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At Red Brick we have been rooting out some of the most innovative youth startups in the UK. Our Talks series has seen how social media is being transformed by Instabear, politics is being driven forward by TickBox and Education is being advanced by Gojimo. The founders of these businesses are inspiring figures and their efforts help to demonstrate the limitless potential of young people.
Travelling and studying abroad with Third Year Abroad
This time we look at ThirdYearAbroad the startup that acts as the essential resource for students studying and working overseas. The website effectively brings together students and acts as a treasure trove of free content that is full of “everybody’s tried and tested experience”.
The company’s founder Lizzie Fane developed the idea in 2006 while studying at the University of Florence during her Italian and History of Art degree at the University of Edinburgh. She realised the potential for a business just 2 months into her overseas studies and quickly registered the domain name.The company launched in 2010 and has seen impressive growth, now operating in recruitment and assisting students with nearly every aspect of their experience abroad. The business is now run by Lizzie and Editor, Florence Robson. The team of two manage every aspect of the startup and regularly attend study abroad fairs and pre-departure events across the country. The business has established relationships with a range of universities and successful partnerships with the British Council and Routes into Languages, a government organisation comprised of HE institutions and schools.
These organisations tend to deal with the logistics of courses and payments. The role of TYA is to help with the ‘softer side’; the culture shock, the homesickness, the long distance relationships and all the nitty gritty such as banking, mobile phones and insurance.
Speaking to Lizzie you really get the impression of someone who is bristling with ideas. She is passionate about learning and really wants to help students. She is also a languages champion, promoting the value of language graduates and the importance of studying languages generally. Lizzie’s overall objective is to promote an international experience for every university student and to support them through the process. Red Brick asked Lizzie some more questions about life, business and Third Year Abroad:
1. Why is Third Year Abroad different?
“There are so many reasons! Basically, the students write all the content on the site and this means it is a massive free and unique resource, written by students who have been through all the wonders and problems of living abroad. It is an amazing opportunity to pass on and share advice. Currently we don’t have any direct competition as we simply provide free, quality advice for our relatively niche audience.”
2. What sort of content is on TYA?
“The site is entirely built on the generosity of our user base. They come back from their year abroad having used the site and they want to pass on their advice and they write these wonderful reviews we call the ‘Mole Diaries’ which are insider guides to cities across the world.
“They are just massively in depth and are so helpful for students and this all helps to perpetuate a wonderful lifecycle of advice and support. For me being able to facilitate and be a part of it is just so fantastic! A Mole Diary is an invaluable resource because the author started off as a tourist and has become a local. It is just the best possible guidebook to a city – although I am really biased!”
3. Have you always been entrepreneurial? What other entrepreneurial activity did you do before?
“No not at all! For me it was all about spotting a problem and being in the right position to solve it. I didn’t know that I was going to be entrepreneurial, but I have always liked learning and collecting new skills which have all come in handy in my job – especially in terms of keeping the price down by doing tasks myself. When I studied abroad, I felt that I made lots of mistakes that my predecessors had made too, so a website would be the perfect place to share advice, help study abroad students and solve their problems.”4. How did your time at the University of Edinburgh impact the business? What help did they give you?
“I discovered the University of Edinburgh entrepreneurial support society (launched.ed) at a university postgrad fair and floated my idea. They quickly entered me into the Scottish Institute for Enterprise’s business plan competition.
“At first I was a bit worried because the Final coincided with handing in my dissertation but I entered it nonetheless and it meant that I graduated with a degree and a business plan. This gave me more options and their support was fantastic. I learnt how to develop a business model and I got to use their free software, office space and advice.
“The entrepreneurial society also arranged events and talks with alumni who had started their own businesses and this was something I hadn’t even discovered in my first 3 years of university. I even saw Tim Waterstone speaking about setting up Waterstones with his £6,000 redundancy payout from WH Smith, which was fascinating!
“There is now more money, more support and more goodwill to help students start a business at university. It’s the perfect time too – you can use your student loan to help fund your business and you have more time than you can possibly imagine, even though you are doing your finals!”5. What is the current market like for the third year abroad? Has the concept changed? Has it been hit by the recession?
