GradConnection – Beginning to End

Overview

GradConnection was built to help graduates navigate getting their first job out of university.

I packed in my cushy banking job with a solid salary, window seat overlooking darling harbour to join the GC founders team who were looking to grow the business and really proud looking back on a number of things that we were able to achieve with this bootstrapped business:

  • 75% of university students in Australia used GradConnection
  • GC spanned Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa, the U.S, the UK and New Zealand.
  • GradConnection voted best supplier to the graduate recruitment industry 2012, ’13, ’15, ’16, ’17, ’18, ’19, ’20
  • Product diversification into University SaaS offering – taken up by 30 global universities
  • Helped launch a low fee superannuation / retirement fund aimed at students and the next generation of professionals which now has $110M FUM
  • Bootstrapped through to acquisition by SEEK – February 2019

I worked almost every position under the sun in this business, starting in sales, moving to conceptualisation of new products, product development, selling and support through to general IT leadership. It was a crazy rollercoaster ride providing some the best (and worst) times of my life! This post will be long, but I am jamming over 8 years in here so am pre-forgiving myself.

Our Products

GradConnection – Core Website

GradConnection was a job board, just for university students that solved the following major problems for them:

  • Filtering out the noise
    • Only showing jobs that were for people with no to little experience
    • Traditional job boards like SEEK, Indeed, Linkedin etc had a lot of jobs, but was extremely difficult for students to find entry level specific jobs, directly from employers
  • Job Discovery
    • Many students self eliminated themselves from roles – e.g. an IT student didn’t think of a Bank as an technology employer and never applied
    • Every employer had it’s own Achilles heel when it came to attracting specific sets of grads – e.g IBM struggles with Commerce graduates, but not
    • Many students only thought about the large brands that had the biggest on campus advertising budget. There were thousands of employers, from SMB, lesser known large corporates and we made sure that the right students discovered them all year round.
  • Education
    • The graduate recruitment process is brutal – it’s one of the most competitive application processes someone will have to go through in their lives. Many students didn’t understand this and was up to us to make sure our audience was one of the better prepared pools of applicants
    • Ensuring that students were forward thinking, as many high profile programs recruited up to a year in advance

GradConnection Campus

GradConnection Campus was a white labelled jobs board built from the ground up specifically for universities and whilst it was a basic jobs board on the surface was comprised of some very awesome things:

  • Job Syndication
    • Moving beyond basic jobs board websites, a full back end job syndicator was built from scratch to be a central data point that fed over 30 websites – both our public website and campus instances
    • Helped our employer clients broaden their reach outside of the GradConnection website with the ability to go directly into universities as well.
  • International Jobs
    • With 35% of students at university coming from overseas and on student visa’s there were many jobs locally that they weren’t eligible for making their job hunt very difficult. GradConnection helped source opportunities back in their home countries (thanks to our awesome teams on the ground in SEA) which they wouldn’t have seen easily whilst overseas to make sure they could secure a relevant, first career step.
  • International Relationships
    • With our awesome teams on the ground based out of HK and SG, we became a central point of contact for overseas employees for our university clients on the Campus platform. Overseas employers wanted to connect with universities but didn’t have the resources to speak to multiple universities in Australia, The U.S and the U.K, GradConnection become a single point where they could cover multiple university outreach projects in one go. On the flip side, universities didn’t have the resources to have people overseas in multiple locations, so leveraged our teams on the ground.

Major Lessons Learnt (In no particular order)

  • Product over sales, every time.
    • Always focus on understanding and solving the problem for your clients and/or users. Revenue is just a by-product of getting this right.
  • People are the most important (and time consuming) part of your job
    • Trust, support, understand and appreciate the people who make your business what it is – you don’t get there without these heroes. These people are your foundation and if you don’t take the time to find these people and help them grow, your business won’t either.
    • Fire fast (Hire Slow). In a small team people can have a huge impact, both positive and negative and the longer you leave what is probably a mutually bad situation, the more damage can be done.
  • Let go, trust others and focus on what you can do best for the business
    • Let people better than you take over parts of your job/company and trust they’re going to nail it. You can then look forward to where to go next rather than doing the same things every day. Rinse and repeat, and help these people do the same.
  • Make sure everyone can see your north star
    • Whilst this sounds extremely simple, Once you get to a certain point you need to make sure that everyone know’s what our company is trying to achieve and how we are going to do that. Beyond helping everyone understand how their work is impacting the company, the best benefit is your team can start to make their own decisions on what work is important and what isn’t.

Startup Burnout

My lessons learnt weren’t from everything being done correctly from day one unfortunately and I definitely burned out which is something I definitely see happening regularly in the startup world. It wasn’t a rare occurrence to be up at 4.30am to catch a red eye flight, work through until midnight and be ready to start again and had a number of things pulling me in multiple directions:

  • Account management of clients on our core product
  • Selling a brand new product to a new demographic that we hadn’t built yet
  • Product development
  • Building and supporting a team in our new Cape Town office to deliver on our vapourware promises
  • Working across two timezones – Australian clients and team during the day, Product development at night with team GC Cape Town
  • I was financially stretched with personal money and business expenses tied up in the company over multiple years (The joys of a bootstrapped business)
  • 4 plane trips per week – internationally and domestically. To put this in perspective, I hit the top tier qantas frequent flyer status on the cheapest sale tickets.
  • Key people within the business no longer agreed on approach or direction

We only had ourselves to blame for this and I wasn’t the only person with a workload like this unfortunately and eventually I burned out to the point of leaving GradConnection.

Even though I had come to one of the lowest points of my journey, I’m glad it happened as I think this was one of the harshest lessons learnt – It doesn’t have to be like this.

I should probably do a separate post on this, but this post about “Giving away your legos” sums up how I feel and where I think we went wrong as we grew. It’s easier said than done in a start up with limited funding, but at rock bottom was a time that we managed to step back, restructure the business, progress and hire new talent and allowed us to get back on track. We just had to make it happen or we might not have been there tomorrow.

How this shapes my next steps

I left my chosen career path at the bank that I had worked hard to obtain, just to see if I could cut it in a startup environment and pull together all the different parts needed. It’s only after this journey and everything that I’ve learnt along the way that I feel confident to tackle a much bigger problem to solve.

The next business I’m tackling – Wonderfund – is about shaping the moneysmart generation and changing our world for the better. With a large component built around the funds management space, there is a lengthy time until profitability, massive government regulatory and compliance hurdles to solve as well as the underlying tech but is something I feel strangely calm and excited about with no doubt that we can do it – especially with the right team coming together almost by accident.

I can’t wait to do this all again, just at a much bigger scale.

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