UniWise is aiming to disrupt the higher education sector and ensure the student voice is an important part of prospective student decision making! We are a website that allows students to search, compare and review postgraduate programs – it’s the key to unlocking your wisdom.
We recently sat down with co-founder James Armit to hear more about the company and his entrepreneurial journey.
What is Uniwise and how does it work?
Uniwise is a search, compare and review site for university courses. If you wanted to do an MBA, you’d have to look up all the different MBA courses, on all the different university websites. They don’t really tell you what the course is going to be like, and they are quite difficult to navigate because universities don’t do platforms well. We’ve created an online platform called Uniwise which collates all the key information and criteria about cost, location, mode of study and all those things that inform your decision. You can search by your preference, that will return some search results, you can then compare them side by side, so you can directly compare costs and entry criteria. If you like the look of a particular program, you can click straight through and apply immediately or you can save your search, iterate, change it and then come back to it.
Our unique selling point is that we have user reviews for MBA programs from current students and recent graduates on what their student experience has actually been like, so you can be prepared for when you actually get there. Think Tripadvisor but for universities.
Who founded UniWise?
I’m a co-founder, it’s myself and Kirsten Emes – it was really her idea. A couple of years ago she was looking for a Masters program to study. We’d both been working in education for a long time and even with all her experience, she found it difficult to find out which course was going to be right for her.
We’d been talking about this idea for about a year or two, we met when we both managed schools in the College of Business and she said, if I pitch this idea to RMIT Activator, you have to work with me to make this happen! I said okay because it really appealed to me. I’ve spent my whole career in student experience design so it spoke to me, the idea of getting that student voice to help applicants find the right program – there was a really good value proposition for me.
When did you join Activator?
About a year ago now, probably mid-2017. We did the Activator Bootcamp, which we found incredibly useful. It was a real Kickstarter in terms of how to bring this idea into an actual product. It was really good for testing the initial idea, getting feedback and iterating and defining the idea.
After that experience we partnered with a tech company to build the site, we’re now out in the world finding our own way and building our customer base.
What has been the biggest challenge in the process of launching Uniwise?
Having to be an expert at everything has been a bit of a challenge. Both Kirsten and I are very experienced in the way universities work and what we think will have value for them. We are both literate in terms of student experience and UX design, but we’re not coders, we can’t build websites ourselves, we’re not marketing people and we’re not salespeople, so we’ve had to find good partners to help us out. We’ve been on a fairly steep learning curve because we have to be experts at all these things now.
One of the great things Activator has done is give us access to people who have those skills, through the Activator board and through contacts at RMIT and elsewhere.
Where is Uniwise at right now?
The website has launched – we’re drawing clicks to the website, so people are understanding the value proposition. We’re generating student reviews for MBA courses. This is our first iteration, our MVP and we’re currently developing a sales plan so that we can go out to universities and sell the product to them. We’re free to users, we charge unis for lead generation and marketing insights. We’ve had our first few customers, and we’ve got a sort of ‘freemium’ model with them, we’re testing the concept with them, understanding what has value to them to help us define our sales pitch. We’ll be getting out into other universities before the end of the year, to drive revenue into the business.
The next step will be moving into the second iteration, beyond just MBA’s, we’re looking to branch out into all postgraduate products in all of Australia and New Zealand, so that will be our focus for 2019. That does require a big tech build, which is why we’re trying to generate revenue through the MVP.
What’s coming up?
We’re getting out to MBA open days and conferences, we’re presenting our Activator journey and our startup journey to the ATEM Conference in WA next month. We’re also making some great connections in the broader startup community through LaunchVic and various other bodies that support startups in Victoria.
What are your thoughts on business mentoring?
It’s been really crucial to our success. There is a lot of advice out there, a lot of it is contradictory and conflicting. One of the best things Activator did was connect us with a really good business mentor, she started off doing some Myers-Briggs work with Kirsten and me to make sure we understood each other’ss strengths and weaknesses and how to work around them. The real value of that is that it confirmed we think in a very similar way, it also presents a risk and makes us really aware that we need to connect with people who don’t think like us. That was a crucially important piece of advice we got from our mentor.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs?
Just do it, do something! We spent a couple ideas knocking this idea around, then we decided to actually create something out of those ideas, instead of just talking about it and waiting for someone else to do it. If it’s not being done – go do it! Try it out, iterate, try something, it’s about having the confidence to try something and the resilience to fix it quickly if it fails.
Can you describe your life as an entrepreneur in three words?
Challenging, stimulating and fun.
How do you motivate yourself to keep going – particularly through the harder times in your journey?
We bring it back to the core idea, which is about honesty, transparency, and the student voice in the university experience. When we’re overwhelmed, we come back to the best thing we can do for the business is to get reviews of the programs. That’s what’s going to drive the value prop, it’s having that one core focus to come back to when everything looks confusing and challenging.
What does a typical day look like for you?
We’re bootstrapping, so we’re currently working in our day jobs, so there’s that 9-5 piece around business as usual. We start early and we have a call about what we want to do over the next week or so to move the business on. We normally meet up once a week, we’re both runners so we have a ‘running’ meeting (they talk and run!). We’re distance runners, we’re normally running for a good hour at least, so that gives us time to work through ideas and work things out. We normally come up with a few tasks and lists of things to do for ourselves to do in that week. We commit to those and check in when we’re done.
Any book recommendations?
One book that I read before starting up the business was called The rebel entrepreneur, that was a really insightful and interesting book that really changed the way I thought about entrepreneurs and innovators. I only thought about them in the tech world, that whole Silicon Valley model, but it’s actually a much broader universe than that, especially when you get into the social enterprise space. That was a pivotal book for me in terms of kick-starting my interest in pivoting my career.
Is there any podcasts you’re listening to at the moment?
StartUp and This Week in Startups.
If you could give some advice to yourself before you embarked on this UniWise journey – what would it be?
Prepare to be very agile, and to be able to improvise – those are the skills where we had some capacity before, but they weren’t being stretched in my day job. The agility and ability to improvise is absolutely crucial to making a business successful.
Is there one skill or capability you feel like you’ve developed throughout this process?
Design thinking has been the big one for me. There was a strong focus on it in Bootcamp, and that has really fundamentally changed the way I approach work. I used to be very data and evidence-driven and a very careful and considerate planner. Now I’ve pivoted that thinking to ‘this is an interesting hypothesis, let’s test it and see where we can go with it.’ I think developing empathy and understanding for your customers has had a big impact on the way I approach work.