All Change

Published Feb 22, 2018

An idea developed at the Victoria Entrepreneur Bootcamp in 2016 looks set to change the way New Zealand students search for tertiary study courses—and the way education providers recruit those same students—making it easier, faster and less expensive for both. 

StudySpy, a tertiary course comparison site for Kiwi students considering their study options, is the brain-child of former Victoria University student Michael Watson (pictured, left) and his business partner Jarrod Mosen (pictured, right). 

“Our original idea was to develop an online agency for international students looking at course options in New Zealand,” says Michael, who transferred from University of Waikato to Victoria just in time to apply for Bootcamp. 

“Around 75 percent of New Zealand’s international students come here via agents,” he says. “We wanted to devise a way for those students to make more independent decisions, based on all of the options available to them, not just those recommended by commission-based agents.” 

However, after launching their prototype site, Michael says they were surprised to find that 69 percent of their traffic came from New Zealand students. They quickly moved to reformulate their plan. 

“That’s just one of the things you learn at Bootcamp,” says Michael. “If your original idea isn’t working out as you thought, or the problem you are solving changes during your validation process, you need to be able to switch direction fast and move forward." 

Powered by data from NZQA, the Ministry of Education, Universities New Zealand, Careers New Zealand and the Tertiary Education Commission, StudySpy aims to make tertiary information transparent and easily discoverable in one place, enabling students to make better informed decisions on their futures—and potentially improving tertiary completion rates if it helps them to get their study choices right first time.  

The StudySpy website not only displays all of New Zealand's 8,395 tertiary courses from 359 NZQA-approved education providers, it also includes additional information that enables users to explore the likelihood of employment and median earnings from a particular course of study. “It’s basically an app experience inside a web browser, with a search function that is accurate and easy to use,” says Michael. 

He says the web/app will appeal to learning institutions looking to attract new students. “We’ve put a lot of work into building a website dashboard that gives education providers control of their own data—they can update details as soon as their courses or prices change, and basically create an easily updateable online prospectus.”

Having now built the product, Michael and Jarrod are ready to monetise their concept by selling leads to education providers via featured placements on the site. 

“When you compare StudySpy to marketing methods such as social media or billboard advertising for example, we believe that StudySpy is far more targeted and cost-effective at helping tertiary institutions to connect with students, turn those connections into leads, and then convert those leads into enrolments,” says Michael. “When students visit StudySpy, they are in decision-making mode. When they see an enrolment advert on Facebook, they are likely to be eating dinner or checking out what friends are up to, not making a life changing decision about where or what to study.” 

The website is already receiving thousands of hits a month in purely organic searches, well before the launch of the team’s marketing plan. “We are already ranking well in search engines— but what’s really exciting is the high rate of conversions from site visitors into enquiries. I think this is a testament to the fact that we are displaying the right information at the right time for students.” 

Michael says they could not have got the business to the point they have without Viclink’s support – and not just because of the Viclink-run Bootcamp. “We can pinpoint our success so far to the continued mentorship sessions that the company still support us with. By continually challenging our logic and questioning our reasoning, we remain focused and on track.” 

Grateful for their own Bootcamp experience, Michael and Jarrod are ‘giving back’ to the current intake of Bootcamp students by mentoring one of the teams. “We’re excited to share what we’ve learnt over the past two years with other up and coming Victoria entrepreneurs.”