rossana-llenadoby SHONALI BURKE on AUGUST 19, 2011

At 25, Rossana Llenado founded AHEAD Learning Systems, Inc., the Philippines’ pioneer in Test-Based Review programs for college entrance exams. Today, the company continues to grow through distinct service brands: AHEAD Tutorial & Review Center, AHEAD Books & Things, AHEAD Professional Network, and most recentlyAHEAD Interactive, which brings AHEAD’s tutorial services to the rest of the world via a dynamic proprietary video conferencing platform. Rossana shared her experiences in starting and growing her business via a Q&A.

What makes your business unique?

It is unique in several ways:

  • It addresses practically all learning needs: we cater to preschoolers, grade school and high school students, college students, and even professionals and those pursuing post-graduate studies.
  • We bring students and teachers, who are continents apart, face-to-face via a proprietary internet-based video platform. (Other online tutorial services use only instant messaging and rely on public platforms. We have not found any other service provider that offers live video tutorials.)
  • We screen only the top graduates of internationally recognized universities as teachers. When they’ve passed our screening process, we hire and intensively train them. During online tutorials, our teachers are at our centers; they do not log-on from their homes or other locations.
  • We customize sessions according to the specific needs of the learner. Students receive the undivided attention of their tutor the entire session.

What decisions have best enabled your company to endure the current economy (and excel)?

We have created added value for our services without raising our fees. We started offering mind mapping and speed reading sessions with our tutorial and review programs for no extra cost. Every year, we try to find other ways to enhance our programs with value-added service. This strategy has worked well for us because our clients find our programs worth their money.

They do not think twice about spending their hard-earned money on our courses, even during the toughest economic conditions.

What most influenced you to launch your business?

Ever since I wrote a speech for a government official when I was in college, I’ve dreamed of making a contribution in the field of education. Having come from a very poor family yet having had the opportunity to get the best public education, I realized early on how powerful an equalizer education could be. With the right education, children of disadvantaged families grow up to be leaders, inventors, lawmakers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and innovators.

I believe teachers are heroes. They have the power to influence and inspire. I’ve made it my mission to find exceptionally intelligent people and convince them to share what they know with others.

Many of our teachers have successful careers in medicine, law, engineering, and other fields but they make time to teach at our centers because this is their passion. It has been a very fulfilling 15 years; changing lives, leading people to the vocation of teaching, and helping shape the future.

What key strategic and operational tactics helped your business first get started?

From the start, we positioned tutorial and review services as competitive tools for high achievers. We changed the then-prevailing notion that such services are for flunking students. We highlighted the achievement of our students and made them proud to be excelling with our help.

We pioneered Test-Based Reviews for college entrance tests of the Philippines’ top three universities and created an entire industry out of it. Our online interactive program is just an extension of our ongoing commitment to assist as many students and professionals as we can.

What failure or missed benchmark proved a good business lesson (and why)?

There was a time when we tried to lower our prices for college entrance review programs since many of our competitors offered theirs for very low rates. This made our clients think we had cut down on our program features. Ironically, our staff found it harder to explain the lowered prices.

We realized that our service had become a status symbol for many of our clients and that they had certain expectations when it came to price. We went back to offering premium rates and have learned to apply more creative packaging techniques.

Do you use social media for your business? How? If not, why not?

We’ve been using social media quite extensively for the past year or so.  Our company Facebook fan page has over 10,000 fans, while our service-specific Facebook accounts have a total of over 6,000 selected students. We also maintain several blogs to engage students, parents, and professionals. These have a consistent following.

Where do you envision your business in (5) years?

With the expected demand for online tutorials, we foresee a huge need for qualified Filipino tutors. We will be able to open employment opportunities not just for licensed teachers but for other professionals who have mastery of specific subjects and who have a passion for teaching.

We have been studying the competition for nearly a year now and we are certain we can give better service. First, we are the only company to provide live video sessions for all programs. We simulate actual face-to-face lessons as our tutors give their full attention to each student they handle. Through the technology we are using, students and tutors can solve math problems together; show each other their computations and notes; study reading materials online; and exchange resources with each other. Ours is a fully interactive system.