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Studyportals and the never give up mentality – Part 2

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Reminiscing about the early days of Mastersportal, Edwin points out that the first year was the most difficult one.

“We have had difficult times,” he says. “There were nights where we worried about being able to make payroll for the next month.”

Edwin continues, adding how uniquely difficult it is to get your foot in the door within this particular industry:

“Universities had no idea who we were, so it was very hard to get them on board. We had to convince them with emotional arguments and explaining how important this was for students to get them to join.”

In the first months of begging, as Edwin describes it, they got about two universities to answer the phone. But they never gave up.

Edwin notes that the market you are operating in truly impacts how fast you can grow, and it is important to keep that in mind for the goals you set. The higher education market, for example, is a traditional and conservative one. Universities can be called several times a year, but not every week — meaning you have to maintain a lot of patience. At Studyportals, they realized that they couldn’t run the company and expect the same results as, say, an e-commerce startup in San-Francisco. Edwin insists, though, that the strong purpose and the ‘never give up’ mentality is what set Studyportals apart from others.

“Our idea is very straightforward and certainly isn’t rocket science. There were a lot of students with ‘our’ idea and start-ups like StudyPortals that stopped within 12 months. However, we said, ‘no, we are not giving up’. This is a problem that has to be solved, and we really kept on believing.”

In the first year, Mastersportal had listed about 1,500 Master’s programmes in 27 European countries. Today, all of the portals combined (for Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD’s and more) contain over 170,000 programmes, at more than 3,050 universities across 110 countries. It is not just the ‘never give up’ mentality that helped them achieve this growth; it was the conviction that the idea had a social impact and the passion for what that impact entails.

“Without this key ingredient — being motivated to improve our world — we would have never arrived at where we are now”, Edwin adds.

It didn’t take long for Edwin to witness the first clear case of their impact:

“I remember there was one student who was communicating through us with a university. This student found his dream study in electrical engineering at a university in Northern Sweden. But later, when his acceptance documents needed to be sent, he asked that they are sent to the gospel church in his village in Cameroon — because this was the only place in the village with a postal address. I remember Thijs, Magnus, and me sitting down, and saying, ‘guys, if we can get someone who lives in Cameroon, where a church is the only postal address, to study electrical engineering in Northern Sweden, we have played a significant role in elevating the perspective of this person, and his family, to a level we cannot even imagine’. That was the moment when everyone became even more motivated to give every drop of energy to continue on our path.”

An entrepreneurial spirit

People often think that you have to be born an entrepreneur to have the mind and talent for it. Edwin, however, doesn’t share this experience. In his younger years, he never thought himself an entrepreneur. He was ambitious and motivated to achieve the best results, but entering an entrepreneurial journey wasn’t one that he always had in mind.

“I do remember feeling that entrepreneurship was a deficit in my development as a student. I had good grades, international experience, and a few really nice internships at the Olympic Games. But I didn’t do anything entrepreneurial. So, that was an extra reason for me to just try it out.”

Edwin encourages each young person with ambitious ideas to not be afraid

“Be confident to make bold moves,” he says. “Dream big, go for i, and go all in. Young people have nothing to lose. If you are somewhat professional, you will eventually be fine — even if everything blows up and you can’t make it work. You are young and can always find work somewhere. Yes, it can be tough from time to time; and you bang your head against the wall, but it is so much more rewarding than anything else. I truly hope that our generation can make a meaningful impact which this world desperately needs.”

 

One of the people that Edwin admires, and was fortunate enough to have met, is Richard Branson.

“I admire him for many reasons. For his integrity and kindness, for his urge to dream big and really go for it, but also for his power and ability to delegate.”

Discovering the ability to rely on others was really a revelation to Edwin.

“I would say that it is useful to the company that many of the things that we have to do, I can do them to some extent by myself. But I also learned (the hard way) how to delegate and hand things over to others. I think this is where the importance of attracting and hiring the right people comes in, forming the company culture.” To have “alignment in company culture is what keeps us together”, Edwin says.

The ability to align here connects with Edwin’s sharpened observations about the value of an international education. Finding that an international education not only strengthens your perspective in a global society, Edwin understands that it also helps to bring a company together whose people also cooperate across national and cultural lines. Leading a team of more than 35 different nationalities, Edwin is delighted to have such an open spirit of diversity, collaboration, and creativity, all for the shared goal of enriching international education. The impact, therefore, that Studyportals has on society at large is also demonstrated on a smaller scale within the company: tolerance, unity, dialogue, and fun are all integral to the company’s culture and structure.

 

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