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Erik Harrell, Keystone Education Group, Norway

Keystone

We're transitioning to be about enrolment generation

The PIE: Your expected revenue growth is pretty amazing. Keystone will be 300% up on 2019, according to your press release, why is that?

Erik Harrell: It’s a combination factors, of the organic growth from the business and the growth from acquisitions [such as FindAUniversity].

The PIE: Do you think that has been a growth from a base of zero in the original business beyond acquisition-led growth?

EH: I think if you look at the Keystone business in the first five months of the year, our growth has been extremely good.

Certainly on the Keystone side and I think the same at FindAUniversity, we’ve had the best five months in terms of new revenue bookings in our history. So there’s been really strong growth in the organic underlying business.

“We’ve had the best five months in terms of new revenue bookings in our history”

We’re experiencing a shift to digital from offline. What we’re seeing from our customers is that the budgets that they had for offline, they’re using for digital.

Of course, if they’re not travelling and they’re not going to physical fairs, they have more budget for digital.

The PIE: You mentioned you feel that as a business you are ‘executing better’. Can you elaborate on this?

EH: If you look at Keystone just nine months ago, we were really only in the lead generation business. And that’s how we as a company are transitioning. We’re transitioning to be about enrolment generation.

We’ve launched service-focused Keystone Recruit to drive applications and ultimately enrolments [for education institution clients].

Keystone Recruit is like a sales and marketing arm. We will call [student] leads that either come from them or come from us. We can set up meetings with their admission officers – we see a lot of interest in the service for applications. So we’ve become both a lead generation company, but we also help them with application generation and ultimately enrolment generation.

The PIE: That’s interesting. There’s a trend in terms of more focus in the ‘enrolment gen’ space.

EH: You just become a much more value added provider to your customers because you can help them prioritise which leads they should focus on.

The PIE: How do you intersect/compare with many other student search businesses?

EH: We have some customers that are single sourced from our space, but there are also customers of ours that will use multiple sources [sites].

I think that ultimately we want our customers to be ‘single source’. And I think that’s really where the merger comes into play, because we have a much broader reach now. We’d love our customers to feel like they they could get all of their needs solved with Keystone and that they don’t need to source with others.

“A lot of universities are not equipped to actually call students and message students.”

The Keystone Recruit piece is is an added service which we think differentiates us from our competition. A lot of universities are not equipped to actually call students and message students. And that’s the difference.

The PIE: How big is your Keystone Recruit division? Is it still in stealth mode? 

EH: We launched it in December. I don’t want to overstate how big it’s become, but it’s been one of the big reasons why our growth has been good. Our customers are more likely to stay with us as customers long-term because they see this is very helpful.

The PIE: And where are you running your Keystone Recruit business out of?

EH:  Out of Norway. We actually have a multi-lingual team that is able to handle a good part of the world in terms of where the vast majority of students are coming from on the national side. So we’re well positioned and we’re seeing very good uptake on the service.

“Universities are competing for these students and those universities that do the best job of sales and marketing are the ones that are going to get the students”

Universities are competing for these students and those universities that do the best job of sales and marketing are the ones that are going to get the students – that’s just the way it is.

The PIE: It’s sales and marketing, but then it’s also getting them through the admissions cycle quickly, which is where the conversion resources really play, right?

EH: From an application to an enrolment, getting the visa sorted out and things like that, yes. We – at the moment – are not helping the universities with that application-to-enrolment space.

But we will start to do that because that is also a very important service for universities, trying to convince people who have applied and gotten in to actually enrol. We definitely see that.

I’m not sure that all universities out there have all the resources they feel they need to properly compete for enrolments.

The PIE: I always wanted to ask whether you have other acquisitions planned, given the EMG CEO is moving into a head of M&A role?

EH: We do. As a company, we have big ambitions and I think we see that there’s huge opportunity for us. It’s a huge market, right? Higher ed is a $3 trillion market. Our target markets are about $35 billion. So it’s pretty significant.

I think there’s a lot of headroom for us to grow organically, but I think there are ways for us to accelerate a growth through M&A. So you’ll continue to see M&A activity coming from the Keystone Education Group.

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