Founder / VCE Study Guides
There is really no need to introduce today’s #girlboss. Most of you are already aware of the immense value that she gifts to the world, but for those of you hiding under that high school rock (believe us… it exists) please meet Lisa Tran, the modish, astute founder of popular student website, VCE Study Guides.
At only 26 years of age, Lisa is a truly experienced entrepreneur. Identifying a need within a marketplace and using her skills and evident talent to turn that need into a viable business model. Did we mention that she is only 26? Ahhhh, we love this girl.
Lisa’s career pathway was influenced early by her Chinese parents, and with high grades in tow she cascaded easily from High School to University, after selecting a Bachelor of Pharmacy. This is where her journey gets interesting. With 7 years experience specialising in tutoring VCE English, Lisa realised her passion wasn’t in Pharmacy, and flipped her focus to concentrate on growing her tutoring empire.
These days Lisa is a bonified business women (she has built the business to over 40 elite tutors), and a heart fuelled teacher. Her website VCE Study Guides has now been used by thousands of students, tutors and even teachers in schools across Victoria. Ultimately, Lisa aims to empower all her students with the confidence and edge they need to achieve the best they can in VCE!
Let’s dive in to today’s impactful #careerstory…
Lisa, Welcome, we can’t wait to dive into this interview. Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I’m Melbourne born and bred from an incredibly multicultural family. My heritage is Chinese, so I’ve grown up in a typical hard-working family and have carried many of the values into my everyday life as a business owner of Lisa’s Study Guides – persistence and diligence
Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I attended an all-girls school called Methodist Ladies’ College in Kew (MLC). To be honest, I didn’t fully appreciate how lucky I was to attend this school until after I had graduated. At school, I felt like I fell under-the-radar because I wasn’t at the top of the crop in academics, sport, or music. It’s only since I’ve grown into adulthood and pursued my own career, that I realise attending a school like MLC has subconsciously shaped me in ways that would not be apparent to me until many years later. MLC is a school that teaches its girls to be proudly independent and confident. For example, we attend a term-long camp in Year 9 that teaches us to live on our own. Moreover, they teach us how to carry ourselves in social situations, how to communicate well with others – a skill that I know is crucial in what I do day-to-day as a business owner. I look back and fondly laugh at how I’d daydream during assembly every Monday at school, thinking that it was a waste of time – but somewhere, somehow, it’s clear that my ears were quietly listening to my school principal talk to us about our futures being young, independent and powerful leaders.
Yes, it is very clear, we love the empire that you are building. But before we dive into that, can you tell us more about your time at high school. Did MLC play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
Not as much as my parents. Coming from an Asian family, it’s no surprise that my parents wanted me to become a health professional – I’m sure many other young Asian girls can relate. The choices were simply only: dentist, doctor, optometrist, or pharmacist. I settled for pharmacy from obviously that was what I was passionate about and I wanted to be a drug dealer – NOT! Far from it, I used the process of elimination (and I would not recommend this again). I’d also add that the school counsellor did little to help. It seems that they fit you in some generic mould of ‘what you like/what you’re good at’ and match it with a job that, on a very superficial level, covers those interests. I wished that they’d look more at skills – as a communicator, as a problem-solver, or having growth mind-set – because this could have opened way more options for me than simply: ‘Oh, you like maths? Why not accounting?’.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
I did work experience at a Pharmacy in Year 10 – I found it the most boring thing I’d ever done at the time. So why did I then go on to pursue a university degree in Pharmacy? I’m not sure myself. Probably because a combinations of parental advice, and also me being unsure of what I wanted to do. However, I did spent a lot of time working at my parents shop, which is a haberdashery (where they sell sewing accessories like buttons, zips). Again, something that was subconsciously ingrained in me over time, I saw how my parents ran their business, how they interacted with customers, and I am sure that this experience is what has ultimately led me to become my own business owner – and I absolutely love it!
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I attend Monash University for Bachelor of Pharmacy/Commerce. I dropped the Commerce component after being too burnt out with studying after 5 years of the Pharmacy degree.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
I started off working in multiple Pharmacies throughout my university degree. While the job itself wasn’t overly exciting, some the people I’ve met have now become life-long friends. I became a pharmacist and worked part-time for a year before switching completely into tutoring, something that I had done since I was 18. As a tutor, I’ve worked for myself and that is one of my highlights – mum had always told me to ‘be my own owner, that way you can have flexible hours and live the life you wish’. I started off tutoring around 10 students each year throughout university (in fact, tutoring took up so much time I hardly attended any lectures). In 2009, after a year of tutoring, I noticed that there were no websites dedicated to sharing resources and imparting knowledge to VCE English students. Thus, I created a website, VCE Study Guides, an English resource (covering English, EAL, Literature and English Language) written by high-achieving VCE graduates and designed to help current VCE students.
