Entrepreneur Ezichi Bordner and mentor Elliot Wassarman find commonalities in math tutoring and business mentoring.
This post originally appeared on MicroMentor.org.
It’s often said that entrepreneurs are problem solvers, and Ezichi Bordner takes this idea to another level. As the owner of South County Math Tutor in Laguna Niguel, CA, Ezichi helps students solve problems every day in algebra, trigonometry, geometry, calculus, and more.
“A lot of students are just so overwhelmed by math,” Ezichi says. “Being able to show them that the skills that they learn with me can be applied to their everyday life just makes things so much easier for them. When I see them gain confidence, it reminds me of myself when I was a little eighth-grader and didn’t have any friends in this new country.”
The eighth grade was a memorable time for Ezichi. That year, her family moved from Nigeria to the United States.
“My parents came to the United States for better education opportunities for us,” she says. “We were average, middle-class, and comfortable in our country in West Africa. But my dad realized that if we wanted to grow in our talents, the best opportunity was going to be in the United States.”
Whatever It Took
That dream of a better education came at a great cost for Ezichi’s family. They arrived with around $100, and Ezichi suddenly faced the challenge of making friends and finding a way to fit in at a new school in a new country. But, her entrepreneurial mind was already hard at work.
“I decided that everybody struggled with math, so I was going to be good at math. Whatever it took, that’s what I was going to do to be good at math.”
The hard work was important, Ezichi says, because she learned not only math but also “the process of struggling and then helping myself understand the concept.” That led her to studying math at university and then becoming a teacher.
Ezichi’s mother, who also is an educator, always believed her daughter would make a great tutor and encouraged her to start a company. So, Ezichi began South County Math Tutor—at first focused on tutoring friends and their families. It was a big step, but Ezichi quickly saw opportunity for growth and wanted some expert advice.
Being a Business Owner
“I looked around in my circle of friends, and I just couldn’t find the right mentor type for my situation,” she says. “I had a supportive family, a supportive spouse, but I wanted somebody who was a little more objective. I decided to look online to see if there were any kind of mentor resources—not expecting to find anything—and that’s kind of how I stumbled upon MicroMentor.”
Through MicroMentor, Ezichi connected with volunteer mentor Elliot Wassarman. Elliot earned a PhD in clinical psychology at Yale before pivoting into the technology field. During the decades that followed, he rose from sales engineer at Wang Laboratories to CEO of the company that operated the website Match.com. Along the way, Elliot worked in industries including semiconductors and pharmaceuticals, and he helped companies grow from small revenues to millions in sales—but he didn’t do it alone.
“An awful lot of people have helped me in my career, so I decided a really good thing for me and something that I knew I would enjoy would be to give back what I had learned in some fashion,” Elliot says. “I thought the MicroMentor program was a pretty good way of my helping out startup CEOs, sharing with them my experience, and giving them some guidance so that they could build their own dreams.”
Ezichi sought a mentor to review her business plan, strategy, and marketing. She says that Elliot helped with all those things, while also offering advice on the “general life of being a business owner.” One of his lessons was that building a business—much like learning math—requires hard work and dedication.
“I really wanted to impress Elliott, because he had so much knowledge,” Ezichi says. “I would give myself a deadline that I couldn’t meet. I would come short because I just didn’t have enough time. And he said, ‘Hey, Ezichi, this is for you. Don’t promise something that you cannot fulfill.’ This was beyond business. This was real world. He helped me with my character, as well.”
“She’s a very bright person with extremely strong ethics,” Elliot says. “She asked excellent questions, and she seems to incorporate the answers that she hears very quickly into very well-thought-out plans. And she seems to execute well. So, you knew that the passion and the intellect to drive the passion were there.”
Share the Dream
In tutoring, Ezichi notes, “there needs to be buy-in for things to work out.” For instance, many of her students attend her tutoring sessions at the insistence of their parents. Some understand that they need help and want to improve, but others feel like they’re being “punished with additional schooling outside of school.”
“You have to show them that, regardless of their circumstance or how they’re doing in the class, you truly care about them,” she says. “You care about them as individuals, you care about how they’re doing in class, and you care about how the attitudes they’re bringing into the tutoring sessions and into class will affect them in life.”
In business mentoring relationships, there are no parents imposing a “punishment” of additional business work. However, it is still important for mentors to show genuine care for their mentees and the business.
“To be a good mentor, you have to share the dream. If you can’t share the dream or you don’t understand the dream, then the rest becomes just very technical,” Elliot says. “With Ezichi, I really want to understand the tutoring business—how to become the best in her marketplace. I think she has big mountains to climb and great success to achieve, and I think she’s capable of doing both.”