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How This 26-Year-Old Learned the ABCs of Running an Education Franchise On-the-job training sets a young tutor's career in motion.

By Jason Daley

This story appears in the November 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Daniel Hennessy
Ashley Mulcahy

When Ashley Mulcahy was earning her teaching degree at San Diego State University, she needed a little extra cash. So in 2011 she answered an ad for Tutor Doctor, an in-home education franchise. She met up with franchisee Alexandra Wilcox, and the two clicked immediately.

By the end of that meeting, Mulcahy had signed up as a tutor and agreed to do administrative work as well. The job, it turned out, suited her, and over time she took on more responsibility.

In fact, by the end of her first year with Tutor Doctor, Mulcahy was taking client meetings and helping parents decide the best curricula for their children. She and Wilcox won Tutor Doctor's Rookie of the Year award and expanded from three territories to nine, covering Orange County, Calif.

After Mulcahy received her bachelor's degree, she bought the business from Wilcox. Now, at 26, Mulcahy heads an education empire that contracts with more than 100 tutors in more than 20 cities.

"Running a business wasn't what I planned or signed up for in the beginning, but there came a point where I was making a lot more money doing this than I would ever see as a teacher," Mulcahy says. "I never thought I'd have this much control over my income."

We asked her to open the book on her success.

Are you surprised Tutor Doctor signed off on a 22-year-old buying nine territories?

I'd been going to conferences, and I was always on corporate team calls. They were used to me being involved. By the time Ali [Wilcox] was ready to move on, it was a no-brainer; they were happy to take that step with me. They really like engaged franchisees.

What has made you a top-10 franchisee?

For most Tutor Doctor franchisees I've met, this is their second career or a side business. They have their own biases and thoughts on how a business should be run. Some people are stuck in their own mold. I came in unbiased and was willing to follow the system and embrace changes. On the flip side, I think some of the younger generation can be a little entitled. So I've come into this with the mindset that I have to work hard to be successful. It's helped me take calculated risks and do things differently, and that has helped me be successful.

What are some things you do differently?

For one thing, all of our staff is remote; we all work virtually from home offices. We all have access to the same resources and documents using cloud servers and apps and devices. Some franchisees have offices and all that overhead, but we've done away with that. Also, I think we're more communicative on our end. We'll send quick notes to parents by email asking how their child did on a test. Or if we know a mom is active in an autism support group, we might send her an interesting article and say we were thinking of her when we read it. Things like that. Technology really gets woven into our employee discourse and helps with client relationships.

What's the hardest thing you've faced so far?

One of the main things I've learned in business is that you can't always please everyone, and that's OK. It's something I've struggled with. In college, you want your professors to like you, and they want to see you succeed. But in doing consultations and working with the public, you can't always meet everyone's needs. If you meet a family, and their child is getting an F in a subject, but they only want to sign them up for tutoring once a week, we know that won't help. We have to set true expectations.

Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.

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