Mark Rohald – Scamming Investors, Abusing Employees
Mark Rohald is the CEO of Cluey Learning. He is a graduate of University of the Witwatersrand with a BCom Hons in Economics.
Before founding Cluey Learning in 2017, he was the co-founder of Quartet Ventures and the director of the Observership Program.
Under his leadership, Cluey Learning has grown its revenue considerably. But it has done so, by burning through its investors’ money. According to expert analysis and the company’s financial reports, it is a loss-generating investment which is bleeding millions every year.
The following review will take a deeper look into Mark Rohald and determine if Mark Rohald is acting in good faith or if he is scamming the investors of Cluey Learning:
Is Mark Rohald Scamming the Investors of Cluey Learning?
In 2020, Cluey Learning, under the leadership of Mark Rohald, was spending around $1 million AUD per month. This was when the pandemic was at its peak and global venture capital markets were avoiding taking new risks.
At that time, the best month of revenue for the edutech company was $250,000 AUD.
Considering they had a gross margin of around 50% on 1 on 1 tutoring, they needed to do $2 million a month in sales to break even. In other words, they had to increase their sales by 8 times.
So, did they?
If you check their annual report released in August 2021, Cluey Learning shares that it generated $5.5 million in gross profit. This was when their Gross Profit Margin was 55%.
However, in the same year, the company suffered $10.6 million (excluding IPO related costs). The net loss they suffered was $11.9 million.
According to the financial statement, the company’s loss after income tax for the period 30 June 2020 to 30 June 2021 was $38,944,106. The forecasted loss was $32,936,236.
In other words, the company suffered around $6 million more in losses than they had expected.
Mark Rohald is Scamming Investors – How the Numbers Don’t Add Up
When you look at the profit and loss statement of the company and how it’s promoting itself, you’ll realize that Mark Rohald is selling a dream akin to a Bitcoin scam.
In 2020, the company was trying to raise capital at around $45 million valuation when it had less than $1 million AUD in sales.
This means, the company was aiming for a valuation which is 45 times higher than its sales numbers. In 2020, companies like Zoom had these kind of valuations and they were profitable at massive scale with serious technology advantage.
For example, Kip McGrath had a valuation of $40 million when Cluey Learning wanted to get a valuation of $45 million. The difference between Kip McGrath and Cluey Learning is that the former has been in the industry for nearly 5 decades and has a revenue of $18 MM with $2.5 MM profit.
Mark Rohald has been able to raise capital for his firm only because there is a lack of education technology expertise in the Australian market. The following points will highlight further how Mark Rohald is selling false hopes to gullible investors and why Cluey Learning is not a reliable investment:
Experienced Investors Don’t Trust Pure Tutoring Marketplaces
Mark Rohald is running a tutoring marketplace, which is notorious for being terrible for sophisticated investors. People have tried and failed to monetize purely 1 on 1 online tutoring.
A prominent example is tutor.com and tutorspree. Both of them have shut down.
Eurekely in New Zealand was another firm which tried and failed to monetize 1 on 1 tutoring. It was unable to raise any external financing. Another example is Varsity Tutors which is still unprofitable with declining growth rates and diminishing investor confidence.
Tutoring Platforms Have Never Been Profitable
There are no significant and profitable 1 on 1 tutoring marketplaces in the world. Profitable and successful education firms include Tal Education Group, New Oriental and Benesse.
However, they rely on premium brands and large class sizes which allow them to avoid matching students and tutors, trying to capture a spread between the two.
Byjus, another fast-growing edutech company, monetizes video content which has very limited direct service cost.
On the other hand, VIPKids has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars of VC funding. However, the firm is still not profitable and is now facing fundraising issues even though the edutech market of China is substantially larger and lucrative.
Common Examples of Success in this Industry are Misrepresentations
Chegg, a Silicon Valley company, talks heavily about its tutoring business but it doesn’t do any paid acquisition marketing.
Because the company knows it would be unprofitable. So, the company upsells tutoring to its database of leads which use its subscription textbook and homework services.
That business model is completely different from what Mark Rohald is doing with Cluey.
Online Tutoring Marketplaces Face Competition from Offline Players
Unless Cluey changes its advertised business drastically, it will keep losing money and lose progressively more funds because the margin they make from a student will always be less than they spend on customer acquisition.
Being online doesn’t give Mark Rohald’s company any advantage in student acquisition.
Strong competitors like KipMcGrath will continue bidding online for the same keywords Cluey Learning targets. The only difference is, Cluey is burning investor money and has a far less economical business.
KipMcGrath charges students around 55 per hour for a class of 4 students pay the teacher around 25 per hour. This way, they generate revenue of 220 at the cost of 25 with a margin of 89%.
Mark Rohald might make CLuey charge around $50 while paying $30 to tutors, taking a 50% gross margin. However, this is virtually impossible for making profits once you consider the customer acquisition costs as well as the operation costs (salaries, benefits, etc.).
On LinkedIn, Mark Rohald’s Cluey has over 600 employees. If we assume that only 300 are full-time with an average pay of 100,000, the business would be burning millions every month.
ALthough the company can show more revenue by burning more funds, they would be able to achieve such revenue only through an unsustainable cash burn. Moreover, Mark Rohald would certainly know that he can’t easily change this model.
