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This is Capitalism: Up Close, Inspired, Explained

Nov 4, 2019

To equate the world of entrepreneurism with football, most of the cheering comes when a quarterback throws a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. In business, those are the billion-dollar IPOs that gain most of the media attention. But entrepreneurism — capitalism – is mostly a ground game. Put your head down, start a business, commit yourself, and pick up maybe three yards or five yards at a time. Much in the way that Natalie Mangrum, a teacher from Baltimore has, after a rough start, been steadily adding parents as customers and fellow teachers as after-hours tutors for her increasingly successful business, Maryland Teacher Tutors. Natalie tells about her struggles in getting the business running, and what its current success feels like to her. Listen in for her story.

Key Takeaways:

[:22] Ray Hoffman introduces Natalie Mangrum, CEO and founder of Maryland Teacher Tutors.

[1:11] Natalie, as a seven-year-old child in Sunday School, naturally took to gathering her peers around her and being in the role of teacher.

[1:34] Natalie’s natural desire to lead and help, motivate, and inspire prompted her to want to teach as her career.

[2:01] Being the oldest child in her family, Natalie modeled behavior for her siblings and told them what to expect in kindergarten when they started to go to school. She credits God for giving her a teaching personality.

[2:33] Natalie talks about a favorite fourth-grade teacher of hers that she wanted to emulate and a favorite high-school English teacher who made literature come alive in new ways for her. Everyone in the class was engaged in and excited about what they learned.

[3:10] Ray and Natalie reminisce about their favorite teachers who influenced them for life. Everyone Natalie talks to has a favorite teacher whose name they remember.

[3:32] Natalie never had a thought of starting a business. She thought of moving up to administration. She was happy to be a teacher. Natalie’s father was a contractor, so she knew a little about entrepreneurship from watching him.

[4:51] Natalie was a reading specialist in Baltimore City Schools. The reading specialist would pull a struggling student out of the classroom for a lesson. Natalie asked the principal if a class of 10 to 12 students could be taught at once, during language arts. That would prevent the stigma of the students being pulled out of class.

[6:10] It would also allow Natalie consistent time to work with the students on their reading skills. A couple of hours a week of being pulled out of class wasn’t enough for students with academic deficits. The principal agreed to support Natalie. She selected small groups of students from the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades for her classes.

[6:46] These students were behind their classes. Natalie worked with them in groups and on average, the students started making academic gains of two-and-a-half to three years in just a few months. The sixth graders started at a fourth-grade level and moved to at or above a sixth-grade level in less than a year.

[7:14] That is when Natalie started to realize the power of having an expert teacher focusing on a small group or a single student. One seventh-grade student was at a fourth- or fifth-grade level when she started, and was “nailing” 11th-grade SAT questions when she left. Students were leaving her class a lot above their grade level.

[7:56] That planted the seed that one-on-one teaching is powerful. Natalie was still not thinking of becoming an entrepreneur at all. Several months later, a parent who was a friend, asked her if she could help her child who was struggling with reading. Natalie started working with that child and got a referral from the parent to other parents.

[8:25] Natalie’s schedule quickly filled up. She had two small children and a husband who was only good at making toast. Her husband needed her at home before 8pm. Natalie didn’t want to turn families away, so she reached out to a colleague for help. When the colleague’s schedule filled up, Natalie reached out to another teacher.

[9:07] That’s how the company came to be — not with a business plan, but as people coming together with a solution to a need in their community. Once Natalie had a fifth teacher, she decided to make a company out of it. She wanted parents to pay a company, not to write checks to her. It needed to feel official and legitimate.

[9:47] Natalie never intended for the company to be large. She named it just what it was, Maryland Teacher Tutors.

[9:58] Ray notes that this company was created only because there were a couple of men who could only make toast!

[10:15] Before Natalie was a reading specialist she was a regular classroom teacher. She had the knowledge of what it looks like to be an effective teacher. Before she started as a reading specialist, she spent a summer researching blogs, articles, and resources on helping kids who struggle with reading.

[10:52] Natalie came across a resource that she decided was the approach for her. It looked like a very consistent way to get kids from point A to point B. The approach was always the same from the beginning but Natalie got more effective in it, over time.

[11:28] Even more than the approach, when you give a student one-on-one attention for their specific problem you have identified, five days a week, over time, the child will improve and learn more.

[12:00] The technique, added to the teacher inspiring the student to do better, combine to a successful outcome for the student. Working hard, the students became smarter. They start with low self-confidence and low skills, and as they learn, they grow confident in their abilities.

