Riding a roller coaster isn’t dissimilar to creating a startup. The journey can be filled with moments of fear and excitement, but knowing how to be strategic and plan for the ups and downs of the ride are crucial.
As emotions go, excitement and fear may seem like they sit on opposite ends of the spectrum, but they actually share an inexplicable link. Think about when you strap yourself into the seat of a roller coaster. Because of the way our bodies release adrenaline and cortisol, the rush of excitement, fear – or both – can be overwhelming.
Since we were founded in 2011, Cohort Go has grown from a team of two – myself and CTO Paul Jones – to having an international presence with 35 team members. Here are some lessons we’ve learned from our own roller coaster journey.
Turn problems into an opportunity
International education is a massive export industry globally. While Cohort Go was established to enable international students to pay their tuition fees in their home currency, we saw an opportunity to impact the whole market. What many people don’t realise is that just as we were launching into this next stage of our crucial growth journey, we encountered a problem.
When several large global banks received billions of dollars in money-laundering fines, banking compliance departments began tightening their regulations. This put the entire premise of the business in doubt. However, we used this setback as a chance to diversify our business; developing additional products for the international education community. We have now developed many deep and strong relationships with banks all around the world as a result of this incident and have established ourselves as a trustworthy organisation within these circles.
If you’ve developed a product that solves a problem within an industry, chances are there are many more opportunities for you to contribute to that sector. Doing your research to understand where the gaps are and how you can add value will enable you to expand your product offerings and make you top of mind within the sector you’re working in.
Build an international team
In the early days of creating a startup, a lack of cash flow can mean that growing your team is a slow process. That’s why it’s so important to look for people with a wide-ranging skill set from day one of operation. If you’re establishing yourself as a global business, look at engaging trustworthy local experts in your target markets. Cohort Go has a team of 35 located across 11 different countries worldwide, which has proved to be crucial to our development.
Team members located “in country” can help you navigate regulations and rules that are specific to that location, create relationships with suppliers on the ground and speed up the decision-making process as they speak the local language and operate in the same time zone.
Establish strong partnerships
It takes a village to raise a child, and a community to build a startup. Connections close to home and further afield enable growth to happen, with collaboration being vital to success – especially when your business is in its infancy. Being involved in your local startup community, both as a mentor and mentee, is a great way to increase your networks and learn from others. Brisbane based startup hub, River City Labs, helped us establish close ties to prominent individuals in the ecosystem, including Steve Baxter.
On the global stage, our agreement with the world’s largest education agent, IDP Education, has seen us continue our global growth. Promoting your startup at industry specific events worldwide such as trade fairs and exhibitions is a great way to network and form these kinds of relationships as well as further develop existing partnerships.
Use technology to your advantage
Automating traditionally manual processes is just one way that startups can grow their business without incurring excessive overheads. As well as allowing your team to focus on more critical and innovative work, the instances of human error are greatly reduced.
At Cohort Go, we see the future in machine learning, and we’re working on lots of technologies to make the machines do the heavy lifting for us. Our automation tools use algorithms to visually extract details from client invoices, which eliminates the need for the user to have a full understanding of each local payment market.
Through internal tools, our team members teach the system about new invoices as they appear, and then the technology takes that and applies it to all future invoices. While growing as a startup can be both daunting and exhilarating, leveraging technology and automation can make the difference between success and failure.
It’s important to remember the big picture when strapping yourself into the startup roller coaster ride. Embracing the journey’s challenges and rewards through seizing opportunities, establishing partnerships and using emerging technologies can enable you to scale your organisation effectively and achieve amazing things.
Mark Fletcher is CEO and cofounder of Cohort Go, a leading edtech company that connects the international education community. Recognised for growth and innovation, Cohort Go’s online platform offers a tailored experience for students, agents and educators by reducing costs, increasing choice and improving productivity. The Cohort Go global network includes over 2,000 education providers and agents and more than 50,000 students from over 180 countries.