You’re a high school student, who wants to enter in some of the best universities. Or maybe you are already studying in the university, but wants to get an awesome job in a great company.
Goodwall is a platform with the purpose to connect high school students with universities and college students with companies they could work for.
And it does that by leveraging all the accomplishments, skills and knowledge of users so they can be seen by the “real” world.
In this episode, Taha Bawa, co-founder of Goodwall, tells us how was his startup’s journey from the idea to traction.
Tell us a little bit about Goodwall solution and what problem it solves today?
Goodwall is really focused on helping the next generation navigate the future of earning and learning. So, helping them maximize their potential while hopefully impacting society positively is our vision and our mission. We’re really helping young talent connect to the right opportunities at the right time.
When they’re in high school we’re connecting them to scholarships and colleges. When they’re in college we’re connecting them to internships and first jobs and now we’re in the young professional space where we’re helping them with their next step.
MAXIMIZING THE IMPACT
How did the idea come to your mind and how did you take the decision of building a startup based on this idea?
In our case, it really started with the vision. So, Omar—my brother—was very motivated to build something around helping people maximize their potential and importantly impact society positively. Goodwall started off as an EdTech concept. It’s really around experiential learning and it’s about changing behaviour to maximize people’s impact and maximize their own potential. So that’s what we started off.
From this very lofty vision, we thought that this would be the most impactful thing we could do, at this stage in our careers. And it seemed natural to leverage technology to achieve scale.
So, we said: “okay, it makes sense for it to be a technology solution” and we took it a step further. We realized that in order to achieve scale, we needed to make sure that it drove value to both users and that it was financially viable in order to attract the best people to work with us. To be sustainable. To not just have to keep looking for money.
To do that, we really positioned ourselves as a social enterprise that was for profit and focused on employing the best business practices and focused on competing to drive the most value to our users and to drive the most value to our clients. So that’s really how we came towards this sort of company structure.
And in terms of the actual product, we realized that what was going to drive through talking, through doing research, through realizing from our own situation—as we were both recently out of college—we realized helping people navigate through their career journey—which starts as early as in high school and then in college and then in the young professional space—was incredibly valuable. And so that’s how we focused on our idea.
STEP BY STEP
What exactly was the MVP like and what we’re the first steps?
We really went step by step. We started off with nothing more than a profile to begin with, actually. And it was really the first place where people in high school could show up their extracurricular and academic achievement—so really their first resume, if we were to do an analogy. It was leveraging photos, it was leveraging other forms of content to showcase who one was. That’s what we started off with.
We really went step by step. We started off with nothing more than a profile to begin with, actually.
And once we saw traction, we grew the product beyond that. We added social networking features because we really didn’t want this to be a transactional utility application. We wanted this to be a journey. We wanted to be able to accompany people on their journey as they navigate the future of earning and learning, as people are changing opportunities, changing jobs, finding out what they want to do.
We realized that it’s not just a one-time thing and we really wanted to make sure that our application and our product was able to fulfill the needs of this current demographic in the times in which we live. To do that, we built social networking features, we built content features, we allowed people to connect to each other, to connect to mentors. We added the ability to connect to the appropriate opportunities, whether that be scholarships, colleges or jobs.
We really went step by step to achieve this. We tested, we metricated, we saw what worked, and we saw what didn’t work. We had to cut out a lot of features. We’ve added a lot of features. But through it all, I think from mindset perspective we’ve been very adaptable to features, to value propositions, to messaging. And we’ve just tried to listen as much as we can to our users and to our clients.
We really went step by step to achieve this. We tested, we metricated, we saw what worked, and we saw what didn’t work.
CONTENT AND CONNECTIONS
Today you have a big platform. You have wonderful features for companies, for colleges, for students. But it is very easy to see the idea when everything is working together, but when you have no user at all things become a little bit more difficult than that. So, I’d love to hear what is your experience on overcoming that kind of hurdle?
In terms of that, we tried to drive content early on. We tried to allow users to connect to opportunities early on—that we were able to get access to and that drove a reason to have a Goodwall. We also explained what Goodwall could be used for. It could be used for their applications. It could be used for being able to store even their information as they had nowhere else to store it, to begin with—even privately for themselves.
And then as we built up the base, we on-boarded colleges, we on-boarded scholarships as well for our users. We on-boarded opportunities for our users that made it even more worthwhile to have a Goodwall profile. And then we took it from there.
How many users you had when you started talking with companies or when you first talked with universities?
Yeah, so we already had a sizable database in the hundreds of thousands of users and we had basically from the get-go, we had talked to universities to understand what they were looking for. So, the two were happening simultaneously and then when it came to companies, we already had a significant database already, that they could tap into and they could connect to and they could engage with while driving value to our users.
It really happened simultaneously. I mean, very, very close to each other. Because, as you mentioned, two needs to happen at the same time. It’s an execution thing with any market place when it comes to that particular value proposition. And we found other reasons for users to be there at in the initial days and going forward now, for example, the two are on the platform and connecting to each other continuously.
STRATEGIES AND RESOURCES
What were the marketing strategies that really worked for you in order to generate the traction?