The website has become so popular that it is used by teachers throughout schools in Australia and thousands of students each year. Lisa’s Study Guides has now become my business and a major part of my life. After the first year as a Pharmacist, it dawned on me that I found tutoring to be so much more rewarding – to the point where it doesn’t feel like work to me. It’s one hour of chatting to a student and helping them learn.
In that first year of being a full-time tutor, I tutored around 25 students. The year after, tutoring demand was simply too much for me to handle, so I began hiring my first tutors. I grew from 5 tutors in my first year to 50 tutors in 2017. We’ve had several hundred students under our wing, and it’s amazing seeing them mature into adulthood and achieving their VCE goals. I feel incredibly grateful for what I have accomplished thus far, and I’m looking forward to strengthening my business in 2017 so that tutors enjoy tutoring as much as I’ve had in the past, and also for students to reap the benefits of a company that values its tutors, offers an abundance of resources for their students, YouTube videos (yes, I do that!), and so much more!
WOW! what a flip, a major flip. We love that journey. Have you elaborate a more on how you started VCE Study Guides?
I tutored VCE English in my spare time in conjunction with my university degree and I found it so unbelievably rewarding. I believe my passion for teaching drew me quite a number of word-of-mouth recommendations, so at one point I was tutoring around 25 students privately. Once I had graduated and worked as a Pharmacist for a year in 2014, I found pharmacy to be comparatively repetitive and mundane. So it wasn’t a difficult decision to move out of Pharmacy and being tutoring full-time in 2015. Soon after I started tutoring full-time, the student demand for tutoring became too much for one person, so I started hiring my first tutors to join my company, Lisa’s Study Guides (formerly known as VCE Study Guides). After two years, the team has expanded to over forty elite tutors. We’re pioneering a change in the tutoring education sphere, by offering students a more comprehensive approach to learning through not only our tutors, but YouTube videos, study guides, blog posts and more. I am currently running Lisa’s Study Guides as my full time job, but I never think of it as a job. A ‘job’ to me, is something that you need to do to make ends meet. I do what I love, and not a day am I stuck at a ‘job’.
What is the hardest part of your current job?
Two things – the everyday challenges that you face as an entrepreneur, and the workaholic-ism you need to fight off as a result. It’s definitely not easy owning a business, because you will undoubtedly run into issues that you’ll need to problem-solve. If you’re not problem-solving, you’re constantly learning about how to improve your business – and sometimes the learning curb is so hard that sometimes you wonder if you’re really capable of owning a company. Moreover, as your own boss, there is no one telling you to stop working. And because this is your livelihood, I feel the need to constantly work on new projects, work on new strategies, work on new ideas to make my tutors and their students happier. This can be detrimental to my own mental state, as burn out is very much a reality.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you?
It varies day to day but let’s go with today. I started off with a bit of meditation, a run, and now I’m at an appointment at the hairdressers. While at the hairdressers, I’ve made a few phone calls, answered my emails, and I’m now answering this questionnaire! Soon after, I’ll be finishing off the final edits of the new VCE Ultimate English Study Package that we’re publishing, and then calling some interviewees who I’m looking forward to congratulate because I’d like to have them on board as tutors at VCE Study Guides. After, I’ll be filming a few YouTube videos, then helping a friend out with his videography (I’m sure at some point throughout this I would’ve left the hairdressers!). The reason why I included some seemingly irrelevant parts such as going for a run and hairdressers in my typical business day is because every day is business day for me. And I am essentially, the core part of my business. So looking after myself, and my routines ensure that I’m up to scratch and mentality ready for my day.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
The most important thing about wanting to own your own business is that it is not as easy as it seems. Don’t become an entrepreneur just because it’s ‘trendy’ or ‘cool’. Yes, you can get rich, own nice things and be your own boss. But reality more often is that many entrepreneurs create multiple businesses that fail before they get one to succeed, and being your own boss comes with many stresses and challenges. You have to be willing to push yourself, to keep going when times get tough and to uphold the motivation and inspiration to drive forward. If you’re OK with that, and you’re ready for the challenge – then go for it!
List your most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?