What started as a need to help students in the inner city of Los Angeles has become one of the fastest growing franchises in the United States.
The journey begins in the inner city
“I started teaching in 1974 at an inner city junior high school in Los Angeles,” says Mathnasium Founder Larry Martinek. “I quickly came to realize that not only were too many students leaving elementary school several grade levels behind, but even those working close to grade level lacked Number Sense – the ability to see numbers in perspective.”
Martinek began picking up the slack from traditional education and created supplement material to help fill the gaps for students. It wasn’t until his son, Nick, came along in 1980 that he realized he needed to take it a step further. “By age four, Nick displayed a strong bent toward math and logic,” Martinek recalls. “By age six, he was conceptualizing math that was beyond his years. As a result, I had to find ways to explain serious math to a very young child.”
Martinek admits that his son altered his own thinking about education. “This changed my own approach to thinking about and explaining math to other people.” He began working with Nick to develop supplement materials he could use in class to help teach the same to students. According to Martinek, helping his son was not his only goal. “My motivation was two-fold: first to educate my son, and second to educate everyone’s sons and daughters.”
Making an impact and convincing others
“As the demand for my time and materials grew from 1988 to 1992, it became obvious that our approach to teaching math was more than just another math program,” says Martinek. It was when schools began using his materials in lieu of regular textbooks that he knew he was on to something big. But despite his best efforts to make his materials part of the regular curriculum, Martinek could not get the school systems to bite.
“Try as I might, I could not get LA City Schools to embrace my program,” says Martinek. “They felt that all was well with the way math was being taught. As a result, I became an independent consultant and started working initially with various private schools in West Los Angeles. As I gained recognition, I was able to work with schools in the Inglewood School District, as well as a growing number of private schools.”
From concept to franchise
“In 2002, the President of the school I was working for referred a friend of his to me,” Martinek continues, “Three years earlier, this friend had sold a franchise system of computer learning centers he and a partner had deployed. They were now looking for a ‘math guru’ to anchor a new franchise company devoted to teaching mathematics.”
Mathnasium officially opened on October 1, 2002 in Los Angeles, California. That was the first of what would become more than 700 centers in the United States. Since its launch, Mathnasium has enjoyed success with its franchise model, obtaining numerous rankings from Entrepreneur, including one of the fastest growing franchises, and being named in the Franchise 500.
Why the Mathnasium model works
“Our success, and the success of the children and families whom we serve, is tied directly to the passion and commitment of our franchisees,” adds Martinek. “It’s all about loving what you do! When the right product or service meets a desperate need, the provider’s work experience is transformed.”
The fact that Mathnasium fills a need that others have failed to address as well makes it an attractive business concept. “When kids can’t do math, they feel stupid,” says Martinek. “The damage is incalculable. But, take a child who thinks she absolutely won’t ever be good at math, show that child that she can actually triumph in math, and that child is reborn.”
As an entrepreneur you might not launch a franchise, but the start of any business could rightly be modeled after Martinek’s example of identifying a strong market need, putting together the right solution, and persevering all the way to success.
Larry Myler: CEO By Monday, Inc., adjunct professor in the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology at BYU, author of Indispensable By Monday.