Story #7. From a YouTube Channel To a Successful EdTech Startup in 6 Months
Lifelong learning is a very valuable part of the human experience — be it discovering more about yourself or gaining new skills and knowledge. Today, we want to focus on academic education, which plays an important role in instilling learning habits. Join us for a dive deep into the story of one awesome startup that makes the admission processes for study abroad globally accessible and hassle-free.
Last year Vibranium.VC invested in iSchoolConnect — an online platform for international students. Its B2B solution — iSchool360 — is designed to support academic institutions at every step of the way and enable them to make better admissions and engagement decisions while saving time and money.
Today we’re chatting with Ashish Fernando, founder & CEO of iSchoolConnect, about the challenges that the startup faced along the way, the decision to go into the education field, and the impact of the pandemic on the business.
How it all started
I began my career as a software developer at Thomson Reuters, working on the company’s flagship investment research solution, Thomson One.
In 2013 I received a full scholarship to the Bentley University MBA program. However, the search for the right B school was no easy feat. I had difficulties finding timely and proper guidance. Simultaneously, I noticed that institutions struggled to wrap their heads around ways to effectively deploy technology to support students.
Democratizing access to higher education is instrumental to keeping up the promise of equal opportunity. Universities are vehicles of social mobility, and restricted access to institutions impedes our progress toward a more egalitarian world.
This need for more timely and adequate guidance during my higher education search, combined with the desire to transform the sector by way of AI technology, propelled me to launch iSchoolConnect.
When we realized our idea might have wings, we went to my YouTube channel (which, at that point, already had about 10k subscribers) to test it out. It took us about 6 months to get from that stage to a real startup. We put together a small team, built the initial MVP using basic code, launched it to our existing student community, and grew from there.
Online vs offline education
While the pandemic took a severe toll on much of the economy, the EdTech sector actually witnessed tremendous growth. Our niche here is timeless since the prospect of an international education always attracts students from across the globe.
The pandemic drove a significant increase in our active users — from 200k to over 2M. Today, many traditional industries, including banking and travel, have developed concurrent, digital enterprises based on the self-service principle.
We believe that the international education search, too, will one day be fully online, DIY and democratized.
The team is key
To hire the right talent, it’s essential to ensure the prospective candidate is in sync with the company’s culture. This will allow the employee to move the mission forward by virtue of sharing the same values.
Our world is quickly moving toward a culture of diversity and inclusion. At iSchoolConnect, we understand that representation matters. This is particularly important for us since it matches our mission of making international higher education more accessible.
iSchoolConnect’s commitment to diversity and inclusion extends to all areas of our business. We make a conscious effort to attract employees from different groups for a workforce that shows diversity across levels and functions.
During the pandemic
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent deep recession sent the world reeling into fear of unknown dimensions.
Our fears were no different, and we will probably never forget what they felt like. International students were among the first groups of people stranded or otherwise impacted by the crisis. And for us, it meant financial repercussions.
To deal with the situation, our team went into overdrive to increase our user base by a whopping 400 percent.
We say fear is an excellent catalyst for rapid startup growth, but you can’t let it get the upper hand: many entrepreneurs can become paranoid and fixated on failure. Often, we need to learn to let go and tackling our fears can be a way of doing just that.
Why the US market?
When it comes to the internationalization of higher education, traditional knowledge-based Western economies have dominated for decades, setting the standard for the industry as a whole.
The United States continues to be the most popular study abroad destination among the anglophone nations. Thanks to the number of degree-granting institutions — 4,500 in the US compared to, say, not even 100 in Australia — it will always be a dominant force in the overseas study abroad market.
Moreover, the paying potential of the US market surpasses that of other countries. Customer value combined with revenue potential was an easy equation to crack while deciding on our key markets.
Finances are one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of a student’s ability to study abroad. With that in mind, in 2020 iSchoolConnect launched its most extensive philanthropic campaign, the iSchoolConnect Scholarship, which is worth over $150,000.
Through our scholarship campaign, we support deserving students who have excellent academic track records but lack the financial resources to fund the pursuit of international education.
5-year ahead envision
Every company dreams big, and we are no exception. We are relentlessly working to be the solution to everything students need on the path to study abroad.
Our goal is to become the Booking.com for international education.
We want to build a one-stop shop that enables students to breeze through all the different stages of their journey, from planning to admissions, to fee payment, to accommodation, and anything else you could possibly think of.