Welcome to the second instalment of the Accelerator diaries. They say it takes 30 days to form a habit so you’ll know if we make it to the fifth edition if this is going to become a regular thing – for now, I’m hopeful.
You may have heard the rollercoaster metaphor used before to describe the volatile range of feelings that comes with attaching all your emotional energy to a business venture. In my limited experience as a founder, this metaphor certainly rings true.
The more emotionally attached you are to your venture, the more volatile these emotional swings feel. Adding some gasoline to that fire for us is the pressure cooker environment of an accelerator program, which comes with an added dimension of competition and criticism.
For the Prevyou team, this made for a pretty crazy week. There were plenty of good times, bad times and a few sleepless nights in there too, but I felt we made a great deal of progress. To fill you in I’ll now go through:
- What we learnt;
- What’s changed for us:
- The plan for next week.
What we learned
Good PR can be very handy
Mr Tim Moore of the AFR did us a very big favour over the weekend. Tim published a flattering article in the AFR about us, titled; Entrepreneurs tackle problem of Graduates not being ready for the real world. This article was a result of a very quick interview that we had as part of the EduGrowth launch. Tim heard about what we were doing and decided to run a separate piece on us. The result of this media attention over the week was:
- Around 15 personalised emails from educators, students and employers wanting to hear more or just interested in helping out.
- 6 meeting booked with various University contacts.
- A very powerful backlink from the AFR website!
For us, this article came at a perfect time. We had just landed in Sydney and were looking to start building our University networks from the ground up. This article has certainly helped open a few doors for us and has even resulted in some high profile people reaching out to us!
Graduate Jobs aren’t high in-demand
You might remember the GradAccelerator test that we ran last week, which was a course to help students with their Graduate job applications. The result of this test was a fail – only about 4% of people who viewed the page, left their email address. 4% actually isn’t such a horrible number. However, we were planning on using this as a lead magnet with the hope of generating 1000’s of new contacts. Unless we want to spend $10,000 on Facebook ads that won’t be happening, so we won’t be building this content.
On the plus side, we saved ourselves a lot of time by testing the market for this content before building anything – this highlights the value of using the lean approach in this way.
This has also validated our assumption that these aren’t the jobs that the students of today are chasing after.
You can get sick of tuna and rice verrrrry quickly
Given our extremely tight start budget, we’ve been looking for any ways to save a dollar. This week we treated ourselves to tuna and rice no less than 4 times for lunch. At only $3 a meal, the value is there. But we are in desperate need for some new suggestions on lunch ideas for under $5 (feel free to leave them in the comments below).
Large Employers are a tough market to crack
Another test we were running over the week involved pitching our services to graduate Employers to gauge if there was any market there. To run this test I gathered the email addresses of all the Graduate recruiters from around the country, using the tool I still can’t believe is legal – email hunter.
Despite a couple of hours of LinkedIn stalking, I was only able to find the email addresses of 30 Graduate recruiters – those are people whose job it is to recruit University Graduates specifically. The fact I could only find 30 wasn’t a good sign for this market.
Nevertheless, I reached out with a series of emails and phone calls. The plan was to try and meet with a few of these people to discuss the option of working together. Apart from a few polite responses, the overall feedback was noticeably frosty, not surprising given my prior experience dealing with this group.
Our assessment of this market was that even if we could build the perfect solution for them, they would still be extremely hard to sell to. For that reason, we’ve decided to remove them from the equation.
(Here’s the email I sent to those 30 Graduate recruiters)
What’s changed for us
As the title alluded to, a lot changed for us over the week. All of the tests that we ran last week didn’t come back with positive results. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily; it just means that we’re ruling out some possibilities and moving closer to the right solution.
We’re still getting comfortable with uncertainty
This current state of flux that we’re in, can be an uncomfortable place. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t get to us and there were certainly a few sleepless nights this week. At times like this, it can feel tempting to take drastic action and decide on a particular path just to add some clarity to the whole operation.
However, if that path isn’t properly tested we know we risk wasting a lot of time building something that nobody wants. This is a mistake that we’ve made previously. Last year we wasted about 6 weeks building a product called the “skills hub” that was untested. Unfortunately, when we released it, we failed to gain any significant traction behind it. In hindsight, we certainly could have built a rough prototype and tested the demand before we went ahead and built the whole thing.
Lessons like these that are sometimes hard earned. This is why that despite the uncomfortable feeling of not having a clear direction right now, we’re still happy to spend our time testing. Although we are under no delusions that we will have to choose a course soon.
