Alum's tutoring software company grows into international platform

September 26, 2022

ALUMNI

John Failla, a 2015 graduate, has always had clear goals for himself as an entrepreneur.

After graduation, he told his parents he wanted to start a tutoring company and give it shot. His father responded by saying that John had about six months of funds in his bank account, then said: “You have to start making money by then, or I'm going to come down, throw you in the car, and drive you back to New York."

Failla launched his startup Trilogy Mentors in an entrepreneurship class his senior year and  hired other students as tutors for teens from local high schools. Failla transformed that venture into Pearl, a company that makes tutoring management software for hybrid settings in school systems across the country. The business recently received more than $4 million in seed funding.

“A few years in, I was reminded of the analogy of the gold rush,” Failla said. “The person who made the most money in the gold rush wasn’t the goldminer. It was the person selling pickaxes and shovels. I realized I could apply that same strategy to my company.”

In August of 2019, the company transitioned from employing tutors to selling an online tutoring service.

A few months later, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close and students began learning exclusively online, demand for his business skyrocketed. Then, because of the American Rescue Plan in January 2021, school systems had additional funding to improve online learning. It required that 20% of that funding be put toward addressing learning losses in academic progress.

“All of a sudden, billions of dollars started coming in from the federal government into state and district run tutoring programs,” Failla said. “We were fortunately positioned to be that technical partner for these massive programs that were launching.”

Failla, who was recently featured in Forbes, says his product is crucial to preventing loss of knowledge because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and hopes to provide the tools school districts need to help students succeed.

“If nothing was done about this, the U.S. economy could lose billions of dollars a year from the stunted growth of the next generation entering the workforce,” Failla said. “Tutoring is one of the main ways to mitigate learning loss.”

He gives much of the credit for his ability to start his business to the entrepreneurship courses he took at Richmond but says he has also learned many lessons in the years since his graduation. 

“Building this company taught me how to be able to make a decision and commit to it,” he said. “That’s my advice for other entrepreneurs: Be a sponge, ask a lot of questions, and find out as much as you can, but learn how you create your critical threshold to make a decision.”