CEO of EasyUni Edwin Tay Shares Tips on Assembling a First-rate Team

Hopeful youths, on the cusp of their lives, ready to embrace their new university journeys and follow their passions. But before that, there is a great hurdle of applying to a university. This process is a hair-ripping one, and Edwin Tay knows this all too well. While attending an education fair, his niece was inundated with so many choices that she almost had a nervous breakdown. It was then he saw a business opportunity: a portal where students and parents can seek information in the comforts of their own homes, and sans pressure from any course provider.

Already a reality, the portal is aptly named EasyUni. Not many budding entrepreneurs can actualise their ideas, but Edwin was able to do so as he had some experience in digital marketing. “Opening your own business is not easy, and as an entrepreneur you need all the advantage you can muster. Hence, it is important to identify an area you are good at, and then the market opportunity and size.”

If the need is niche and market tiny, your exit will most probably be correspondingly small.

Today, EasyUni boasts over 800,000 users and works with more than 3,000 universities and colleges across 25 countries. Receiving up to 12 million page views a year, EasyUni is a repository where students can suss out information and then shortlist the best courses and universities for them.

The company’s success is impressive, but certainly not meteoric. “We had a shaky start,” Edwin recalls. “Our network of contacts was relatively small, as none of us was from the education industry. We started calling up our friends and asking them to introduce us to industry stakeholders and players. From there, we were able to get a few universities and colleges to listen to our proposal.”

When it came to formulating the business model, Edwin and his team did not hit the bull’s eye during the first round. Finetuning it was an enduring process, and Edwin and his co-founders only succeeded after two iterations. “We started out working with student recruitment agencies, but soon found that this business model was flawed. With our second business model, scalability was a problem.” Through perseverance, he was finally able to come up with a model, his current one, that checks the criteria of usability and scalability.

Be humble and never stop learning. There are plenty of people along the way who would not hesitate to help you — if you ask nicely.

Building a well-oiled machine
EasyUni’s headquarter is based in Malaysia, whose economy is ranked by the World Economic Forum as the 25th most competitive in the world. Venture capitalists and investors have their eyes set on Malaysia, as a knowledge-sharing economy revs up in this neck of the woods, says Edwin. “The government has funnelled resources to support entrepreneurship, launching many grants to support start-ups. Other initiatives include opening up market access and organising networking sessions around the world to connect entrepreneurs, accelerators and incubators.”

Edwin also has two offices set up in Vietnam and the Middle East. Because of the vastly nuanced cultures and traditions, all three offices are run differently. “When running a regional company, a one-size-fits-all mentality will not work. Some departments such as IT or digital marketing can share similar operating procedures across offices, but otherwise localisation is imperative. The legal department, for example, must possess a thorough understanding of the country’s regulations. The decision of hiring a general manager needs to be carefully thought out, as the person’s competence will influence the success of your endeavour.”

For a service-oriented company like EasyUni, talent hunting is an evergreen process, and one of the trickiest things to get right. “Our business grows and changes quickly. Hence, our strategy is to hire talents that can not only perform the current role, but also have the capacity to undertake future responsibilities and grow in tandem with the company.” For new-business owners, Edwin’s advice is to fill the team with optimistic and energetic talents. “As your company grows bigger, you will need to start hiring more experienced managers who can bring stability and set up processes.

But here’s the thing: If you hire the right candidates, you will be able to groom your initial employees and promote them so they can fill the managerial roles.”