14/04/2011 - 00:00

Services suite gives student site the edge

14/04/2011 - 00:00

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MORE than a decade ago, (then) 23-year-old Perth business students Damien Langley, Jeremy Chetty, Craig Chetty and Simon Loader came up with a concept to make the lives of Western Australian students easier.

MORE than a decade ago, (then) 23-year-old Perth business students Damien Langley, Jeremy Chetty, Craig Chetty and Simon Loader came up with a concept to make the lives of Western Australian students easier.

Knowing from first-hand experience that money could be tight for students, the group started Student Edge, a website and membership card combination that provides students with access to online career tools, as well as a host of big-brand discounts.

“I remember driving to university and turning the air-conditioner off to save myself petrol, because I couldn’t afford to fill it up,” Mr Langley told WA Business News.

“So looking back, I thought if we could make even a few dollars difference to make sure students get further, we should do it.”

The Subiaco-based businessmen have come a long way since presenting their concept to students at high school assemblies, including making changes to the business model to achieve a wider take-up of the service.

Student Edge now caters to apprentices, high school and tertiary students nationwide and boasts more than 314,000 members.

Along with the financial issues facing students, Mr Langley said while students had access to a range of information about career choices from a variety of sources, much of that presented in printed form went unread.

After speaking to high school students, the group quickly learned that students were more likely to consume career information if it was online.

“We decided to create a portal where we could cover the student services content side of things, but we needed a driver and that’s where the card came into play, which offered deals and discounts to help students save money,” Mr Langley said.

The Student Edge membership started off as a paid model, where for $20 students could get access to big-brand discounts and career information on the website.

But Mr Langley found that the paid model didn’t promote growth of the business.

“The barrier was $20. Students had it in their pockets but they needed to buy something from the canteen or catch the bus, so it was really hard to get a very good take up,” he said.

After running Student Edge for more than five years on the paid model, the group decided to change the model to make it more accessible to students.

“We could help 16,000 students very well but really wanted to help the 4 million students Australia-wide and to get that growth we really had to package it in the right way, which was a free model,” Mr Langley said.

He said that the growth of free business models such as YouTube and Facebook were proof that such a model could be successful.

“Those sites were growing their membership through a free model and monetising it with advertising and sponsorship revenue,” Mr Langley said.

Knowing the business would need a capital injection for the free model to thrive, the group travelled to Sydney in 2007 for an appearance on the Dragon’s Den, a television show that allows entrepreneurs to present their business to an ‘expert panel’ in the hope of securing investment.

“We were at the stage of our business where we knew we needed to get some investment behind us, so we thought if we could get the right partner onboard as an investor we could grow the business,” Mr Langley said.

The group received an offer from the Dragons, but decided the terms weren’t appropriate and returned to Perth empty handed.

After finding an investor and switching to a free model in 2008, the company expanded to cater for apprentices, Tafe students and university students.

Since then, Mr Langley said membership had been growing at between 8,000 and 10,000 members a month.

“We are an alternative that is free and if you provide students with something free it gets pretty good take-up and that’s what we’ve experienced in the last three years,” he said.

Starting with a handful of local brands, the business now has more than 60 big-brand benefit partners in the entertainment, fashion, food, travel, automotive and technology industries.

The business’s revenue comes predominantly from these partners who purchase advertising space on campuses, on the website or through email alerts to members.

“A lot of the brands were initially at more of a local store level because we were promoting through certain schools, so it was about building trust from those local stores to introduce us to the state and then the national offices,” Mr Langley said.

Student Edge expanded nationally in 2010 and increased its staff base with the appointment of CEO Julian Sallabank.

Mr Langley said Mr Sallabank was a welcome addition to the rapidly growing company, which was trying to develop a greater online focus to encourage national awareness of the business.

“Julian has a lot of experience in online communities and offered a skill set and experience that we didn’t have as four young founders,” he said.

Mr Sallabank said other website competitors offering free deals to the public, such as Spreets, were less likely to interest students and meet their needs.

“Your first card in your wallet is normally your driver’s licence, but when you are a 12 to 17 year old it’s a Student Edge card and that gives a real sense of belonging,” Mr Sallabank said.

Mr Langley said that he saw a big point of difference between Student Edge and competitor websites.

“We’re about a niche market in terms of students, that is people between 12 and 23, and what they need from a financial point of view and a content point of view and being that resource,” he said.

However, catering for the varied interests of students can be challenging.

“Students’ interests are very broad and the biggest challenge is focus; that is, having the right focus at the right time consistent with the fads that are out there,” he said.

The company already has a Facebook page and will release an iPhone application and new website by the end of this year.

But Mr Sallabank said it was important to remain focused on the real reason why Student Edge existed.

“It’s about knowing that we make a difference in the lives of students in Australia. We provide them assistance in saving money, we assist them with jobs and we assist them with making choices relating to their future.”

 

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