How We Created A $50,000/Month Platform To Give Better College Counseling
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Pradeep. I am the Cofounder and CTO at ConnecPath. We are an EdTech company democratizing college counseling. Our flagship product is called WeAdmit. In the frontend, WeAdmit is an end to end data science-backed college counseling for parents and students. Whereas in the backend it is a platform for all underserved college counselors and college students who are also excellent mentors.
WeAdmit acquires prospective college students and delivers results based on college counseling through the experts on our platform. We also manage the quality of the counseling and also take charge of the entire project management and results for families.
We are currently at a $50,000 per month run rate and we expect to scale that number significantly in the next couple of years. We launched the full version of our product in May. We so far have acquired 20 paid contracts and 10 about to be signed. We hope to close this year at 70 paid contracts. We have also initiated enterprise sales and are actively pursuing a few school districts. We matched these students with 6 counselors and 3 financial aid experts so far, although we have a lot more in our inventory. We have an entirely separate process to onboard these counselors and financial aid experts in the backend.
At the core WeAdmit’s objective is to help current students in the US discover their true passion and change the world.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started my career as a researcher at NASA where I helped scientists visualize data. It did not take long before I realized that research is not a place for me. I thought to join a big company would make it exciting for me, I then joined Intel Corporation only to realize that's not a place for me. It took me 10 years to realize that being an entrepreneur is where I felt more fit and excited. I always knew, If I had the right mentor I would not have wasted 10 precious years.
All this made sense to me, when I met my co-founder over a beer, he mentioned an interesting data point to me. The ratio between a high school counselor and students is 1:500, which means the amount of time, a student gets over their entire high school is 38 minutes. That clearly is a huge problem and interestingly of all the high school students that get into colleges, 40% of them either end up changing majors, colleges, not graduating on time or not graduating at all.
I think that's a very serious problem. I instantly connected with that problem and we decided that we will certainly fix it. That’s how we started on this journey.
Sell the product to the customer first and then build the software.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When we first started we started with the software for a high school counselor. We went to schools and we offered a Saas for schools and connecting mobile app for students. We also built a robust chatbot that automatically answered 90 percent of the redundant questions that the high school counselor was wasting time on. At the same time, we built forums, one for school and one for all the high school students in the country just to discuss college guidance related questions.
We thought bringing all these students under one umbrella and making high school counselors more efficient with her time would really solve this problem. But only after launching is when we discovered that it is such a hard task to sell software to schools.
Schools kept us spinning in loops. It was as if no one cared about this in schools. That’s when we decided to pivot the product and we decided to bring the college students from ivy league schools who went through the entire process of college application themselves as mentors to help students.
The new product that we built was something that I am really proud of. I usually describe it as an Uber for college counseling. When a student launches our app, the chatbot interacts with the student to know them better, after that, we start matching the student with the right mentors. Once the student selects a mentor they can engage in mentorship.
We really got a good traction. But as we continued to scale this business, we realized that we are unable to replicate the true mentorship experience on a mobile app. A couple of issues like students often have no idea what to ask after a couple of questions and there was also huge coordination issue, where the mentor was not available when the student is ready and vice versa. That’s when we pivoted to our current product WeAdmit, with which we finally hit the right product-market fit.
We worked with the best of the best counselors in putting together an outstanding curriculum that works as a guiding light for counseling. The worksheets cover two things, one is a top-down part where we really explore the inner personality of the student, thus helping them discover their true passion, the other is a bottom-up part, where we build strategies for all ingredients that matter for the application like SAT, ACT, etc.
We achieve this by assigning a pair of counselors. We match students with the pair of counselors using robust personality matching that we built which is our secret sauce. Of the two counselors, one will be a college student from one of the top schools and another will be a premium independent counselor who is a great fit for the student. We manage the service quality and take responsibility for the results in the end. With this model, we manage to bring down the cost and improve the effectiveness and also remove the initial price hurdle for the parent.
That's why our conversion rate is 40%, which means every other parent that goes through our sales call gets converted into a client. At this stage, the challenge is just to let the world know that we exist.
Learn the market first. Understand the need.