Collaboration over competition
This problem that we’re trying to solve is one that Universities have been working on for quite some time now. On Thursday we had the opportunity to attend the ACEN conference, which is a network of education providers from around NSW.
The topic of this conference was the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) programs for international students in Australia. We had a chance to hear a panel discussion with members of Universities and international students to discuss the different complexities of the issue. After that, we had the opportunities to work with other Universities partners to brainstorm some potential innovative solutions to increase the availability of work experience for international students.
For day one at Prevyou we’ve been looking to form partnerships to work together with Universities rather than try to work against them. Our experience has taught us that although it might take a long time to build these connections, once there is an element of trust established Universities are quite willing to collaborate on solutions.
The ACEN conference only reinforced this feeling that working together with Universities is essential. There were almost 100 smart people in the room, all of whom had different innovative programs and solutions to address this issue.
(Our view from the ACEN conference at the University of Sydney business school)
There are no facts inside the building, only opinions
That is one of Steve Blanks many famous quotes on customer discovery. The importance of this statement is around testing your assumptions about your market by actually speaking with them.
This week, after the ACEN conference we decided that we needed to learn more about the international student market. From our past experience, we have had the pleasure of working with a large number of international students at Prevyou for our previous programs.
Finding quality work experience can be hard for any student, but the odds are even greater as an international student. We grabbed our clipboards and headed down to the UTS campus with the goal of speaking to at least 50 international students by the end of the week.
A 3 pm meeting on Friday pulled us up agonisingly short of that goal, at 47 but nevertheless, we gained some extremely valuable insights. The high-level overview was that:
- For many international students, the first step in finding work experience is finding some sort of part-time work in Australia.
- Many international students complete one-year bridging courses before starting University in Australia.
- The majority of international students wouldn’t do any serious work during the semester as they don’t want to impact on their studies.
(Leo interviewing some international students who’ve just enrolled to study at UTS)
The plan for next week
Our tests we ran over the last week have helped us rule out a number of options. Building on those lessons we’re focusing on testing two key markets this week:
- International students: we want to understand if there is a market for a service that catered towards international students specifically.
- Students looking for internships: we know that the best way to teach practical skills is through real-life experiences. Any service that can better facilitate internships would be a big help for students, Universities and Employers.
This is the landing page for Gradamy international, a concept that would help international students get ready for the workforce. The idea would be to offer online training and connections with Employers to help international students find their feet in the Australian job market.
Our hypothesis is that international students are actively looking for this type of assistance. Our plan would be to offer a much more affordable solution to other training providers that usually offer professional training to international students for approximately $10,000.
Our plan is to take this concept to Universities next week and test if there is any demand for this service. If we are successful in gaining at least 20 sign ups we will look to explore the concept further.
Gradamy (future learning)
With this landing page, we’re looking to gauge the demand for internship-like experiences in roles that will be skilled for the future of work. The idea being that young people want to gain skills to set themselves up for the jobs they believe will be most prominent moving forward.
We will be able to gain more traction with this offering, than with our previous offering which focused on more generic skills.
As the second week wrapped up Leo and I reflected on the surreal perception of time within an accelerator program. Each week feels like it flies by at rapid speed. When Friday comes about you have a sense of wondering where the week has gone. However, if you take the time to reflect on each day it’s startling to realise how much you’re able to fit in. In that sense, the two weeks has felt like two months because we’ve done so much.
This is the beautifully addicting thing about entrepreneurship. It forces you to push yourself to your absolute limits. It makes you realise just how much you can accomplish if you have the right motivation. I feel that I’ve learnt more about myself in the last 6 months than I have in the previous 5 years of my life. This comes from the fact that as humans we force ourselves to adapt to our environment. When you work in a large organisation, where you have other people to lean on for support – you will. When you’re on your own, you realise if you don’t do it – it simply won’t get done.
The personal growth and confidence that comes from constantly jumping into the deep end is an incredible thing. This is why despite the all the ups and downs I don’t want this journey to end anytime soon.
My greatest fear is that this will all end abruptly one day. When I first started this journey that fear was focused externally. I feared that one day a bigger, smarter competitor will come along and blow us out of the water. Now, this fear is directed internally. I know that Leo and I have all the tools we need to succeed. We just need to execute. That understanding is reassuring and scary in just about equal measures.
On that ambiguous note, I’ll leave it there.
Until next week,