Overestimation of the Target Market
To attract investors, Mark Rohald’s company always claims that there’s a huge tutoring market, even though the company is focused on Australia.
They cite this “large tutoring market” for claiming their large valuation.
However, this market doesn’t exist.
When you add up the tutoring revenue of the major players of the industry such as NumberWorks, Kip McGrath, Matrix Education, Dux College along with private tutoring, the market size would come out to be around $60 million or less per year annually across Australia.
However, you should note that Kip McGrath has been in the industry for over 40 years and had to leave Australia and go to New Zealand and the UK to find more growth. They did so because of the caps in the Australian market.
Here, Mark Rohald talks to investors about a 1 billion+ market. Clearly, it is overestimating the market size by 20 times.
Cluey Learning’s Segment is Not Growing
Another issue in Mark Rohald’s promises to investors is the limited growth prospects of his company’s segment.
The highest spenders of tutoring are usually from the Chinese-Australian community in Sydney whose children study in competitive private schools.
These students make up a substantial portion of total revenue. For example, Matrix alone earned around $20 MM AUD revenue in 2020.
However, these students prefer offline tutoring with highly specialized tutors.
On the other hand, Mark Rohald’s Cluey follows a more ‘family and fun focused’ approach which is more suitable for the market segment of Kip McGrath.
Hence, Mark Rohald is missing and will continue to miss the main tutoring segment which is actually growing.
Mark Rohald’s Company Will Not Generate Any Profit for Years
If we look at the current market outlook of Cluey, it has a market cap of $107.7 million AUD. However, the firm’s stock value has fallen by 10.6% since last year.
Furthermore, the company is unprofitable and expert forecast suggests it will not become profitable over the next 3 years.
Even though the company has grown its revenue significantly within the last year, it suffered millions in losses.
Moreover, the company has diluted its shareholders last year and its market cap is not meaningful.
In other words, the company hasn’t become a proper investment even today. Clearly, Mark Rohald is running a loss-making firm which doesn’t have any chance of becoming profitable in the near future.
Investment firms have already begun struggling with such loss-making startups. A primary example is Softbank which is losing millions every year because of ventures like WeWork and Oyo.
Employees Expose the Terrible Management of Mark Rohald (Cluey Learning Glassdoor Reviews):
Apart from the analysis I shared above, I also found several employee reviews discussing how Mark Rohald runs his company.
Although there were a ton of 5-star Cluey Learning Glassdoor reviews, my focus was more on the 1-star reviews. Why?
Because companies tend to post fake 5-star reviews on their Glassdoor pages to bury these complaints.
By looking at these complaints, you can understand what are the actual problems present in the management of Cluey:
“They Hire Amazing People, Chew Them Up and Spit Them Out”
According to the above reviewer, there’s a ‘burn and churn’ culture at Cluey Learning.
He highlights that the company gives you just enough rope to hang yourself. The management wants you to speak up but if they don’t like what you say, they fire you.
Even though the company says that one of its values is ‘Say it like it is’, you can only say things the management would want to hear.
Also, the company doesn’t offer any training or support. The reviewer suggests Mark Rohald to grow a heart and care about his employees.
Greedy Management Does Not Care About the People
Here, the reviewer says the middle management of Cluey Learning is extremely greedy. They make promises they don’t keep.
Furthermore, Mark Rohald doesn’t value staff. The management only cares about the profits.
There is very high staff turnover. People leave the company because there’s a lack of opportunities for career development. Also, the HR team doesn’t have much power.
Recruitment ads promise extraordinary earning potential which you can never achieve. Mark has created a culture of fear mongering and micromanagement.
Mark Rohald is Impatient and Only Cares About Money
The above reviewer points out that the management at Cluey Learning is terrible. They put you under a lot of pressure and offer no real help.
There’s also a lot of miscommunication.
The management tries to encourage you to be a pushy salesperson to hit results. However, they are only money-driven and don’t care about anything else.
Also, Mark and the upper management have no patience. They throw you out quickly if you don’t do well.
“Mark Doesn’t Care About the Employees”
Here, the reviewer says the management never thinks about its employees at Cluey Learning. They only focus on company growth.
Also, the reviewer highlights that the company has the worst code base which they refuse to maintain. However, Mark and the rest of the management expect their developers to fix all the issues before they blink.
The company doesn’t pay for the extra time they worked.
They micromanage everything including the time you take for going to the washroom, drinking a coffee or for emergency phone calls. Also, the office is too noisy.
Mark Rohald and the management never trust their employees. They send you home within a few weeks.
Also, there is no automation so you have to do all the testing manually.
After going through the above points it’s clear that Mark Rohald is not running Cluey Learning properly. The company might make big, bold claims about its potential growth but the numbers don’t add up.
Furthermore, Cluey has received too many complaints from its employees for poor management.
Whether you’re looking to invest in this company or thinking of joining it, think twice.
Mark Rohald is running an education technology company which has taken millions from investors and generated $38 million+ in losses last year. The employees have also posted a ton of complaints against the management of Cluey Learning. Clearly, investors should be wary of Mark and his ventures.
- Familiar with the education sector
- Baseless promises to investors
- Too many employee complaints
- Unprofitable for years
- Negative outlook