Last year Startup Daily wrote about a Sydney-based startup Couchelo, founded by Si-Si Dai, William Fan and Fei Yao, that focused on creating a curated marketplace for unique vintage and designer furniture. The team was accepted into Asia’s top accelerator JFDI last year. Part of being accepted into the accelerator program, which is based in Singapore, meant that the founders had to relocate and reset the business, placing more of an emphasis on building a business for Asia in Asia.
Two things happened within the first couple of weeks of moving to Singapore. The team discovered that the vintage furniture scene was really quite small in Asia. Even globally, the market is a lot smaller than they thought. The founders realised they needed to find a problem that they were the right people to solve. During this process of self-discovery, Fan and Yao, who decided to remain in Singapore asked themselves why they were launching a startup in the first place. After all, both had held lucrative positions at Accenture before packing up everything and moving overseas. The answer to that question was that both of them had gone through somewhat of a ‘quarter life crisis’ which was the catalyst for them both wanting to try something different career wise, thus their entry into the startup world.
The Couchelo idea now parked, the pair entered the accelerator with a new venture QLC.io (Quarter Life Crisis), a career and lifestyle discovery portal for millennials.
“The reason why we combine career and lifestyle is because in today’s era, millennials are always looking for the next thing,” says Fan. “They’re switching careers every two to three years, jumping 15 to 20 times throughout their lifespan, and they’re always looking for new learning experiences, new travel opportunities and meeting new people. The problem we’re trying to solve is making that jump between industries a little easier.”
Jumping between career paths is actually quite scary: not knowing the right people, not having access to the right network, not having the right skills, and so on. This fear of ‘opportunity cost’ actually holds a lot of people back from leaving the jobs they are no longer happy working in, and moving on to something different they would find more fulfilling. The goal of QLC is to give people a chance to ‘try before they buy’ a new career option by way of presenting them with moonlighting opportunities.
“We want people to think of it as a combination of online education and practical up-skilling,” says Fan. “Users can spend six weeks experiencing a role in fashion or in food or in travel or in another country, but you actually don’t need to quit your job. The typical user case for our platform would be, ‘I’m an accountant but I always wanted to learn about the fashion world. I’m not going to quit my job to work for Vogue in New York. But what I want to do is utilise my weekends to learn more about the industry in a hands’on manner’. So we actually connect people like that to innovative early-stage startups, social enterprises and creative projects.”
QLC launched in November last year and has been running projects for the past couple of months. Currently most of the candidates are from mature markets like the US, UK, Australia and Southeast Asian cities like Singapore. Fan claims there is just over 5,000 users on the platform at the moment, and that QLC has run a little over 300 projects to date.
From that 25 percent of its customers have returned to partake in another project or have actually moved on from their jobs and continued with that business. There is scalability in the fact that a single project can have multiple users stacked onto it within the same month.
At the moment, most of the projects seem to be technology-related or projects that can be taken part in remotely. This makes sense because the bulk of moonlighting activities usually take place in an online environment, but I also believe that this will create a culture for QLC where particular types of businesses within particular fields begin to join the platform and post projects. I don’t foresee a mining company, for instance, placing an engineering project on the platform.
The business model that QLC has implemented is an interesting one. Both the candidate and the business pay to be connected to one another. The cost for both is $300. The candidate pays this amount to be connected to a business for a six-week period; and the business pays this amount per placement for a project. Price is something the team have been testing from day one; and this seems to have come out as the preferred price point for both candidates and businesses.
From a quality control perspective, it also means that QLC only has serious candidates and businesses using the platform that are obviously committed to exploring the next opportunity or actually hiring a new staff member.
“Our hypothesis, which we have proved, is that even if you don’t have the experience or background, you probably have the smarts to pick it up in a very short time,” says Fan. “My background was in technology consulting and before that, it was in Law. If I had used that as a indicator as to whether I should build a tech startup, I never would’ve done it.”
“Where we actually provide the confidence and then accelerate users is via our training and tool kit. We take a lot of examples from the traditional consulting world where there are companies like Accenture and McKinsey. These firms have their own toolkit, their own database of case studies and success stories, which their management consultants can use.
“Similarly, from our end, we have our own templates, tools and trainings. So a candidate that doesn’t know much about the biking industry, for example, but has a background in corporate, can actually go to our platform, connect with a business and actually use our frameworks to apply for market entry strategy roles. The way we curate the candidates is already self-selective. Our users are motivated people with three to five years work experience, who want to do something on the side. They’re not only capable of learning via our toolkit for training but they’re also passionate enough to lend their time to learn about the biking industry.”
It could be easy to confuse what QLC is doing with a traditional “find-a-freelancer” type platform like Upwork, Freelancer or even Expert360. However, the user does not receive any remuneration for taking part in a project; and it is in this aspect of the platform where the real difference lies. The user is paying for a process of self discovery and to broaden their experiences. It is not about a short-term side gig for some extra cash.
When asked about whether or not QLC was in the middle of raising a round of seed funding, Fan was silent on the subject. From that, I don’t think it would be a stretch to surmise that it is most likely they are perhaps having some serious conversations with investors or even close to closing a round.
I would hazard a guess that a seed funding round for a play like this in Asia would end up being somewhere between $450,000 to $800,000 given the vision QLC is looking to execute on.
QLC is making some headway into the tertiary education space, which is also very interesting. It looks like it will serve as an accelerator of sorts when it comes to user growth on the platform.
QLC is about to announce a partnership with the University of NSW, which will see the university piloting the QLC platform with 100 of its Post-Graduate and Masters students – in other words, students with life-experience in the workforce. This will help the startup achieve its vision of there being a way for universities to provide high quality, real-world experiences for its students by 2020.
If the pilot flies smoothly, then it could eventuate in QLC being embedded into the university curriculum. This would mean 50,000 odd students will have access to instantaneous internship opportunities. The pilot is set to kick off in October this year.