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Startup Stories: Candy Ko, Co-Founder & CEO at EduMatch

Candy had a chat with us about how they came up with the idea for EduMatch, some of her biggest challenges, and connecting with mentors in the start-up community.

by hao-nguyen on October 26, 2021

Candy Ko is the co-founder & CEO at EduMatch, a platform on a mission to help students from Asia access learning and career opportunities from Australia.

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Hi Candy, great to have you back chatting with us. Last time we spoke, we had a great discussion about work-life balance. For those who may not know, can you talk a bit about EduMatch and what led you to co-founding the platform?

When I was seven years old, I moved to Australia from Hong Kong. Those who know me now would likely not be able to guess that I was quiet and barely spoke a word of English.

Being an immigrant as a child teaches you to be independent and resourceful. My parents didn’t speak English so they gave me a lot of freedom to figure things out on my own. On reflection, it’s a lot like being an entrepreneur. You create your reality from scratch in an unfamiliar environment.

Two years ago, I met my co-founder at Founders Institute, a pre-seed accelerator, when I was working at another start-up and took a study break to attend the program. We reconnected after the program and got to know each other before deciding to work together. 

It started off with a family friend who asked me to write a letter of recommendation for a visa application to move him and his family to Australia from Hong Kong. He is from an engineering background and shared his concern of not being able to find a job as he didn’t speak English fluently, so he was willing to do any work to support his family. On the other hand, this didn’t make sense as Australia is facing major STEM skills shortages. This got us thinking about the underlying problem and how we can help foreigners navigate the system.

How did the idea for EduMatch develop from this experience? 

The idea for EduMatch is very much a personal experience and consumer insight that international education is still out of reach for most people, and the benefits that follow have a lasting impact on both the students and our economy.

EduMatch helps students from Asia to study abroad in Australia seamlessly. We believe there should be zero barriers to a world-class education. From course discovery and application to financing and visa assistance, we deliver a unified experience. We also place an emphasis on STEM and Art education to ensure students not only benefit from an international education experience but one that prepares them for their future careers. 

For context, the tech sector is a significant employer, employing 861,000 Australians – or one in every sixteen working Australians. Since 2005, the number of tech jobs has increased by 66 percent, compared to a 35 percent increase in overall job growth.

Before launching EduMatch, you had a career largely in marketing. How do you think your background has influenced the way you’re building your start-up?

I’ve worked in start-ups in the growth phase. Joining at that stage, the marketing function’s main priority is user growth. Most often it’s a small team so you need to be a generalist with a broad skill set and understanding. Learning how to use a new tool quickly, putting an initiative together end-to-end in a short space of time, and trying something new and creative becomes your day-to-day. 

As marketing is now largely digital-focused, combining data and creativity to optimise throughout the customers’ lifecycle is much more tangible. Being in a marketing role, it’s inevitable to become deeply invested in thinking from the customers’ perspective.

I apply a similar approach and thinking process to how we build and test EduMatch at its current stage, we do a lot of customer and market research and consider the customers’ journey with us.

After working in both corporates and start-ups, I learnt that inefficiencies aren’t always a financial issue. It often comes down to identifying and implementing the right technology, especially when a company is established and change becomes more complex. When you don’t have the right infrastructure to support the work, it creates a domino effect that affects cross-functional teams, customer experience, and ultimately, the business’s bottom line. 

My interest in automation and AI technologies grew as a result of these experiences. With EduMatch, I keep this in mind and think ahead for the set-up and what areas technology can support, especially during this early stage where we have a clear foundation.

The other aspect is having the opportunity to interview subject matter experts in my previous work; typically for topics that are new to me, I practise active listening so that I can ask the right questions and then think about how to structure the story for readers in an engaging and digestible format. These have been transferable skills to how I now communicate; I don’t always get it right, but actively listening and simplifying communication has been critical to creating some of our key relationships and articulating ideas.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve run into since launching EduMatch, and what lessons have you learnt from those challenges?

The pivots. We’ve had both small and big pivots and each time we’ve put in a lot of effort and time, though I don’t think those efforts have gone to waste as we wouldn’t be where we’re at without it. We also launched EduMatch in the middle of a lockdown, between homeschooling and work I’ve turned into a bit of a night owl.

What I have learnt:

  • Let go of perfectionism, it’ll only slow you down in decision-making and executing.
  • Don’t look for the whole room to give approval, just the right people to join the journey.
  • Remember your mission and vision when things get tough.
  • Practice being kind to yourself so you can keep going when things get tough.

I can’t thank my co-founder, Diep, for that last point enough. She’s like the wise big sister in this duo.

You’re also part of the Giants Community at Blackbird, can you tell us a little about that?

I joined the Giants Community at Blackbird as their first cohort. As a start-up founder finding and reaching out to the right network can be a bit hit and miss. The platform connects founders to a network of mentors from a wide variety of industries, experience and advice for different stages of your startup, access to learning resources, and a founder buddy system for solo founders who’d like to connect with fellow founders. 

When you’re a part of the cohort, there is an accountability component in the form of a weekly check-in email. It’s also through this network I met our incredible mentor and advisor who has been with us since the beginning of EduMatch.

What do you think is the biggest benefit of having a mentor in the start-up space?

It takes a village to raise a child. Building a start-up feels much the same. The mentors that take time to help you are usually passionate about the problem you’re solving too or have been through a similar experience. Some are subject matter experts with industry and product knowledge, others have the network to open up doors.

One last question before we let you get back to EduMatch. As a start-up founder, what do you think is the most important trait to have for success?

Be able to deal with ambiguity, and have a high level of curiosity and passion.

Thank you so much for your time on this Candy, it was great chatting to you about EduMatch and we really love your start-up mission. We’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on your story! 

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