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The Best Back Office Decision I Ever Made: Varsity Tutors' Chuck Cohn

You can't fix what you can't see. That's why auto mechanics shine flashlights under car hoods, dentists' offices are equipped with bright, swiveling lights — and why Chuck Cohn, founder and CEO of Varsity Tutors, an online tutoring platform, loves data analytics suite Tableau.

The software has improved Varsity Tutors' business intelligence, Cohn says, and opened up critical planning capabilities. Below, Cohn explains why putting a sharper focus on analytics and business intelligence was one of the company’s wisest financial decisions.

PEX: What problem were you looking to fix?

Chuck Cohn: Historically, anything you wanted to track related to our business — the number of tutor applicants, the number of tutors, the number of sessions, rates — our developers would build dashboards within our systems. They were incredibly labor intensive. We had a massive backlog of reports. They would often break. And you would have to go and log into the system to look at the actual report.

Over the course of seven years we built up hundreds of reports that nobody looked at. That led to a lack of awareness of what was going on. If somebody went and dug into these reports, they'd inevitably find a bunch of problems that they could quickly fix that sometimes had been outstanding for many, many months.

How did you decide on this solution, specifically?

We raised a $50 million Series B round last year and recruited a really awesome CFO, who had a deep background in analytics. He had us implement Tableau.

One of the nice things about Tableau is that it's incredibly easy to build reports, so you don't have to be a software developer. And they're built in such a way that you can actually build them about ten times faster than our software developers could. The net result is we now have essentially a report on anything you could ever want and we can push those reports to people's email every morning. It's kind of like Excel on steroids.

Can you give a concrete example of how that's impacted your business?

One of our landing pages where tutors fill out an application, the resolution on the background video changed. It went from being a narrow screen to a really wide screen. Well, that had the effect of decreasing conversions about 40 percent.

We were able to, within a day, catch this step change variance in conversion rate and figure out what had changed. Because key decision makers were alerted, we basically caught what could have been a massive problem that would have been really hard to catch.

Is this sort of tech just for big businesses or startups like yours with lots of investor dollars to spend?

If you don't have an analytics suite of some sort, there's just no way you could run an even medium-sized business intelligently. For a relatively small investment — we pay, maybe, a couple of thousand dollars a year per person that uses it — you get a massive amount of value out of the reporting,

How have you incorporated these reports into your workflow and planning?

These operating metrics help us unpack revenue into 20 sub-levers. Each of those sub-levers is assigned to an individual. Those individuals receive the operating metric pushed to them on a daily basis. It allows us to hold individuals accountable and, more importantly, ensures each individual is aware of their performance relative to that metric.

We've also incorporated it into our operating review, so we have weekly meetings where we go over the highest level data. It would have been a nightmare historically to go and find the data. Now there's one place you can look for everything, so it's allowed the entire company to be on the same page as it relates to how the business is doing and what we should be focused on. It's one source of truth.

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