“Students are still studying languages at university and an international placement is a requirement on their course, which is great, but the best thing is that studying abroad has been opened up to so many other courses and you don’t need to be a linguist to take up the opportunity. Students can go anywhere from France to Hong Kong, China to America. The places students can now go to and the numbers of courses offering placements have increased and so really the opportunities to study abroad have improved.
“The amount of available funding has gone up too, in Europe doing an Erasmus+ work placement means a student can get paid a salary and an Erasmus grant while on their placement. The fees are also a lot more manageable with students only having to pay a maximum of 15% of the full £9,000 for their year abroad.
“So really students are seeing that it is a good way to differentiate themselves in the tough job market. It makes their CV stand out and students see the opportunity to study abroad as an investment. So really the recession hasn’t been a problem it has actually opened up opportunities for students to make themselves more unique. It’s getting better and better and easier and easier, so everyone should do it!”
6. What have you learnt in your first few years of trading?
“If you have an idea and are passionate about it and you are enthusiastic, people will help you with it. People are so generous with their time and advice. If you ask someone for a coffee or a chat they will usually be willing to help. I didn’t realise how kind and supportive people can be, and if you are young person with really good idea then people want to get involved because they like the energy and enthusiasm.
“I am essentially an artist-linguist and I didn’t have any IT or business skills, so what I have learnt is you can teach yourself new skills. When you have chosen what you want to study at university it doesn’t make you that person for life. You can build up skills and interests which will help you find a career that you want to do.
“Until our fantastic Editor joined I had been running most of the business myself and this included all the finance, marketing and technology. You can manage a business on your own and it is really useful at exposing weaknesses and areas where you need assistance.”
7. How does third year abroad actually make money? What are TYA’s revenue streams?
“It is a new industry and there are few year abroad services in existence. But essentially we have established partnerships to help year abroad students with services such as banking, insurance, shipping, accommodation and money transfers. So we have a number of partner relationships in these areas and where we don’t have partners we have created new products. For example, I helped an insurance broker to start up yearabroadinsurance.com and we have just launched our new jobs board for young people with global skills, globalgraduates.com, both of which will provide more revenue streams.
“Global Graduates for instance is specifically targeted at the individuals who are on their year abroad or just back. We want to help them with the next step and get them their first job. These young people have global skills and are very employable. Employers find it hard to locate graduates with global skills like languages and travel experience, and we have them all in one place!
“We have also launched a Q&A platform at tyaanswers.com and this provides a forum where students to ask and answer questions. We have also held various Q&A Days and have invited guest experts such as Student Finance, the European Commission and the British Council to answer students’ questions. This was picked up by the Evening Standard and funnily enough, despite the expert panel, students kept asking about simple home comforts and this is really why TYA is important as we can help with all those questions.”
8. What would be your top tip for other young entrepreneurs?
“My top tip would be to create a database of people you speak to when launching your business. Type up their name and contact details from their business card and throw it away – keep everything online and in one place. You will then have the best possible startup mailing list with the details of everyone who has expressed an interest in the success of your business. It’s all about establishing a support network.”
9. What would you tell young entrepreneurs to avoid doing? Or what mistakes have you made and learnt from?
“My biggest mistake was not knowing which platform to build the site on. I googled ‘cheap web development, London’ and I wasted money using a developer who had no experience of building a content management system. This was just before my first ever trade show, so chaos ensued as a result.
“My advice is to go and speak to the entrepreneurial society or business department at your university and get advice about web development. So if you want a site that has a content management system then forget the design – make sure this is in place first! Research the options that are out there (like Joomla! and WordPress) and then find a specialist who can build it in a way so that you can easily manage it after it’s finished.10. What do you hope to achieve in the future?
“On a personal level, I would love to be an expert in study abroad, becoming an essential middleman between students and all the institutions, programme managers and universities. I’d like to speak in schools, at universities and abroad about the opportunities and the ways to improve programmes but always with the student in mind. I really enjoy developing new business ideas too, so my goal is to become more knowledgeable about the industry while helping as many people as I can through new innovations.”
11. What does the future hold for TYA?
“I just want to make it bigger and better! That is the direction the business is going. As I have mentioned we have these three sites and I now want to bring them together to make the ultimate one stop shop.”
The Red Brick Talks series will continue
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