says one reason for TutoringZone's high rating might be because of the business school's inability, due to lack of resources, to provide its students with small discussion group classes.
“At least in those reviews they are seeing someone in a group-like setting that looks like a graduate student in front of them,” Figlio says. “So maybe it compensates for their need for a discussion class.”
Putting the "A" in Value
Despite some opposition, TutoringZone continues to thrive. Many students and even a few professors agree that they offer a great service at an affordable cost.
Bill Rossi, a professor for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, remembers Fieldman as being very enthusiastic and a good leader when he was a student.
“I always knew from the beginning that Ethan was going to start up a business,” Rossi says. “It's in his blood.”
Although some professors renounce TutoringZone's services, Rossi embraces them. “What Matt and Ethan have done with TutoringZone is phenomenal,” he says, adding that a business like TutoringZone is harmless.
If going to the reviews boosts students' confidence, then that is a great thing, he says. In the end confidence is what will make the grade.
What amazes Rossi about Hintze and Fieldman, aside from starting up their business, is the value they create for the students.
The duo's devotion to students is relentless. Hintze and Fieldman spend 50 hours preparing for each four-hour review.
On Rossi's desk lies TutoringZone's bright red “Smokin' Notes” packet alongside a stack of rubber-banded flash cards. Rossi tends to periodically review the notes for completeness and accuracy, and he hasn’t come across any discrepancies yet.
Over the years, the attendance at TutoringZone reviews has grown. Every time Mike Clifford, a business graduate, attended a review there were always more people standing than there were in the previous one.
“There was one time when one of my professors held a free review for his exam, I guess to lure students away from TutoringZone, and I just remember thinking, 'Man I wish I would have spent the $25 instead,'” Clifford says. “I think it's so much simpler to understand when they [TutoringZone] explain the material because they break it down to the basics and explain it to you in terms you can relate to.”
“The best thing about this job–and I don't mean to sound sappy–but the best thing is the feeling I get when I read a 'Thank You' email,” Fieldman says.
Hintze nods in agreement, turning his laptop to show off one of his many emails.
TutoringZone's opposition and supporters agree on one thing: The business concept was brilliant. And despite those who wish they never existed, Hintze, Fieldman and all the tutors for TutoringZone are here to stay.