Jamie Beaton, CEO of Crimson Education, reveals how he started his £200 million education business. He discusses the challenges he has overcome and shares his successes.
A Young Student
As a student in New Zealand coming to the end of school, I started considering opportunities to continue my studies overseas. I applied to study at the top 25 ranked universities in the world – which wasn’t easy. I found the information available on the internet complicated and overwhelming, and applied to so many as I was unsure how successful I’d be.
When I received letters in the mail confirming that I had been accepted to every institution I applied to, I was blown away with excitement.
In 2013, at just 18 years old, I founded Crimson Education with my friend Sharndre Kushor. Our plan was to show others wishing to apply to the top universities that the world really is your oyster. If you’re interested in studying at top global institutions like Oxford, Cambridge and the Ivy Leagues then it really can be possible, as long as you have the right information, mentoring and support.
I started the business on a small scale initially by leveraging my own experience and engaging the help of other young Kiwis. Back then I had just forty New Zealand dollars in my bank account.
In 2014, during my first year at Harvard, I got in contact with Julian Robertson of Tiger Management to talk about the software used by some of the scholars sponsored by Robertson’s foundation each year [the foundation pays the tuition fees of 36 potential future leaders each year]. He was impressed by me and my business idea, and hired me on the spot as his youngest-ever hedge fund analyst. Not long after, Tiger Management invested in Crimson and the business grew from there.
I think it’s key to get fast validation when growing a company. Often people think of a business idea, but then fall into the trap of spending too much time sitting in a room researching. It’s far more valuable to actually go out and receive immediate feedback. You can read as many books and articles as you want, but at the end of the day the best feedback you can receive is from investors talking about why they should invest in your business, as well as speaking to potential and current customers.
The next step is to drive results. You need to back claims with numbers and you certainly can’t scale an organisation that doesn’t deliver. Right from the very beginning, we worked tirelessly to create value for the students that enrolled with us. Strong results generated positive feedback which in turn propelled the business further.
As a business grows, you need to have a relentless focus on improving the service you provide. We made a number of strategic acquisitions to fill our knowledge gaps. We also received funding from investors with wide networks, who were aligned to our vision.
I have been very strategic from the beginning in terms of who has joined the team and what investors have come on board. These networks have been incredibly important to our growth. Our recent raising of an additional 20 million US dollars from Hong Kong-based Chow Tai Fook Education Group and Korea-based Solborn Investment is just the latest example of our dedication to team up with groups that have the same values – providing students with the resources to be the best they can be.
Not Without Challenge
With regards to challenges, there have been many, especially when scaling as rapidly as we have done (and are still doing!).
There’s a moment in a company’s growth, as it transitions from a headcount of around fifty to around two hundred, where you pass the point when each person in the company knows each other. Going through that transition is a huge test of culture.
All companies stumble with building culture through that phase. We realised that the whole company didn’t have a connection to me or my founding team in the way the early employees did. We had to find new ways to improve communication and strategic coordination of the business. I think that cultural junction is a key challenge that a lot of companies have to go through.
Another challenge has been attempting to break the mould in terms of people’s mentality around what university counselling and admissions support involves. My team offers something most schools can’t, and it can be difficult to make people see that. To overcome that, we’ve focused on results. The success of our students speaks strongly to the value we provide.
Technology Is Key
Technology is essential to providing the best service and value we can. We use technology to match students to the right institutions, as well as to connect top mentors in places like the US with students in the UK and beyond, who would otherwise not have this exposure. Our students are not restricted by geography or time – no matter where in the world they are, they can access support and services that go far beyond what a student at a top school in the UK or the US would receive.
Technology also allows us to drive greater value at a greater scale while limiting our costs. We use psychometric testing to pair each student with a mentoring and tutoring team that is optimised to their interests as well as their learning style. The student/teacher matching model is trained on historical data and is constantly refined as we grow into different territories with different cultures and education practices. This has helped us to deliver value beyond what was traditionally possible.
By engaging with technology we’re providing our students with an education for the twenty-second century.
I believe that talented, hard-working young people should have the opportunity to reach their full potential through education. That’s why I’ll continue to help thousands more students on their journey to get into the world’s best universities.