Describe the process of launching the business.
For the first two products, we went ahead and coded them without much upfront groundwork. For this product, we decided to take a lean startup route.
First thing, we did an extensive market study to understand the current offerings in the market. Then we did a ton of product interviews. After that, we brainstormed each part of college applications for about 6 months. Then we started building the worksheets, getting them reviewed, constantly polishing them.
We spent several sleepless nights. Once we have the product, building a network of counselors was another huge challenge. It is very important that we bring in counselors who gave consistently great results year after year. This became a big software project, where we ended up building a very complicated application that made us the list of counselors worth pursuing.
Once we convinced and on-boarded the counselors, the other challenge was to hire the college students that could become our mentors, this was another huge challenge we managed to accomplish. Once we were ready, even without creating a website, we went and acquired a few students purely based on the idea. Finding parents was another interesting adventure. We started sponsoring hackathons and other leadership events in high schools, at the same time, I got to speak to the audience where I pitched our product, shared our flyers, etc. That’s how we got our very first parent. When we invited parents to a sales call with a powerpoint presentation of the product, interestingly parents believed in us, they saw the amount of thought and hard work that we put into the product instantly. Slowly we built the website and few marketing channels that have been serving us well.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
What really worked for us was the extensive market research and product interviews that we did before launching this product.
Parents also liked our curriculum, we usually share our worksheets with them and explain them on the strategy that went into these worksheets. Although we offer results-based pricing, many parents are going for upfront payment. Paying such a huge amount clearly reflects the trust they put in us.
Some parents have just joined us because they liked us as founders and they understand how we evolved. One of the major problems that businesses in this space encounter are their ability to bring the right traffic to their websites. We solved it and we have built tools that have been serving us well. SEO is a huge help, we managed to bring in decent traffic. Also, the social media campaign helped us tremendously.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our current focus is to acquire as many students as we can this year and provide outstanding results. We want to build our first super happy customer base and then go ballistic with our marketing from next year.
We are very ambitious. Throughout the counseling period, we actively collect data from the students regularly and we eventually want to become a data science company that can accurately predict where the student will be most successful and also become a big player serving at least 100,000 students every year.
We also are automating a lot of the processes that we are currently doing manually, slowly we want to become more efficient and at the same time bring down the cost significantly so we become more affordable for parents. We collect data on how much time they spend on each of their assigned tasks.
We then relate that data with the student’s personality. And in the end, once we have the results, slowly, we can start predicting the best path for the student based on the IQ and personality and eventually guide students like how fitness coaches guide their clients towards results. We also have an interesting data science project where we guide student’s essays in a constructive manner before submitting them.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One thing I got to do doing my own gig is to wear different hats. I realized that I am better at sales. I have been doing sales most of the time these days and have realized that I excel at it : )
Apart from that, I have learned a lot of things. I am more organized now and I can see through executing a lot of ideas in my head. I have also learned the importance of being fit both physically and mentally so we become more effective with whatever we do. I hit the gym regularly just for that.
One thing I really learned is never to build software without really knowing what to build. It is very important to sell the product to the customer first and then build the software based on that.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
A lot : )
Some I can think of;
AWS, GCP is where we host most of our applications.
We use HubSpot for all deal management.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am a huge fan of Naval Ravikant, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The podcasts of Shane Parish and Joe Rogan are something I listen to almost every day.
I have a hard time finishing books, but I buy a lot of them. Almost finished reading Sapiens, Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella and Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple by John Sculley.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Learn the market first. Understand the need. Don’t just build something without knowing the customers. Have a Cofounder, it helps. Don’t give up. Experiment as much as possible in the early days. If something is not working, acknowledge and take corrective action before burning too much money and other resources.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for another full-time founding member who has a lot of admissions related experience and also is an entrepreneur at heart. Someone who will slowly grow into an executive position soon.
At the same time, we are looking for growth hackers and writers. We are also actively seeking College counselors and Financial Aid Experts.
Where can we go to learn more?
We are not really exposing ourselves too much but more information can be found at weadmit.io.
The backend platform is only accessible to our members and partners for now.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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