A Q&A with ChaseFuture co-founder and CEO Greg Nance. The Shanghai-based edtech startup last week announced the closing of a $400,000 Seed funding round. Investors include Banyan Partners, Harbor Pacific Capital, Artesian Capital Management and Angel investors. It was founded in 2012 by Nance and Han Shao.
SUB: Please describe ChaseFuture and your primary innovation.
Nance: ChaseFuture has built a scalable platform to connect international students with the world’s best admissions experts. We mentor clients through the entire admissions process, from school selection, to application strategy, personal statement brainstorms, CV-building, essay edits, interview, and scholarship preparation.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Nance: We help motivated students navigate the complexities of the university application process. We started by advising Chinese applicants aiming to study at elite American and British universities. Our how-to admissions content has now been viewed and shared by more than five million students from around the world.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates ChaseFuture from the competition?
Nance: There are over 500 study abroad agencies in China and numerous web forums. Students are left with the undesirable choice of following questionable guidance from anonymous online voices or spending thousands of dollars for secondhand information from uncredentialed study abroad agents.
ChaseFuture’s three biggest differentiators are our admissions experts, our instructional method and our admissions results. We have over 140 admissions experts from the top American and British universities to guide clients. ChaseFuture’s instructional method, bolstered by our content library, educates users on how to create compelling applications; and our admissions results lead the market with hundreds of clients earning offers from the world’s leading universities.
Many other providers obsess about the competition, but ChaseFuture is relentlessly focused on creating a better application experience for our users. We have an incredible team of 14 that is working longer, harder and smarter to build a company that generates real positive impact for the millions of aspiring international scholars around the world.
SUB: You just announced that you’ve raised $400,000 in Seed funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise outside funding?
Nance: Global admissions is a billion dollar industry with no clear market leader. Since our founding, ChaseFuture has been cash flow positive and has now bootstrapped into a top spot in China. We raised outside capital to accelerate our development into a position of global market leadership. There’s a valuable opportunity to do well by doing good here, and we plan to capture it first.
We’re excited to include top education technology investors in our Seed round roster. Banyan Partners, Harbor Pacific Capital, Artesian Capital Management, and CloudFlare’s Special Projects Director, Joshua Motta, have deep technology experience. Angel investors William Bao Bean, Leonid Markel, Jed Rose and Warren Zhang bring sharp industry and operational insights. We are confident our investors can take us to the next level.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds, and do you have plans to seek additional funding in the near future?
Nance: We will use the new funding to grow our sales and technology teams, while improving our customer experience. We plan to build university partnerships and explore opportunities in emerging markets, including India, Egypt, and Turkey.
As we evaluate those opportunities, we’ll decide whether to raise additional outside capital, or whether to continue our self-funded growth.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for ChaseFuture? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Nance: I met my co-founder, Han Shao, over coffee while we were Cambridge b-school students. We were both entrepreneurs in the education space, and had a particular interest in expanding university access. We shared takeaways from our previous work and riffed on new project ideas. While an undergrad, Han built a large blog following by detailing the challenges of applying to study abroad. I learned organizational strategy, operations, and team building from scaling my first startup, Moneythink.org, a financial education organization. We both had big ideas to empower university applicants, and began hustling to make it happen.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Nance: We wanted to validate our hypothesis that applicants would pay for online admissions consulting before developing a website. We created a RenRen page, China’s Facebook equivalent, to share our PDF promotional poster. Once there was demonstrated interest, we made a Gmail and PayPal account to accept payment.
With a handshake, we decided we were going for it. Han picked me up at the Shanghai airport on September 5, 2012, and we officially launched from a pullout couch in a one-room apartment.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Nance: We wanted a memorable name that was easy to spell and that expressed our value proposition to users. We tested a couple names, and ‘ChaseFuture’ won by a landslide. Users could immediately understand that with the right advice you can chase your future with confidence to achieve your biggest goals.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Nance: The biggest challenge has been overcoming the trust gap, as many applicants are wary of being burned by providers of dubious quality. We faced the challenge head-on by creating informative how-to articles and video tutorials. Applicants were able to glean our superior insights and began sharing the content we produced, helping us to create large social media followings in China and on Facebook. The content library now has over 200 articles and videos that drive our instructional method.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Nance: Many users begin by browsing our content library and App Tracker beta. We offer clients the opportunity to connect one-on-one with our admissions experts for tailored consultation, with long-term engagements ranging from $1,600-to-$5,000. To date, we’ve successfully serviced over 1,000 paying clients.
SUB: What are your goals for ChaseFuture over the next year or so?
Nance: We are building a world-class team to refine our technology, tools and service experience. We will scale operations with a focus on quality to boost our Net Promoter Score and client referrals. We will continue to strategically expand our network of admissions experts while establishing footholds in key emerging markets. Our goal is to lay the foundation to become an enduring brand in global education.