How the Knack Tutoring App Became a Booming Startup

Samyr Qureshi and his friend Dennis Hansen turned an idea they had in their early 20s into an app that matches college students with student tutors on campus. The app, Knack, turned into a start-up that landed them on the 2020 Forbes 30 under 30 list, which highlights the country’s top innovators.

Knack is now used on more than 24 college campuses around the country. It became even more in demand as students went online during the pandemic and is being used for K-12 education as well.

“COVID definitely accelerated the need for campuses to provide this sort of service,” Qureshi said recently in an interview.

Initially students paid for their tutors, who set their own price, and Knack took a 2.9 percent cut. But as the app spread to more than 60 college campuses, leaders at a few universities were so impressed with the help students were gaining through Knack, they wanted to make it accessible to everyone at no charge.

The colleges started paying Knack an annual fee and paying tutors an average of $15 an hour. Having fewer big payors proved better than taking a cut from thousands of individual tutors. So, the company changed its business model. Most students at all partnered campuses are using the platform for free.

As it has grown, Knack is now valued at 20 times more than at its 2015 founding.

Qureshi, 28, knows about the benefits of tutoring from both sides of the desk. He attended St. Petersburg College in Florida and entered the University of Florida with 73 credits. He excelled, worked as tutor himself and landed jobs at Apple, then Gartner, Inc. after graduating.

While at Gartner, a leading information and technology research company, he learned from his mother that he had actually struggled with learning as a young child. English was his second language since he moved to the United States at age 6 from Dubai. She had found tutoring to help her young son.

“When she told me this, it helped me understand the value and benefit of one-to-one tutoring,” Qureshi recalled. “At the same time Uber and Airbnb were really taking off.”

He talked with Hansen about how college students should have easier access to tutors. The idea of connecting students who needed help with students who were successful in the same course was born. They called their project Knack and set about creating an app.

The Knack App founder poses for a portrait against a painting depicting the magic school bus.
Samyr Qureshi, co-founder of Knack app, was reminded of the importance of tutoring after his mother told him the story of hiring a tutor to help him learn English as a second language when he was a child. The Knack app allows student tutors and students needing help with a course to connect easily. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Qureshi quit his job and joined Hansen at UF’s Gator Hatchery, an incubator that offers students workspace, office support, mentors and other resources for startups.

“I was living off of my savings and pretty much poured everything I had into Knack,” he said.

David Soker, who had a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering and knew how to build apps, joined the team. He’s also a co-founder and now Chief Technology Officer at Knack.

“We intentionally put our team together to have engineers,” Qureshi said. Paying an outside company to build the app would have easily cost six figures.

They launched the beta version of Knack in late 2015. Students using it at UF and the University of Central Florida in Orlando proved the founders’ belief that there was a high demand for student-to-student tutoring. The users also offered critiques and tips for making the app better.

In 2016, Knack won first place and $25,000 cash in UF’s Big Idea Business Plan Competition. It was time to really launch the business and move out of the Gator Hatchery. They won a few grants and got investments from friends and family. These efforts plus the $25,000 prize gave them about $75,000 when they started Knack in office space in downtown Tampa. Qureshi worked part-time delivering cookies and some of the other co-founders had full-time jobs while also working at their startup.

They ran digital ads and started marketing the app to students on numerous campuses to recruit tutors and clients. The most effective way to do this was to hire campus ambassadors to represent Knack at college events around the country and gather small groups to learn about it.

“We recruited them cold from job postings and interviewed them then hired them,” Qureshi said. “We gave them $300 to $500 a month and a list of tactics that we had tested at UF: ‘Go buy pizza and entice some students to come hear about it.’”

An Indian woman with long brown curly hair poses for a portrait in front of a sign that says grow together. She's a tutor who found tutoring jobs on Knack, a mobile app.
Sonia Duraimurugan is an MBA student at the University of South Florida who used the Knack app to make money as a tutor. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

At the same time, they were expanding the app, they were finding more people to invest in the company.

“The (Big Idea) contest put us a bit on the map,” Qureshi said. “There were really great judges who said we should come out to San Francisco and meet some folks.” They did, and secured some West Coast investors.

In Tampa, Qureshi joined a downtown business incubator he found by searching Google. A mentor in the incubator invested in the company and connected him to Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL hockey team. Vinik has also headed successful investments funds and is a philanthropist who has given millions of dollars to education. He invested in the company as did others.

“We initially raised about $1 million in capital from the Tampa Bay area,” Qureshi said.

His advice to college students or recent grads who have an idea that could turn into an app or a business, is to “go for it.”

“We were pretty naive and that gave us some pause. I was a pre-law student so I didn’t have any business experience. The majority of our team did not study business,” he said. “We learned a lot from mentors. We were srappy, scraping up dollars where we could.”

Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance editor and reporter in St. Petersburg, Fla., and author of Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps & Lessons Learned.




518: Raise Your Bottom Line with Nicole Mangina’s Referral-Based Business Model

Drastically improve your profit margin by running a referral-based real estate business! It’s low cost, low risk, and Nicole Mangina is here to help get you started. Hear how Nicole created a business that runs on referrals and what it takes to maintain it. She covers everything from generating referrals to staying top of mind with potential clients. Also, if you’re a solo agent (or thinking about becoming one), you won’t want to miss Nicole’s advice on competing for listings at the end of the interview. This episode of Real Estate Rockstars has tons of invaluable information and advice; don’t miss it!

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Uncover Everything to Know About Home Decor, Lifestyle and Beauty with Rose – Press Release – Digital Journal

Rose Lemke, the lead author behind popular DIY blog “What Rose Knows” provides reliable content with expert opinion and tips for her audience.

Rose Lemke is a DIY blogger having over 5 years of experience writing about various topics related to being a homeowner. With a dedicated audience and a domain that’s gaining more and more popularity with each passing day, Rose has established a strong presence for her brand as she continues to lead her DIY blog “What Rose Knows” with expert opinion and secrets about home decor, lifestyle and beauty.

Being the author behind “What Rose Knows”, the DIY blogger follows a simple philosophy in her writing. During a recent interview, Rose suggested, “I believe that everyone has the capability to make their home their own personal oasis.” She further added, “I hope to guide, inspire, and share my knowledge with those that may suffer from decorating doubt.”

A quick glance of the blog reveals several other key areas that the readers regularly love visiting and reading about. Rose has populated her DIY crafts section with insights and details about her own personal projects. The section is filled with tips on Christmas decor ideas as well as DIY recipes that can be made at home, all based on Rose’s personal experiences while managing a home with 2 kids.

Speaking further about her love for writing on home decor, Rose explained, “Between my natural knack for home decor and my longtime experience with deal blogging, creating a stylish home on a simple budget is my passion. And this is what I also love writing about!”

More recently, the author has been focusing on uncovering reviews and secrets about several famous products in the skin care and beauty industry. According to Rose, “This new category of blogs on my section is being particularly well received because I’ve discovered that the readers love finding out about whether a certain product actually works or not!”

This new product reviews section talks about debunking various items, the latest of which include Replenish 911, Tressurge, LumaSlim, and more. Rose’s blog also covers tips and suggestions for weight loss and wellness both.

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517: Double Your Business Overnight by Merging Real Estate Teams with Daniel Lesniak

Expand your business and double your profits at a rapid pace with a real estate team merger! Today’s guest, Daniel Lesniak, did just that and has seen nothing but success since. Last year, Daniel’s team sold over 350 homes and managed to net nearly $2 million in profit. His unique salary-based business model, which he explains in detail during the interview, attracts the best agents and is helping him dominate his local market. Hear how Daniel managed to reach rockstar-level success with only 5 years in the business and learn what it’s like to merge real estate teams on this episode of Real Estate Rockstars!

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Rebus UniversityGet Over $10,000 in Real Estate Training for as Little as $97


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Western Alliance to acquire AmeriHome for $1B

Depository bank Western Alliance has reached a deal to acquire correspondent lender AmeriHome for $1 billion in cash, the firms announced late Tuesday afternoon.

With the acquisition, Western Alliance will grab full control of America’s third-largest correspondent lender from an affiliate of financial giant Apollo Global.

AmeriHome purchased approximately $65 billion in conventional conforming and government-insured originations in 2020. The nonbank lender works with a network of over 700 independent mortgage banks and credit unions. It also manages a mortgage servicing portfolio estimated at around $100 billion in unpaid balance.

Acquisition talks began in the fourth quarter, not long after Western Alliance bought non-QM aggregator Galton Funding for an undisclosed amount and AmeriHome’s IPO was delayed.

“It just so happened that AmeriHome approached us about potentially completing a transaction and we decided to look at it, that was in the fourth quarter,” Stephen Curley, division president of Western Alliance, said in an interview with HousingWire. “It came together really quickly. We’ve known the management longer than the four years that they’ve been a customer.”

The management team at AmeriHome, led by CEO Jim Furash, will remain in place and there will be no layoffs, Curley said. Synergies will result in about $50 million in savings, mostly through offering warehouse lines that currently go to other banks, Western Alliance said.

The purchase price represents approximately 1.4x adjusted tangible book value of AmeriHome. Before the end of the second quarter, Western Alliance intends to raise approximately $275 million of primary capital through the sale of common stock. The acquisition is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021.

“It’s a very financially compelling transaction, which produces 30% EPS (earnings per share) accretion for a full year,” Curley said. “We feel like it’s a really good acquisition for shareholders because it grows our earnings per share. It also diversifies our revenue profile so we’re going to see a nice increase in fee income. We’ve normally been a spread income lender, and we haven’t had as much fee income, so buying AmeriHome brings in an important source of fee income.”

