David Ullendorff - President & Co-founder of Mathnasium
At Mathnasium, David continues his extensive career of combining education with the best elements of children's entertainment. An award-winning filmmaker and developer of children's media, his work has been featured on television in the United States and around the world. As the co-founder of Futurekids, David pioneered the field of computer literacy for children, and was the architect of the field's first definitive curriculum that was used to teach millions of children in 72 countries.
- Tell us about the Mathnasium Learning Center concept.
The idea behind Mathnasium is to take something that is been sort of bedeviling parents and schools for the longest time especially in the United States and crack it by providing children with the best possible math instruction and the best possible environment that we can create. The fundamentals are based on thinking skills and understanding concepts. We focus on math; we do not do anything else so we insist on doing one thing incredibly well and it is built on caring for the kids so there is a lot of personal attention. A student at Mathnasium gets a sense that we really care about the outcome of what happens to them in math and what happens in their life. The idea is to take the curse off math, make it into something fun, and make it into something that the kids are proud of doing. The center is seen as a place not only for kids who need help in math but also for kids who love math and want to go further. The word Mathnasium really came from the idea of a gymnasium where you have people in a gymnasium; some are trying to get in to shape, others are athletes and that is how we see Mathnasium, a place for all kinds of kids at all different levels of their math intellectual life.
- How and when did you become involved with Mathnasium?
I started the company with Peter Markovitz back in 2000. We believed that there was a place and market for excellent math instruction. We built the company on the premise that we wanted to hit homeruns with the kids.
- What was your background prior to joining Mathnasium?
I’ve always been interested in kids’ education, kids media, previous to Mathnasium I had started another company with people called Future Kids. That company was teaching kids IT skills when computers were first introduced in the early 90’s. We built that company over a period of about 15 years and then sold it, stayed on at that company and, during that transition; we had the idea for Mathnasium and started a new company.
- What are some of the advantages in being a Mathnasium franchisee?
The biggest advantage I would say is that you become part of the Mathnasium culture; culture that really cares about kids and, and how they succeed. Mathnasium takes pride in our franchisees and want them to succeed and in turn, help children succeed. You gain access to the Mathnasium curriculum and the Mathnasium way of teaching. We also have an entire support team, extensive training, and an in house marketing time to support our franchisees’ efforts to succeed. Part of that culture enables you to take a good instructor and enable them to become a great instructor and to really change kids’ lives by changing their understanding and success in math.
- Who is your ideal franchisee?
What I am looking for more than anything else is somebody who passionately wants to work with kids, help kids, and would have a lot of fun doing this. If the franchisee enjoys the business, their staff and students will too. Ideally, someone who enjoys or understands the importance of math is encouraged, though you do not have to be a teacher. Some of our greatest successes have been with engineers and other people that have work with math in their previous careers.
- Tell us a little about the Children services’ Market?
Let’s narrow it to the supplemental education market. I think it is something that is growing; some of it for good reasons because we’re a competitive society and parents want their kids to get ahead. Some of the growth is happening because the schools are burdened and unable to do their job. The combination of those two things do not seem to be going away so the trend is for parents to look outside of the school system to supplement their kids’ education. I do think we are really the only ones out there who specialize in math and we look at math as something that is so difficult to do well. It really requires focus and specialization and that is why we have committed ourselves to just doing this one small thing very, very well.
- What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?
The biggest lesson would be the ingredients of passion in terms of success of people. Education is an emotional experience for kids and the people teaching the kids, or running the business need to have a passion. Absence of that, there is not some sort of mechanical surrogate. There has to be a soul element of people who are deeply invested in helping and working with kids.
- Do you have a mentor and is there someone you use for inspiration?
People that have inspired me are mostly in the arts and authors. In the business world, the people I admire are the people who are in it for the long gain; they do not want to just turn things around over the short term. For me the pleasure does not come from the money, although that is always nice, it comes from doing something that I believe in and that I am passionate about. When I look at business people, I look for people like that who are inspired by what their company is doing and what their product or service is rather than trying to anticipate a trend or turn something over or flip something. People like Steve Jobs are my hero, people who believe in something, pursue it, and would not really want to be doing anything else.
- What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?
First, I would advise that they make sure they are going to have fun. They should pick something that is going to give them pleasure simply by doing it. It is important for someone looking into a franchise to visit existing franchisees and get the inside scoop from the people doing this every day. In terms of the management of the franchise, a potential franchisee should make sure that they could trust and relate well to the owners because they are in contracts. You have to ask yourself, “Do I want to be in business with this person?” As a franchisee that is what you are doing, going into business with another person and you want to make sure you can trust them. Will the people you are in business with be there to support and help you be successful?
- In your opinion, why do you think that Mathnasium would be a great opportunity for someone?
It is a great opportunity for someone who sees this as their calling. It allows them to do something that they are proud of, they are interested in and it provides financial freedom at the same time. That is a very tough combination to pull off. Most of us spend a lot of time doing things we do not like in order to make a living and this is a chance to do something that might just be a hobby and actually make a living at it. You have to really want to do this specific thing, really want to work with kids and take pleasure in seeing their achievements. Bottom line, if you are looking into a business, are passionate, enjoy working with children and helping them succeed, this is an opportunity that should be pursued.
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