PrevYou is a Perth startup focusing on the gap between study and real work. Martin Astbury filled us in on why this is important and how we can help.
//SN: What’s PrevYou all about? What problem does it solve and how does it make money?
Prevyou is all about closing the skills gap between Study and the real world.
We know that work experience is the best way for students to gain real-world skills. The problem that Australia faces is there simply aren’t enough internship opportunities to satisfy the demand. This isn’t just a problem caused by the large amount of students we produce, but is also a result of the fact that many companies simply don’t hire students. Our solution is to make working with students much easier and more rewarding for Employers.
We do this by creating ‘out of the box’ internship programs that takes all the hassle away from Employers and delivers a meaningful learning experience for our students. We construct these programs around a specific business outcome that an Employer chooses – maybe it’s a digital marketing review or a market research task. We then structure learning material to allow students to deliver that outcome and provide support all along the way. These programs are part online course and part internship. The fact that they’re focused on creating a valuable piece of work means they are extremely practical.
At the moment, our service is structured as a marketplace for work experience. Students are able to come to our platform and chose the experience that works best for them. At the moment we are a B2C business, where we sell these projects directly to the students. The students are purchasing the learning material that will help them delivering the outcome and also gaining some valuable connections with our Employers. We’re also in negotiations with a number of Universities around selling our programs directly to them.
//SN: How did you start this? What gave you the idea and got you going on it?
Prevyou was founded with the vision of creating a whole new market of work experience opportunities for Australian students. We saw that the lack of practical opportunities was causing two major problems for students after they finished studying:
- Graduates lacked the practical skills to be effective in the real world. These aren’t just technical skills but also soft skills such as how to communicate and interact with people in the workforce.
- Many Graduates feel that they don’t have the information to make an informed career decision. Being able to test out a few different options whilst studying would certainly help students find the right path early on.
My co-founder Leo and I, both experienced these problems first-hand when we first entered the workforce after studying. We started working on Prevyou as a side project in late 2015. After running a few successful trial programs over the summer we applied for the Vocus Upstart Accelerator in early 2016. Fortunately we were accepted and this was the catalyst for us to leave our jobs and take the jump in the deep end.
//SN: What’s your progress been like since then? What have you achieved?
Like many first time founders, it’s certainly been a steep learning curve for us. Fortunately we’ve been surrounded by plenty of smart mentors through our accelerator programs to steer us back in the right direction when we’ve drifted off course.
Originally, we launched as a pure recruitment platform. We licensed a piece of software from a New Zealand based company that was essentially a LinkedIn for students. With this model it was very easy to find students, we managed to sign up more than 500 in just a few weeks. The problem was finding willing Employers.
After completing some in-depth market research with Employers we realized there needed to be some greater structure to help them manage their programs. Simply connecting students with Employers wasn’t working because there was usually a mismatch in expectations. Taking this feedback onboard we pivoted to our current model in early 2017.
We were fortunate enough to gain entry to the EduGrowth accelerator on the back of this new approach. EduGrowth was established with the vision of seeing 100 million people educated by Australian providers each year in 2025. We’re part of the first accelerator cohort, which launched in February of this year.
//SN: How are you getting customers and traction?
We have two sides of the market to balance:
At the moment we’re targeting focusing our efforts on attracting startups to our service. Most startups are usually under resourced and could use an extra pair of hands. On the other side of the market they offer a dynamic environment for students to get a sense of the working world. We’re targeting coworking spaces, Facebook groups and just good-old-fashioned sales to bring them onboard. Fortunately we have a pretty compelling valuable proposition for them – guaranteed results with no hassles.
For students we’re focusing on several channels:
- Offline marketing: posters, flyers and speaking engagement on campuses actually still work very well. Fortunately are market is easy to find in the one central location on campus.
- Partnerships with University societies: we’ve been forming close partnerships with a number of student societies to help access students through their social media platforms.
- Content: we have also built plenty of useful free content to help students find their way into the workforce. This includes eBooks, Podcasts, blogs and free online courses that we’re using to grow our email list.
//SN: What’s been the worst part of the journey? What have you learned from it?
Overall the good times have certainly outweighed the bad. In fact, I feel like I need to pinch myself everyday to think that I have the opportunity to live out a dream that I’ve long held like this. I certainly wouldn’t give this lifestyle up, despite some of the challenging times.
One particularly challenging time came mid-way through the Vocus accelerator program where we spent a month building a learning platform that we didn’t properly test. This platform aggregating online course material based on different roles, with the aim of allowing students to gain skills relevant to their career interests.
Unfortunately, we didn’t properly test the market demand for this product before diving in to build it. In retrospect, we could have tested that easily considering at the time we had approximately 1000 students in our email list.
This lesson was hard learned but an important one that we practice diligently now. Before building anything we look to properly test the market first. This means that the demand for the product is already validated by the time we release it. It’s lean startup 101, but it requires a heavy dose of discipline to make it happen.
//SN: What would you do differently if you had to do it again?
I’ve only been a full-time founder now for around 6 months so I know I still have so much to learn. One thing that I’ve started to become more conscious is about finding balance. That’s a balance in terms of working vs not working but also a balance in terms of finding enjoyment in the work that I’m doing.
It can be easy to feel a sense of guilt for every moment you spend away from your computer when you’re trying to build a company. This is something that Leo and I have discussed in detail. For us this guilt stems from the fact that we know that it’s our ability to execute with is going to determine the success or failure of Prevyou.
It’s cliché to say this, but we know that building a company is more like a marathon than a sprint. A mentor once told us that “sustainable companies are built by sustainable people”, so it’s extremely important to take care of yourself and your team. Also, around 70% of companies fail due to internal disagreements with the founding team, so it’s really important to nurture those relationships.
What I’m trying to do more of now and what I would have done differently if I had my time again is to take more time to enjoy the journey and try not take myself too seriously. Finding time to step back from work also helps reinvigorate the creative energy that is essential for building a business. It’s also easy to feel that the problems that you’re facing as a founder are unique, where the truth is that most other founders are facing similar challenges now or in the past. You can learn an incredible amount from just speaking with people who are just a couple of steps ahead of you. This is why I take time to invest in the various startup communities in Sydney. As a founder I don’t think you can underestimate the value of the support and connections that those communities can provide.
//SN: What’s the thing you’re proudest of so far?
Our most important metric is the number of students we place into our programs. It’s a really easy way for us to track the work we’re doing and the positive impact that we’re making.
At the moment we’ve place approximately 20 students into internships/ graduate jobs from our platform. Whilst this number is certainly something we’re hoping to grow being able to create these opportunities for students is something that we’re extremely proud of.
//SN: What’s your next goal? How are you going to achieve it?
This semester it’s all about scale for us. With our new platform up and running we’re confident that we can scale our program’s to reach far more students and Employers. We’ve set ourselves the goal of placing at least 50 students before the start of May.
At the moment we’re in the process of onboarding Employers to our platform before we ramp up our marketing efforts to students.
//SN: Is there any way the startup community can help?
Absolutely! As we’re focusing our service on startups, we’d love to speak with anyone interested in taking part in our program. At risk of sounding to ‘salesy’ it’s a pretty compelling offering – simply tells us the business outcome you need and we will make it happen. Every opportunity gives a group of students the chance to learn some new practical skills, plus it will give your brand and business a handy boost!
Please feel free to give me a shout personally if you’d like to hear more or checkout our website for more details.