Open Talk @DSIM
An Interview with Isha Sharma, Senior Manager- Marketing & Content, Collegesearch.in
IndiaCollegeSearch rebranded itself as CollegeSearch.in. It was founded in 2010 by Anirudh Motwani. CollegeSearch is a vertical search engine for students. It attempts to aggregate information about the 30,000+ colleges in India and allows users to find colleges that match their chosen criteria.
Q1. Hi Isha, it’s a pleasure to be doing this interview with you. Thank you for taking out the time. We are very curious to know about your business? Kindly tell us something about it?
Ans. Our vision is to simplify the college selection and admission process in India. CollegeSearch provides in depth information including faculty, placement, facilities, fees and alumni reviews that allow a student choose from among thousands of options relevant to them.
We also improve the admission process by allowing students to apply directly to the colleges. Currently, 3000+ colleges and universities accept online applications via CollegeSearch.
Q2. How did the idea of CollegeSearch come to your mind?
Ans. As college aspirants, we had experienced first-hand the various problems involved with college selection in India. Information was accessed on classified websites which provided only the contact details and other basic info OR through ‘Top 10’ lists in offline media which ignored 99% of the colleges making them irrelevant for the vast majority of students. Neither of these seemed like a good way to make an informed decision.
Q3. So, what were the challenges while establishing the portal CollegeSearch? What is your strategy to face challenges?
Ans. Changing the mindset of decision makers at the institute level is always a challenge and a lot of people within academia are skeptical of technology. So the problems are similar to what any other industry (from travel to banking) faced while adopting technology and building dependency on software solutions, but change is inevitable.
Q4. Great Isha. What business model and marketing strategy you are following to reach to your customers?
Ans. Both college selection and application on CollegeSearch is free for students. We generate revenue from a host of software solutions provided to institutes. There is application management software, a smart connect module, and profile management and application generation solutions that help improve quality or quantity of admission applications based on the institute’s current focus.
Q5. Isha, tell us what is the role of digital marketing in your business initiatives?
Ans. We do not spend heavily on marketing. We have 3 million+ users and surpassed 30K daily visits in 2015 which has happened organically via word of mouth generated by solving the students’ pain point rather than marketing. However, good content also has to be visible – we are active on social media and ensure that our site is well indexed and discoverable by search engines. So if you type in “colleges in India” we appear first on Google.
As an aggregator, it’s a virtuous circle – we generate the most admission applications so we have the largest number of colleges using our platform. As the college number grows, students naturally prefer to come to the place where they have most choice.
Q6. So, where do you see the future of digital marketing in the industry?
Ans. It’s at a very nascent stage. Indian colleges and universities currently spend around $600 million per annum in application generation but less than 3 percent is currently spend for online (even though 80% of students prefer applying online). By 2020, we see $200 million per annum in online application generation spend and $400 million per annum in online admission management spend. So in the medium term the Indian market is around $600 million/annum (where we aim to be the market leader with 25%) and the global market will be over $5 billion/annum.
Q7. Wonderful! What are some of the most common issues you see your clients facing & how do you help them?
Ans. If by clients, you mean students, we have found that the information sought by students and parents varies a great deal from course to course. For professional courses such as B.Tech & MBA, the #1 factor is placement – both salary information as well as the names of companies which recruit from the institute. For a degree course (BA, BSc, B.Com), the affiliating university is very important whereas for medical courses (MBBS & MD) students go by the reputation of the hospital attached to the institute.
Some factors are similar however such as fees (students want to avoid taking education loans), approvals (AICTE, MCI, BCI & other approvals and recognitions are a very important criteria for students from Tier 3 cities & smaller towns) and location (closer the better).
The issues faced by colleges are of course entirely different and a lot more complex – they vary from filling seats and attracting the best faculty to increasing the quality of students admitted, improving placements and even ensuring relevance of curriculum going forward. Building a lasting brand (as expressed by Harvard University) and a strong alumni network are also challenges.
Q8. So now what are your future plans and where can we see you in the upcoming time?
Ans. The plan is to expand. Both geographical expansion as well as expansion of our offerings.
We recently dropped India from our brand name on two counts – for domestic students who are considering foreign universities and in order to attract an audience outside India in the future. Starting next year, we plan to launch the product in markets such as the UK, Germany, Japan and Hong Kong where students face similar difficulties in college selection.
Indian SaaS products are gaining currency across the globe and with over 3000 colleges and universities already using our application management software, we’re confident of launching similar offerings globally which will help increase admission efficiency on the institute front.
In terms of offerings, we have just added features such as Education Loans (eligibility check & rate comparison), Collections, a Preparation Scheduler for MBA aspirants giving multiple exams and College Recommendations.
Q9. Isha, who are your major competitors and what is your competitive edge?
Ans. Currently it is a matter of how many admission applications happen online in India – we have the lion’s share of this market with 2.8 lac applications processed last year. We are also the largest college and university ecosystem and continue to grow by ensuring we actually aid the selection and admission process for users rather than publishing classifieds. In terms of education classifieds, Shiksha (owned by Info Edge) has been around the longest although they’re growth rate is less than 10% of ours. On the application front, there is lesser competition since we work with 3000 colleges and no other company has even 20% of our college base.
Q10. Where did your organizations capital come from and how did you go about getting it?
Ans. We raised INR 20 million in funding from IAN in 2013 led by Shaadi.com founder & Grofers CTO.Since our business model is not built around heavy discounting and marketing, it was easy for us to turn profitable.Although we have been approached by VCs post our angel round, we feel that companies like Tripadvisor have set a good precedent of doing only one round of funding a few years before its IPO as has Naukri.com in India. While our margins are lower than Tripadvisor (~40%) & Naukri (~30%), they are similar to other profitable internet companies such as Google (20-30%), Facebook (15-25%) and Shaadi.
Unfortunately, very few internet companies in India have a solid revenue model or path to profitability which does give the sector a bad name, but we’re already doing more revenues than the likes of FoodPanda without burning millions of dollars.
Q11. Before we finish it up, one last question, if you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Ans. I’ve always recommended two things to those starting this journey:
- Create a product or service to solve a problem rather than trying to find problems that can be solved by the business you want to create.
- Try to focus on problems which you have faced personally since this will put you in a unique position to solve it and make decision making instinctive.
“Thanks for taking out time. Our readers will really get benefited from your valuable suggestion. Best wishes to you and CollegeSearch from DSIM.”