Two years ago, entrepreneur Chris Morling was the front cover interview for Business Leader Magazine – where he discussed how he was running his money comparison website (money.co.uk) out of a castle in Cirencester. Since then, Morling has entered the EdTech industry, with his latest venture – Studee.
Two years ago, you were the cover interview for Business Leader Magazine – since then, how has your business grown?
A lot has happened since that interview, most notably I sold the business to Zoopla Property Group, who at the time owned uSwitch and Zoopla. Between that interview in Sep 2017 and my exiting the business at the end of 2018, we managed to double the number of visitors to the website, from 1.4m visitors per month to 3m.
During that period, we also had a considerable focus on improving the user experience on money.co.uk. We ran numerous split tests, we simplified user journeys and we made it easier for our customers to find what they were looking for. In the online world, this can result in a win, win, win. Not only are customers happier, but conversions improve resulting in increased revenues and profits. Not only that, making continual positive change is great for the team because they can immediately see the positive impact of their hard work.
Can you tell me about your new venture – Studee?
Studee exists to make it as simple as possible for students around the globe to find, apply and enrol at universities abroad. We’re working with universities in 30 countries and have assisted students in almost every country around the world.
We have an operations team in the UK (Cirencester and London) looking after product, marketing, commercial agreements, PR and operations. We also have a team of advisors in Ecuador who directly help students understand where in the world may be most suitable for them, in terms of their needs, their circumstances and aspirations, as well as guiding them through the application process all the way to enrollment.
How are you looking to disrupt the EdTech sector? What opportunities do you see in that industry?
This was one of a number of drivers that persuaded me to jump from FinTech to EdTech. There are just so many opportunities available to us. I would argue that the Education sector is several years behind the Finance sector in terms of the sophistication of personalised solutions available to customers, as well as the disparate manner in which different countries and universities approach everything they do.
We’re going to bring solutions that are ultra-personalised for each student, starting with the way in which we help students find the right university and program for them. We’ll be launching our new approach, which I’ve not seen used anywhere else in the industry, by the end of Q2 this year. We also want to simplify the entire process for students looking for a university abroad by providing comprehensive information in a consistent format and enabling them to apply to their university of choice in a unified manner.
What challenges are currently facing the industry?
Well obviously the Coronavirus crisis may dramatically impact the number of students enrolling into universities abroad at the end of the year.
Another one of the key challenges faced by universities is one of resource, or rather lack of resource. Universities often have aggressive student recruitment targets, but limited resources to make that happen. This is where Studee and similar services can help.
Universities often seem to lack the technology and resources to truly understand which marketing channels are driving students and which are cost-effective. Many also manage multiple education agencies, making marketing alone a significant challenge. A lack of resource can also impact the speed with which universities are able to respond to student enquiries, resulting in the loss of potential enrollers or at the very least frustrated students.
Is it the job of a modern CEO and entrepreneur to be as ‘green’ as possible?
It’s nearly always possible to change processes and consumption to further reduce a company’s environmental impact, but there comes a point when doing so starts to have a dramatic impact on the business. To give you an example; my business partner and I feel it’s important that at least one of us visits the team in Ecuador at least every six months or so. This is not essential as we use Google Hangouts daily, but (in our opinion) it’s simply not possible to maintain the same relationships and get under the skin of a team without meeting in person and being physically present on occasion. The cost is the environmental impact of a return flight to Ecuador.
If by this question you are asking whether it’s the CEO/entrepreneur’s ultimate responsibility to ensure the company acts in an environmentally responsible manner, then yes, absolutely.
We’ve looked carefully at how we can make a positive environmental impact within our industry over and above minimising our own operational impact. This is why we launched a new initiative “Trees for Degrees” earlier this year. We plant trees in order to compensate for the CO2 impact of the flights taken by all the students we enrol through our service.
You have set this company up with your best friend – Simon Andrews – what are the positives and negatives of this kind of business relationship?
I’ve heard mixed stories about the ups and downs of running a business with a good friend, so it was a bit of a leap of faith for both of us, since we were both “lone CEOs” previously. Without a shadow of a doubt, the key benefit is having an immediate sounding board available for any idea as well as having two of you constantly thinking about the business and how we can make improvements, capitalise on opportunities etc. As the saying goes, “two heads are better than one”. An unforeseen benefit for me is having someone on hand when I go on holiday!
I think one of the main risks of going into business with a friend is the consequences of something serious going wrong in the business resulting in an impact on the friendship. I’ve read about this happening on many occasions and it always saddens me to think business decisions have destroyed a close friendship, which is one of the most valuable things we have in life. The answer is a cliche – you need to be open and honest with each other at all times – say if you’re pissed off, say if you disagree, say if you’re super impressed. Equally, you both need to be able to have balanced, constructive conversations without taking criticism personally.
What are your future plans as an entrepreneur?
My entire (business) focus is on Studee. We aim to make Studee the number one choice for universities to turn to when they’re looking to recruit international students. I truly believe you can build a monumental business with the right team and the right business model. So I guess one of my aspirations is “not to grow”. What I really mean by this is that I believe Studee can become number one in our sector, but without the need to grow the team proportionally.