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Eureka Moment! Teen Spirit

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DB student Theo Robinson is blazing an entrepreneurial path with his first start-up– a tutoring service manned by DB teens. Elizabeth Kerr reports

PHOTOS BY Baljit Gidwaniwww.evoqueportraits.com

Theo Robinson has the innate comportment of a natural entrepreneur. He listens intently during a conversation, he chooses his words carefully but makes them look spontaneous, and remembers to circle back to previous threads he wants to address. Theo’s also a 16-year-old Discovery Bay International School student with a new skateboard tucked under the coffee shop table he’s sitting at. “It’s good fun and a good way of travelling,” he says of his relatively new hobby-transport.

Theo is the latest Discovery Bay teen to embrace his inner Warren Buffet and start a low-key, small business catering to DB residents. TR Music School and TR Tutoring (www.trmusicschool.com and www.trtutoringdb.com) are now a go-to for DB kids aged five to 14. What started as a way to hone his own drumming skills and earn a little spending money turned into a mini-empire when, after about four months, enquiries about guitar lessons started coming his way. No small feat considering the tutoring services are lockdown ventures.

“It’s two separate schools under the same umbrella. One’s a music school, which is what I started with, and as that grew more successful and people started hearing about it, [teen tutors] started coming to me, asking how I did it. So, I figured why not help them start a tutoring business and grow my own by rolling them into the existing [TR] platform,” Theo explains. And why not? That’s how Microsoft did it.

Born and raised in the UK, Theo and the family followed his father, in business development in F&B, to Qatar for two years, then back to London (Theo did two years secondary there), and finally to Hong Kong in 2019. Also in DB are his mother, a French teacher, younger sister and a retrieverpoodle mix. His older brother, now 18, remained in the UK to try his hand with a semi-professional football club. DB suits Theo just fine: The summer is going to be about hanging with friends, hitting the beach and doing some paddle-boarding.

That, however, doesn’t mean he’s not looking ahead to a new school year and expanding the tutoring business – within reason. Theo tries not to overwhelm his staff (he’d likely cringe at the word “staff”), most of whom are more academically inclined than he. Theo is by no means a slacker, but he views traditional education through a very different lens these days.

“I used to be a very good student, hard-working, and I cared very much about it. But as I discovered more about the business world, talking to my dad and talking to others, I started to realise all these school qualifications were moot,” he argues.

Theo doesn’t believe education is without value; he just sees it as part of a larger whole. Attending school in a less privileged part of the UK opened his eyes to the world’s diversity, and exploring different places and meeting different people entrenched a love of travel.

Nonetheless with a teacher in the house, there are some debates going on at home about Theo’s academic future. “As long as I know how to deal with people and manage people I’m set,” he argues. “As long as I’m doing something I love.” Theo’s not dropping out any time soon either, and he hopes he’ll be heading to Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music for a degree in music engineering and production after DBIS. “It’s crazy expensive, so I’m hoping to be a millionaire before I leave,” he quips.

As a drummer with a penchant for technology Theo has his heart set on Berklee because of its focus on the technical and commercial side of music as well as the creative side. Still, he has plenty of musical opinions. He is steadfast about the importance of a good rhythm section: “If you don’t have a good drummer and a good bass player, you’re in trouble,” he states dryly.

Theo admits to being a straight up pop and rock type, but he’s learnt to appreciate jazz through his drum teacher, Anna Fan. He debates the relative strengths of Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello and Justin Bieber. “Have you listened to his new stuff? He’s really evolved.” He defends Ed Sheeran as an under-appreciated songwriter. “His lyrics are great, and he writes so much for so many other musicians.”

Right now, Theo is less a musician than a tutor and administrator, one’s who’s big on organisation and planning lessons, and who did his own marketing early on by building two websites. Word of mouth and good old fashioned ‘postering’ did the rest. Currently, he and his stable of student tutors help younger kids brush up on class work and occasionally teach concepts some students are just not understanding. In a fun, resonant way.

“I only employ students around my age, and I help them develop their social and teaching skills. It also helps them earn a little bit of money to go and enjoy their weekends,” Theo says. “I’m dedicated to getting the word out that us teenagers can be hard working, compassionate people even though at times we may be a little silly.”

Theo maxes out each tutor’s student load to five for bioprotocol compliant, one-on-one classes which means tutors that want it have more study time for themselves. So how does he account for the rapid growth of TR Music and TR Tutoring?

For starters, in a COVID economy they’re more affordable, flexible options for parents. “I’m dedicated to keeping my prices low but the quality high to help those parents who can’t quite afford the high rates of some music and educational tutors in Hong Kong,” Theo says. “I knew I could do something to help link those teens looking for tutoring jobs and the parents trying to find well-priced tutors for their younger children.”

And, best of all, kids ‘get’ kids. Students are more comfortable with a teen tutor than with a 55-year-old double PhD holder. “We’re almost their age. We know what they’re going though at school,” Theo reasons of the success of the service. “We’re not like other tutors stuck in the 1970s, who don’t understand new systems. It makes the students happy and it makes the parents happy.”

Theo notes most of their clients are normal kids that are a little behind and who would be uncomfortable with that PhD, and kids who don’t like maths and music, and need a little push to ensure graduation.

School’s out for summer but expansion looms. Whatever September brings, Theo’s gained some coveted real-world knowledge and helped a few kids along the way. “This is a big learning experience for me. I don’t see this going like Kumon, worldwide developing my brand. Not at all,” he finishes with another laugh. “If it all collapses tomorrow, starting a business and learning how to make it work will have been worth it.”

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