Business 30 June 2018
20 years ago I was a one-woman shop, juggling face-time with clients, managing finances and boosting publicity. My brand centered on myself, yet I didn’t see it that way. Even in the infancy of my company, I was a global business owner. I never viewed myself as a sole proprietor, even though I was one, because I was so focused on building an international brand. In order to create a global company that was innovative and groundbreaking, I knew I needed to think big and plan ahead even if it required adapting in the future. As an entrepreneur I decided to create a twenty-year plan for my company in order to strategize and map my steps towards success. Planning so far in the future was audacious, but it also empowered and inspired me to take risks in order to meet these goals.
While creating an ambitious long-term plan enabled me to develop my brand, it is the ability to refine it that has powered IvyWise’s success. Every entrepreneur needs large-scale goals that they can chase and aspire to. But the most successful business owners are the ones who are able to balance these long-term dreams with immediate realities. Running a brand means being able to shift seamlessly from thinking big picture to planning for the next week, from envisioning the day you have clients on every continent to troubleshooting for the five people you are currently working with.
I wanted to create a one-stop shop where students could not only receive college admissions advice from a team of former deans and directors of admissions at elite universities, but also work with tutors who are experts at what they teach - Dr. Kat Cohen
Reaching long-term aspirations requires insight, creativity and adaptability. There’s no simple set of steps to take or script you can stick to. Instead, you have to write your company’s own path to success and start refining it almost immediately.
Learn how to adapt quickly so you can maximize efficiency and ensure that your business remains relevant, even as times and trends change.
I launched IvyWise at a time when there were few options for independent college admissions counselors. Most of my competitors named their businesses after themselves and, for the most part, their services consisted of personal consultations with a handful of clients. IvyWise began this way, but even on day one I was thinking twenty years ahead. My goal was to create a global educational consultancy that would support students and families worldwide as they pursued their academic and personal goals with the expertise of a team of counselors, tutors and researchers.
Previously, I worked in admissions at Yale University, during which time I learned a universal truth within the college admissions industry: gaining admittance into your best-fit school is a journey. I decided to use my prior admissions experience to optimize the application experience for my clients by providing them with every resource needed to navigate this process. A top–tier admissions counselor can help applicants unearth their passions and develop a strong list of best-fit colleges, but many clients need additional resources if they want to be competitive candidates at their first choice schools.
I wanted to create a one-stop shop where students could not only receive college admissions advice from a team of former deans and directors of admissions at elite universities, but also work with tutors who are experts at what they teach, and research consultants who can provide them with crucial information about every college on an application list. Immediately, IvyWise was about tackling the school admission process holistically and multi-dimensionally, which enabled my company to grow into an aspirational brand with a global reach.
Rewriting the 20-year plan you’ve created for your company can be challenging, but it’s essential if you want your business to reach the two-decade mark. Consumers seek out brands that feel fresh and relevant, so it’s important for business owners to keep tabs on generational preferences, micro and macro economic factors and changes and new developments in technology. Since it is near impossible to anticipate what the digital and economic landscape will look like twenty years down the line, entrepreneurs must stay updated on the cultural climate and adapt business plans accordingly.
I launched my company before digital communications services like Skype and Zoom existed. IvyWise preceded the trend of web-based learning and virtual payment processing developments.
But by keeping my finger on the pulse of technological advances, particularly in the digital space, I was able to use these innovations to optimize and expand my brand. While utilizing technology to facilitate virtual consultations was not originally part of my twenty-year business plan, adapting and embracing this opportunity has enabled IvyWise to reach an international audience.
Instead of waiting for web-based learning services to become mainstream, I was able to make use of this model early on because I had been monitoring digital developments. I saw virtual consultations as an opportunity to rapidly expand IvyWise’s scale and to recruit the best admissions experts worldwide because digitalization enabled us to eliminate geographical confines.
I learned a universal truth within the college admissions industry: gaining admittance into your best-fit school is a journey - Dr. Kat Cohen
Of course, I didn’t just piggyback off of the technology that was already in place; instead I worked with a team to create a customized portal system specifically designed to facilitate our services. Clients are able to create accounts and share application materials with my team and our counselors and tutors can converse with them seamlessly, from any location in the world. As a result of these innovations, IvyWise now works with students in over 40 countries who are able to access our resources on a 24-7 basis and benefit from the expertise of all of our counselors, tutors and consultants.
This year marks twenty years since I launched IvyWise. I frequently reflect upon the first set of large-scale plans I created, long before I had a team to bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with. My company has reached the international scale I envisioned, although the path to hitting this milestone was far different from what I originally anticipated. Had I adhered strictly to the processes I put in place twenty years ago, IvyWise wouldn’t have achieved the large-scale goals I knew were possible.
Most importantly, never stop creating these large-scale goals you want to reach twenty years down the line, even once you have surpassed your first set of milestones. I have a clear vision for what IvyWise will look like in 2038, and I am already adapting the processes I will need to get us there.
20 JuneEditors picks
If you are a woman, a person of color or LGBTIA+ identified and are a part of a start-up company, this is the competition for you. The SoGal Global Pitch Competition is being hosted in over 25 cities and will culminate in a final contest in Silicon Valley as well as a "3-day immersive educational bootcamp." This could be an unprecedented opportunity for you, your business and for the future of entrepreneurial diversification.
We all know how important diversity is for the world and for any business entity. But the statistics need to catch up with these ideals, because diversity isn't just a moral imperative it can also have an impact on the success and efficiency of a business. So if the ethics isn't enough to get you interested, maybe these statistics will.
- Companies in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity are 35% more likely to have above-average financial returns
- Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have above-average financial returns
- Bottom quartile companies (in both gender and racial diversity) are less likely to achieve even average returns
- In senior executive teams in the US for every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) rose 0.8%
Despite the fact that diversity is good for business, funding as a woman or a minority is incredibly challenging, but this competition could be someone's game-changing opportunity.
SoGal is a global education and empowerment platform focused on diverse investors and entrepreneurs. Their mission is "to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship and venture capital." A tall order, given that 2.2% of VC funding went to women in 2018. Compounding the gender gap with race shows an even poorer picture: in the past decade only 0.1% (yes, that is a decimal) of funding was allocated to black women.
It is a straight up fact that companies with higher levels of diversity perform better, so why is it so hard for diverse start-ups to get funded? Oh right, racism, sexism, homophobia, implicit biases, inequality, classism... the list goes on, but thankfully that's where SoGal comes in! According to Kelley Elizabeth Henry, director of SoGal, "We're done waiting for these statistics to change; we're taking action to point investment capital toward these diverse-led startups. [...] We will change the future of entrepreneurship."
To enter this competition all you have to do is be a part of a pre-Series A startup (raised less than $3M) and have at least one "woman or diverse" founder. After you apply to pitch, you'll have to be able to make it to one of the "regional round location," which range from the more typical options of New York and Los Angeles to global locations such as Nairobi or Bangalore. And, if you're really playing to win, you better earmark February 28 to March 1 of next year, because that's when the top teams will be in San Francisco duking it out to the very end. And by "duking it out," I mean participating in "curated educational programming," talking to press and getting "facetime in front of top-tier investors." Though not everyone can win, the experience in itself looks to be well-worth the time it takes to fill out an application form and huff it to the nearest large city for the first round.