The Next Big Thing? - StudentBridge Inc.
StudentBridge Inc. is an Atlanta-based digital media agency specializing in the production of virtual tours and social networks for educational institutions that drive recruitment. We spoke with company founder and vice chairman Jonathan Clues about this endeavor.
Q: What inspired you to create your company, and how long did it take you to launch it?
Jonathan Clues: StudentBridge is an evolution of companies, or as coined in today’s lingo, a “pivot.” The inspiration started many years ago, as a company called Realview TV, back in 2001. Even back then I saw static (text and pictures) websites as missing the true potential of communicating over the Internet.
At the end of the day, your computer screen is a TV. You don’t turn on your TV to read news or stories, you watch news programs and watch movies – with motion picture and sound. The human brain processes video 60,000 times quicker than the written word. In fact, Forrester Research states that 1 minute of video is worth 1.6 millions words. It is simply the most powerful way to communicate, especially on the web where we are looking for information but are typically time starved.
I wanted to find a better way for companies to communicate to consumers over the Internet. To inform and educate. After all, heavy sales tactics on the web don’t work (who likes pop-up ads?), however I’d dare say all web users use the web to learn about products and services they are considering buying. We all want to make informed decisions. And I realized that putting ‘traditional’ video on the web wouldn’t work well. You may never have thought of it this way, but video is passive. It has a start, middle and end, and you watch it in the order it was produced.
Of course, the Internet is the polar opposite. It’s about choice, it is highly interactive. Different users have different needs, which is why static sites have pages and navigation. How can you sit them down and make them watch video content they’re not interested in?
There is an old adage that “Content is King,” but I disagree. To me it is more than the value of your content. Yes, having the right content is important (in both messaging as well as ‘production value’), but without the right delivery, your content will never have the stage to make an impact. They have to work together to get maximum results.
I wanted to develop a way to combine the power of the broadcast video with the interactivity of the internet. I wanted to provide the ultimate multimedia video delivery platform, to give the best user experience while also increasing conversion. Our clients were not in this for entertainment, they wanted to viewer to do something after watching the content, so we built in powerful call to action feature and full behavior analytics.
StudentBridge is our total commitment to the education sector. Post-Secondary education faces some serious issues around the world, but particularly in the US where institutions will start shutting their doors unless they do something about it. For the student it’s a frightening time - expensive to attend and graduation rates are slipping. For the institution it’s an unsophisticated and unfocussed recruitment strategy that often struggles to attract and retain the right kind of students. I did not attend college, so I realize just how many risks I’ve had to take, much harder I’ve had to work, because I cannot apply to jobs that say “Must Have A Degree,” which is most of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed my journey but I know there is a better way. My inspiration was to help the right students find the right college and vice versa, we call it the “right fit.”
With little capital investment, we didn’t have the luxury of developing a product and then selling it. We had to work hard to find clients that understood the vision and committed to purchasing, so we could fund the development with sales. That’s right, we had product/market fit before the product was even developed! Software is always evolving, so while the company really launched rather quickly, the initial product took about 6 months to develop and is still being developed today, 15 years later. The brand took about 12 months to get traction.
Q: What have been the greatest challenges and greatest triumphs in running the company?
Jonathan Clues: Over the years there have been many challenges and triumphs – the ups and downs of business. Picking one of each is hard, but I would say a company challenge is one the sales side. Humans are visual and we create an emotionally engaging experience. The client needs to have a vision of the end product, and faith in its results to purchase our solutions before actually seeing their own experience. If we could build it then sell it like a car, that would be great, but a lot of expense and risk from our side and so that’s not viable. The more you penetrate a market, the greater your market share, the easier this part becomes as new clients can see competitors’ experiences and feel they want to fight with the same bullets. But when we started we were demo’ing a virtual experience of a hunting plantation to colleges, and that was tough!
We have had many triumphs, too, including raising over $5 million in investment, hitting 200 sales, as well as seeing client results. The greatest triumph has to be our recent run of success as a collective. In 2016 we experienced 3.8x growth over 2015, which is just phenomenal.
Q: How are you marketing the company, to both consumers and to educational institutions?
Jonathan Clues: StudentBridge has a robust marketing and sales team in place. We do a lot of events, conferences and speaking at trade shows as thought leaders and experts in our industry. I’ve also written several Op-eds on the subject of digital engagement and recruiting strategies for various educational publications and media outlets.
Our sales team is comprised of passionate individuals who understand the need in the market to further our mission. Our production team is comprised of skilled storytellers, producers and technical gurus who know their craft. Our PR and marketing team does an excellent job of disseminating the right information to the public and to our customers, so that they are always aware of new challenges in the marketplace for which we have a solution. We are also a company that puts our employees first. We communicate. We have fun. We listen to each other. And because of that, we are a place where people enjoy coming to work every day.
Q: What are your 2017 goals for the company?
Jonathan Clues: For 2017, our goal is to create a more seamless experience for both the student and the admissions office, when it comes to rich media delivery along the student recruitment lifecycle. Deciding on a college is not an overnight thing. Instead it is the culmination of over 18 months worth of research, campus visits, applications and decision from the accepting schools. There are many stages, requiring many touchpoints, at different times across many devices. Our goals is to deliver the “Right Content, Right Device, Right Time.”
Performance wise, our goal is to continue our growth, and hit double revenue. We have some tailwinds so confident we can accomplish this, but as you get bigger, the hill gets steeper! We are going to achieve this by attracting more customers, but also by offering more student recruitment solutions – to become even greater value to our partners. We are also seeing interest from other sectors of the education industry, including post graduate programs and private high schools. At the end of the day, recruiting the right students is the lifeblood of any institution, and nothing does a better job that a StudentBridge Virtual Campus Experience.