Will my idea work? How long will my savings last? These are two common questions you ask yourself when considering to launch a business. It takes time and a lot of hard work before the money starts rolling in and until then you’ll need to find a way to keep your head above the water. Is becoming an independent consultant the answer? To find out, we caught up with Sam Dean, former strategy consultant at Booz & Company and now Co-Founder of My Education Group
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Absolutely! Although it was important for me to wait until I had built up enough experience within the professional services industry. I knew that consulting experience would help me achieve my goal of running a business, I just didn’t know what that business would be. When I approached my childhood friend Tom Shugg about starting a business and becoming business partners, I was about 27 with 5 years experience under my belt. It felt like the time to launch a business was right - before the pressures of family or buying a house. Had I waited until I was in my 30's I might not have been able to do it and I couldn’t let that happen.
Where did the idea for My Education Group come from?
Having lived in China for 10 years, Tom has always had a passion for the Chinese language. My Education Group started with the fact that he'd struggled to find a native speaker to practice Chinese with when he was a student. Let's face it the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the environment and speak with the locals. That’s exactly what My Education Group enables you to do from the comfort of your home, business or classroom.
How did you start and what were the steps you took to bring the idea to life?
We established a set of guiding principles to define what we wanted our business to be. We questioned if the success of the business would be reliant on Tom and I to run it. We investigated the market - was it big enough? Did the concept follow trends that we were comfortable with in terms of growth over the next few years? We decided that My Education Group ticked all these boxes so we set up a website and went to China. I interviewed a bunch of teachers, put them on the website then waited to see what would happen. At the same time, we decided to continue doing independent consulting work because we needed to fund our business as well as support ourselves.
How do you balance your independent consulting work with growing your business?
We make sure that at anytime, either myself or my business partner is working on My Education Group. In terms of budgeting, we forecast how much we’re going to need to drive the business forward and then we use Expert360 to choose consulting projects that allow us to raise that amount of capital. I usually spend up to 4 months of the year consulting.
How did you establish yourself as an independent consultant?
As an independent consultant, I've definitely chosen projects that I enjoy and am good at, such as channel distribution strategies. When you start on your own, you have to define what you’re going to be known for. This doesn’t have to occur from the start, you can build this focus over a number of projects. You can't be just another management consultant, because there's a million of them out there. Even if you start as a generalist, look to specialise in something.
Do you feel there is a synergy between being a consultant and being an entrepreneur?
There’s definitely a crossover. For example, having started a business and seen first hand what problems can arise, I can be much more practical and pragmatic when recommending solutions to a client.
What has been the biggest surprise to you since starting My Education Group?
The biggest surprise for me is actually how hard it is to penetrate a market. Even if you have a really good product or service, even if it's perfect, it's so hard to get people to know it, to understand it, to try it and then to use it. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of time. The first thing I ask people when they're setting up a business is, "How are you going to penetrate the market and what is your niche?" You need to find your niche! Our initial concept was, to teach Chinese to the world, online. We soon realised that our idea was too broad so it became, to teach Chinese to Australia. But that was still too broad so we narrowed it further, to teach Chinese to Primary schools in Victoria. Now that we are established and have penetrated the market we're able to expand out again.
Before you launched the business was there anything you were worried about?
I was worried that it wouldn't work and I'd have to go back to working full time. I never wanted to do that again. I was also worried about where the money would come from and how we were going to survive, which is one of the reasons why Expert360 is great for me. When we first started My Education Group, Expert360 wasn't around and I just relied on picking up overflow work from other guys that I knew. But now with Expert360, I can be more selective and plug into the platform whenever I need to.
What would you say to someone following in your footsteps?
Just do it. Don't think about it. The real product in the end, isn't necessarily the one that you start with. You've got to dip your toe in the water and then once you're in, you'll find out what your customers really want and you'll pivot towards it. You don't know what's out there until you get out there. You just have to start doing it.
At the moment I’m keen to expand our business around teaching/learning Chinese. We think the primary school market is ideal for us and we're the only ones in the world doing it at the moment. In the short term, we plan to expand into other geographies but beyond that, we'll be looking at different subject areas and continuing to find new ways to facilitate learning in the classroom.
I think it's important that if you're starting a business you do it with a partner. Find someone that complements your skill set. It's a journey and you want to go on a journey with someone. You want to be able to celebrate the highs and the lows together. It's a lifestyle, that's what it's all about. Besides, when you're not feeling motivated they usually are so it helps! If you'd like to learn more about our Expert360 consultants or join us to find great independent consulting work, visit our consultants page now.