Sophia Parsa is Introducing On-Demand Learning


She might only be 24-years-old, but she is more forward-thinking and action-oriented than most. Sophia Parsa is the founder of Toot, an app that connects students to tutors in their area. Users requesting tutors range from high school and college students to young professionals and parents wanting to learn how to be a tutor themselves.

When you use the app, which Parsa started at 21, participating tutors pop up, complete with a 20-second video pitch, a bio and hourly rate. Alternatively, customers can email a request for a curated list of who Toot will think is a good fit, which Parsa’s team arranges manually. According to Parsa, the app’s rate of dissatisfied clients has not even reached 1 percent of users. So just how did Parsa end up starting such a successful company at such a young age?

Start Now, But Start Wisely

Companies don’t happen overnight, but ideas do. Parsa realized that she had hit the jackpot with her idea, and that she needed to make this idea happen. But she didn’t stop everything to start Toot. In fact, she stayed at the first company she started until she was sure she could execute – something she realized when she was introduced to her equally passionate co-founder Shaq, a self-taught engineer who had just emigrated from Iran.

Know Your Strengths

Parsa knows she’s not a technical expert, but she also knows she’s a marketing whiz. “While I agree I’m not technical, I’m the customer here. I’m the student who knows what the student needs in order to be happy and feel like this is a successful product.”

Have A Long-Term Vision

Parsa knows the process to expand, at least in terms of her business: get the required capital, visit a college campus to recruit tutors and Toot ambassadors, and then create a digital campaign to spread the word. “Hopefully, in 10 years, we’ll be international," she says. "That’s the dream, right? I’d love that, no matter where you are, no matter what you want to learn, if you were in Spain and you wanted a Spanish lesson, I’d love to connect you with a local,” she says.

Surround Yourself With Good Vibes

“It’s more about the team than anything. Show that you have a great team – and if it’s just you, that you can prove that you’re the one to do this,” says Parsa.

Find A Balance Between Supply And Demand

Parsa created a waiting list for prospective tutors in order to balance the overwhelming supply of eligible tutors with the growing demand of clients.

Don’t Let Anyone Build Your Vision For You

“I would never suggest that someone just starting out [with their own company or brand] should hire an agency," she says. "You really have to build your own brand – that’s the most important part. I would hate for someone to build my vision for me.”

Prove Yourself To Investors

Start “to build as much as you can without capital – to show what you can do with practically no money,” advises Parsa. Show that “users that really love [your] product and can’t live without it.” Once you can prove that to an investor, you can get them to really believe in your idea because they believe you’re going to take it to the next level.

Set Your Company Apart From The Competition

Standing out as a business has perhaps never been more important. “This space is really noisy – every space is getting crowded at this point," she says. "People are being more and more innovative. Every day, there’s a new entrepreneur. I think it’s really, how do you set yourself apart? What differentiates you from the rest of the crowd, and why is it going to be you to be the one that makes [your company] successful?”

No Fun? No Point

Parsa doesn’t “want to be that person who is just working around the clock and stressed out all the time," she says. "That’s not the life.”

Starting a tech company is hard work, but it is certainly not impossible. College students especially are usually overwhelmed with homework and don’t think about cultivating any ideas or visions they may have, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

Parsa’s advice to everyone:

“If you have a vision… do a little bit of research, validate the idea, and start immediately.”


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.