The other factor, he said, is that banks these days are awash in liquidity. “We feel like AmeriHome can help us deploy that liquidity in higher-yielding, low-credit risk assets,” Curley said. “We are very familiar with their manufacturing process, we know that they produce high quality assets. We believe that’s a good fit for our balance sheet.”

Western Alliance, which operates more as a business-to-business bank rather than a consumer-focused retail lender, said they are looking at AmeriHome for its long-term potential.

“People will ask us, ‘Are you buying at the peak?’ so to speak,” said Curley. “We really looked at 2019, 2018 volumes. We really didn’t factor in 2020 volumes and profits into our strategy” because it was an outsize year, he said.


Zillow, Spoofed on ‘SNL,’ Posts Record Earnings

After being the subject of a Saturday Night Live sketch about lockdown-era millennials fawning over digital home listings, Zillow Group announced record profits for the fourth quarter. So reports Bloomberg.

The company said that surging use of its websites and apps led to adjusted earnings of $170 million during the period, before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Zillow CEO Rich Barton told Bloomberg in an interview that “the Zillow brand has broken through to a new level of awareness and cultural significance.”

Read the full article from Bloomberg.


Actors Fund breaks ground on affordable housing project in Hollywood for performing arts workers

The Actors Fund, which provides a safety net for entertainment industry workers, broke ground Thursday on a $120-million affordable housing project in Hollywood.

Scheduled to open in 2024, the Hollywood Arts Collective will include 151 units of affordable housing as well as the 86-seat Glorya Kaufman Theater, art galleries, rehearsal studios, office space for nonprofit arts groups and a new home for the charity’s western region headquarters.

The project has been a decade in the making and is intended to address a shortage of affordable housing in the area. A 2012 survey of housing needs in the local arts community found an overwhelming majority of working artists had been increasingly priced out of the Los Angeles area. It also identified a need for more affordable rehearsal and presentation space in the city.


The Actors Fund has been among the sources of financial aid to the industry during the pandemic, providing over $19 million in direct assistance to more than 15,000 people in need in the performing arts and entertainment industry.

“People working in show business, they don’t earn a lot of money, and very often they don’t begin earning a lot of money until they’ve been at it for a while, so affordable housing is a big need,” Actors Fund CEO Joseph Benincasa said in an interview. “The Hollywood Arts Collective is a project which is building and strengthening the entertainment community, and the larger community in downtown Hollywood.”

The housing will be offered to arts workers, while the project will also include a training center that will help them develop their careers.

The new supply of affordable rentals comes as entertainment industry workers have been hit hard by the pandemic. The local film and television industry has slowed down massively as a result of the health crisis, and live entertainment has all but shut down.


“Our community has been slammed because of course any sort of live entertainment is completely impossible,” Annette Bening, the Actors Fund vice chair, said in an interview. “There is some shooting going on, but it’s much, much less. So there’s just lots of people who are used to working all the time.”

The Actors Fund has provided shelter for seniors at its nursing home in Englewood, N.J., and has been providing affordable housing for 25 years in New York and New Jersey. It recently renovated a residence in West Hollywood.

The fund said the project was made possible due to $100 million in public support and financing already secured from sources including the city of Los Angeles, the state of California, the Los Angeles Development Fund and the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.

The Actors Fund, which has been working with developers Thomas Safran & Associates on the project, said it expects to raise at least $20 million philanthropically as part of a public capital campaign, with $5 million already raised.


“The Hollywood Arts Collective is a tribute to the Angeleno spirit, combining an affordable place to live with a dynamic place to create, transforming a home for artists into a thriving community for the arts, and breathing new energy into the heart of our city,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.


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Watch My Interview with Michael Hyatt from The Influence & Impact Summit!

October 26, 2015 | Crystal Paine

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If you missed the chance to see me speak at The Influence & Impact Summit online a few weeks ago, you can go here to watch a replay version of my presentation and interview with Michael Hyatt.

Also, summit attendees can sign up for the FREE Platform University video series that will encourage you in having more of an impact and getting your unique message out to the world.

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Fed’s Kaplan Says Stock-Trading Mania Poses No Systemic Risk

Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan has reassured investors that the recent, Reddit-driven spree of trading in stocks such as GameStop does not currently threaten overall market stability. So reports Reuters.

Asked in a CNBC interview about a potential connection between the GameStop craze and the Federal Reserve’s unusually loose monetary policy, Kaplan said, “I don’t see anything right now systemic.”

“Some of the current situation you are seeing—one of the factors—is there is a lot of liquidity, and some of that relates to Fed purchases of $80 billion of Treasuries and $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities every month: I think it’s wise for us to acknowledge that,” he noted.

Read the full article from Reuters.