George Cigale founded Tutor.com and served as its CEO until it was acquired by IAC in 2013. Under George’s leadership, Tutor.com became the leading provider of on-demand instructional solutions for students and professionals.
George is currently a partner at Peak State Ventures, an early stage venture fund, and advises leaders of education technology companies and educational institutions. He serves on the Board of Higher Ground Education, and as a Trustee on the Boards of Columbia University Teachers College and The Wild Center.
1. As the founder of Tutor.com, you were a pioneer in online learning. What did you learn from that experience that seems particularly relevant in the age of COVID-19?
I continue to learn and be reminded that timing is everything. Some companies that looked great before the pandemic are not going to make it, and others that were struggling to be noticed are now high flying. Manage your cash cautiously, raise more than you need, hire smart flexible people, take contingency planning seriously, and foster a culture that is always on the lookout for disruptions and can pivot quickly when there is one.
2. Now that the school year is underway, what has surprised you the most about what’s happening in schools and universities?
What has surprised me most is how most higher education leaders have depended on highly optimistic and almost magical thinking in their planning for the Fall semester. No one should be surprised that it was a bad idea to count on college students to social distance and not gather in large and small groups without virus-spreading precautions. Blaming the virus hotspots on student behavior instead of poor leadership and planning is hypocritical and a poor example for educational institutions to set.
3. Do you think education will ever go back to normal (however you define it)? What will the “new normal” look like?
No, education will not and should not go back to normal. Our K12 system does not meet the educational needs and does not inspire most students. We need to find better blended learning models to do both, and we need educational leaders who are not invested in keeping the status quo from changing.
4. How has the pandemic changed your view of what kinds of companies to invest in, and what to steer clear of?
More likely to invest in companies that are pushing paradigm shifts in how schools and consumers use technology to learn. Steering clear of company leaders who think this is just a blip and things will go back to normal in due time.
5. What are you particularly excited about from an investment perspective in this environment?
Companies thinking creatively about how to help schools and universities change and adopt new technologies, companies helping universities form stronger connections between their educational programs and new workforce needs, companies providing parents new ways of inspiring their children to learn.
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