There were various methods that we adopted to get the traction. I think a lot of what we did in the early days probably wouldn’t work anymore. There are various growth opportunities that don’t exist anymore. It’s about ultimately conveying the message using the various distribution channels and then encouraging people to share it amongst themselves. So that’s what led us to our initial traction. We used a lot of content and we had people talking about it.
What were the frameworks and methodologies that you used that time or keep using until now?
We really focused on trying to be adaptable and lean in terms of testing ideas and testing concepts. That’s very much at the heart of how we approach things. So, we’ve got a very agile methodology. We’re constantly changing things, we’re constantly trying out different things each with every aspect of the company whether it be in sales or marketing or product.
We really tried to keep that mindset apart and within that mindset, constantly looking at what’s working, what can be improved, and then looping in that feedback from the relevant stakeholders—whether they be internal, clients and users—and their qualitative and quantitative data and adapt to that and iterate on that.
So, it was you and your brother in the beginning, but did you count with more people to help you on getting traction?
Yeah, definitely. In the early days, we worked with friends, we worked with various people who were willing to give us their time because they believed in the vision, they believed in the mission. And some of them were full time, some of them were part-time. We were just trying to get help, where we could get.
We were just trying to get help, where we could get.
And as we grew, the organization has changed, in that perspective, to people who fit and who fit the new stage that we’re in. And I think companies like Goodwall well, they keep evolving. There are different people or interested in different parts of the company or different stages in the company.
What were the strategies or the needs regarding funds that you’ve had to put it in place doing this development or this early stage development of Goodwall?
We really focused on proving that what we had made sense to both our users and to clients and, from there, we were able to raise funds from qualified and interesting investors at each stage for us that brought value to us, not just financial but actually in terms of either advice, connections, industry insights or knowledge.
“IT’S A GREAT IDEA!” IS NOT ENOUGH
How did you overcome the lack of people’s understanding about the product?
Looking back now I think that’s very normal, that’s to be expected and that’s fair. Especially, if you’re coming with something new and different that isn’t just “me too”. I think it’s totally normal for qualified investors, users and clients to be skeptical. It’s your job to prove to them that you’re the real deal and that this idea actually isn’t crazy.
It’s your job to prove to them that you’re the real deal and that this idea actually isn’t crazy.
When we look back at early days, I definitely thought that people should just accept that. “This is a great idea!”—because I thought it was a great idea. But, ultimately, that’s not how things work. […]
Ultimately, we’re the biggest investors in our company. This is our life. We’re putting everything into it. So, ultimately, even from our own perspective, just leaving it to be like: “Oh, it’s a great idea, we have some traction…” is just not enough. We need to de-risk this as much as possible. We need to prove that this is what we really need to be dedicating our life too, not just from a vision and mission perspective, but actually from an execution perspective. […]
There are so many different variables that go into making one’s opinion on whether or not it’s a good idea. And then even if it is a really good idea as you said earlier, it really doesn’t matter actually, because it comes down to execution.
You can have the best idea possible, but if someone out-executes you or if you just don’t execute very well yourself, doesn’t matter. There are quite a few ride-sharing companies out there but how many of them are still around, that was a good idea but it comes down to execution as well.
IT’S ABOUT THEM
And for people that are starting their ventures, what would you say them?
I would say find out as much as you can about your users and your customers and what they would want, what’s important to them. Talk to as many of them as possible. And then, focus on a niche, focus on a specific segment and then go from there, start small, continue to execute and go from there.
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MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDERS
Taha Bawa (LinkedIn). He is currently acting CEO of Goodwall. Taha has been named on Forbes’ 30under30, has co-founded and created several other start-ups and has given key note speeches at TEDx, Google, MIT, International Baccalaureate’s President Symposium, Human Rights Summit Geneva, and the European Commission of International Schools. He won Best Digital Start-up in Switzerland (2015), was a Masschallenge Finalist in Boston (2015) and was named in the Top 10 Start-ups by Swisscom (2014). Taha holds a BSc in Economics from University HCE Lausanne and an EMBA from Oxford University.
Omar Bawa (LinkedIn). He leads Goodwall’s operations, marketplace and product strategy. He has been named on Forbes’ 30under30, has served on the Editorial Board of the United Nations Magazine, is a Kairos Global Fellow, has been a speaker at TEDx, Google, and the IB Heads Conference.Omar holds a degree in Law (LLB) from the University of Geneva, studied International Intellectual Property Law with a scholarship at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s Academy and International Humanitarian Law at the IIHL in San Remo. Omar also studied courses in Product Design and Innovation at Stanford University’s Continuing Education and Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
MORE ABOUT GOODWALL
Goodwall (Website; LinkedIn; Twitter; Facebook; Instagram) is a career development platform for the next generation. We help students and young professionals enhance their skills, network and navigate the future of earning and learning. Students build their first resume on Goodwall, showcasing their experiences, soft & hard skills in a professional and engaging manner. Goodwall then connects them to career and learning opportunities, scholarships, mentors and peers around the globe. It has become an inspirational and supportive community.
We have quickly grown to more than 1 million users and the growth is accelerating, and have been able to create a unique talent pool of young go-getters coming from various backgrounds (with 70% female users, many of which are in STEM related degrees). We connect employers with our users through our targeted sourcing approach, employer branding, and diversity solutions.