IT IS not often that you see young children excited about learning.
But Sonia Dev, better known to the kids as Super Coach Dave, has made it his business to get them interested in learning.
Dev, the founder of Intelliq World Sdn Bhd, which runs the student coaching academy, Super Champz, believes that the learning process can be structured in a way that appeals to students.
And his efforts so far seem to be much appreciated as the student intake at Super Champz has grown.The programme has coached over 9,000 students in its three years.
The idea for Super Champz came about because of Dev’s own experiences as a student.
“Growing up, I was an ‘out-standing’ student — I was always standing outside. I was labelled as having Attention Deficit Disorder, I couldn’t spell so my teachers said I had dyslexia and they ignored me because they said I was not smart,” said the 39-year-old.
Nonetheless, Dev got through school and managed to obtain a Masters degree in international business thanks to plenty of encouragement from his father.
He joined an international bank for two years before deciding that he was not cut out to be a banker. After he left the bank, Dev bummed around for a few years.
With nothing much to do and no real direction, Dev picked up a new hobby of reading self-help books.
“I think we are all destined for greatness, but in different fields. Back then, I hadn’t found my field yet. My father was, no doubt, disappointed that after spending so much on my education, all I did all day was read self-help books,” he said.
A turning point
A moment came for Dev when he had the opportunity to meet Tan Sri Vincent Tan in 2002.
Having congratulated Tan on his acquisition of the Malaysian franchise for the 7-Eleven chain, Dev added, “But there is one thing you can’t find in a 7-Eleven store, and that is mobile phone accessories.”
That secured Dev a contract to supply all 300 7-Eleven outlets with mobilephone accessories and Dev was soon brought in to join Tan’s Berjaya Group.
Dev’s five years in Berjaya taught him many lessons about being an entrepreneur and when it was time to leave, Dev received a piece of advice from Tan that helped launched Super Champz: to be successful, never look for opportunities. Look for problems and offer the solutions and people will come beating your door down.
“So I started looking around for a problem and realised that I hated studying while I was growing up. And there are many students who would likely have the same problem. The solution is to convert their perceptions so that learning becomes fun,” Dev said of his eureka moment.
Dev started a small class in his home for free, coaching students on learning techniques that would make their studying experience fun.
“It’s all about the techniques. So it is not subject-specific, but can be applied to any field. And the techniques are all about making links between boring study notes with something fun and memorable, which also helps them remember what they learn,” he said.
His neighbours encouraged him to formalise his classes and Dev decided to start a coaching academy.
He sold his house, maxed out his credit cards and took out a loan to raise about RM1mil to set up his centre.
Most of the capital was used to fund the acquisition of shoplot for the academy and to pay the salaries of employees.
However, business for Super Champz was far from rosy and Dev was swimming in debt.
“Three years ago, people were sceptical. By the end of the year I had about RM40,000 left from our initial capital I raised and I had nothing to show in terms of business,” he said.
Finally, Dev decided to plough his remaining capital into advertising and renting hotel rooms to run his seminars for free.
“My friends thought I was crazy for throwing away whatever money I had left. But I believe that to get something, we need to first give, so I tried it my way,” he said.
His first advertisement brought in 20 calls. And his business has been growing since.
During the school holidays, Super Champz is busy with workshops and programmes every weekend.
While there is a growing market for English classes, Super Champz has decided against a foray into that market.
“The demand is there but we don’t want to lose focus. We are not just here to teach English. We are teaching techniques and we want to instil values
“We think Asian students need to stop emulating Western kids and they need to build their own confidence. And when they are able to enjoy learning, they will learn to do well and build their own confidence,” Dev said.
With Super Champz’ growing success in the Klang Valley, Dev is already eyeing opportunities to bring the business model to other countries in the region.
The team recently introduced itself to the Singapore market. and once established, Dev is looking at translating its materials for the Indonesia, India and Thailand.
Additionally, Dev hopes to train more trainers to grow the academy’s reach.
“I love training kids but there is only so much I can do. So we are on the lookout for more trainers. We are not looking at franchise options at the moment because we want to control the quality of what we have to offer,” he said.