[13:33] Around the time that Natalie created the company, the snowball effect had tapered off and she found that she needed to start marketing. So Natalie started learning about entrepreneurship, getting around people who were successful, joining entrepreneurial groups, and calling business owners she knew.

[14:34] Natalie started forming a strategy for growing her business. She is still in that process. It will never end. For the first year of business, Natalie felt she was constantly pushing it uphill. After a couple of years, they seemed to hit the top of the hill and start rolling down the other side. Systems and processes in place are working well.

[15:36] In the first year it was really hard to carry on! There were days Natalie wanted to cry and pull the blanket over her head all day in bed. Entrepreneurship can really be rough.

[15:53] Natalie started the company in 2015. Most of 2016 was not easy for her.

[16:10] There came a time when parents started calling again after being referred on Facebook, LinkedIn, or by a friend and Natalie felt like she could pull back somewhat on the brand exposure and marketing. All of the work was starting to pay off. People were starting to recognize that they were really good at their work.

[17:36] The company was founded with $100. That was the amount needed to open the company bank account. Natalie never sought capital investors or loans. They built the company from the ground up, without debt.

[18:32] On the website there is a statement, “We are 100% confident in our business model.” In terms of the competition that naturally goes with entrepreneurism and capitalism, they maintain that their model of using only certified teachers working in the student’s home, delivers better results than other mentoring business models.

[18:56] Teachers are trained effectively to pass along and deliver information in a way that makes the most sense for the student. Early on, people Natalie trusted told her that her business model would never work. They recommended hiring college students instead of certified teachers to save money. As a teacher, Natalie disagreed.

[20:02] Natalie was never going to change from using certified teachers only. Another huge aspect is one-on-one teaching. Progress happens fastest with an expert teacher identifying exactly what the problem is tripping up one student and addressing those areas with that student individually. That’s what teachers do.

[21:04] Maryland Teacher Tutors contracts with about 45 certified teachers. They all teach in a classroom during the day and are 1099 contractors in the evening. Natalie is the only staff person. She contracts with marketing companies as needed.

[21:42] Natalie has a new book on Amazon, Owning It. The book is a compilation of stories from Natalie’s life where she walks through the difficult times she says she brought on herself. She wants the book to be empowering for herself and others, about rising above mistakes to doing well.

[22:53] Natalie tells of a business mistake — isolating herself. On her own, she almost called it quits for the business and put it behind her. She had not reached out to anyone or asked for help. Fortunately, that’s when the calls started coming in and she saw success on the horizon. She wishes she had not let herself feel so alone.

[24:02] Natalie would advise entrepreneurs to have conversations with other entrepreneurs. As a new entrepreneur, Natalie didn’t know what questions she should ask or things she should consider. It is important to put yourself around people who have successful businesses. They were able to draw out of Natalie what she needed.

[24:50] Natalie is hearing from other teachers around the country, and in the Bahamas, who hope to duplicate the business model of Maryland Teacher Tutors. Natalie has given information to others, but, so far, no one has followed through to do it. When it comes to being an entrepreneur, you have it, or you don’t.

[25:51] What is Natalie’s vision for growth? Natalie believes it should be nationwide. As long as Natalie is the CEO, she would like to see it become a strong Mid-Atlantic brand. Natalie would love to expand into Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia. That is where her plans are. At some point, Natalie will want someone to take the reins.

[26:47] Natalie cannot see herself being CEO of the company if it went nation-wide.

[27:10] Natalie has some clients in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. Those clients are working with the company online. Eventually, Natalie wants certified teachers contracted in different states. They want to move slowly but surely and they’re making their way there.

[28:09] Natalie’s children are now 17 and 15.

[28:31] Natalie has recently identified the biggest reward she gets from her company — having a company that is outstanding in the way they do business, where both teachers and parents praise the experience Maryland Teacher Tutors has created. Teachers love the work and parents give testimonials of the results.

[29:35] Natalie compares her company to Chick-fil-A, that really stands apart in how they do fast food. They go above and beyond and excel at everything. That’s how Natalie wants Maryland Teacher Tutors to be seen.

[30:28] Ray wishes Natalie Mangrum continued success and hopes to follow this company for years to come. This is Capitalism.


Mentioned in This Episode:

Maryland Teacher Tutors

Baltimore City Schools

Owning It: It’s My Story and I’ll Share If I Want To, by Natalie Mangrum



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