The weeks leading up to the launch were a little nerve-racking. We knew there was a massive market of students who needed the course we developed, yet, we still weren’t confident that enough of that market would be able to afford our course to make it worthwhile. Yes, the smart thing would have been to confirm this before spending thousands of dollars and hours on this project. We just had gut feeling that we need to do this.
Our marketing strategy consisted of:
- Marketing to a list of around 400 students in Rwanda with whom we had previously been in contact.
- Marketing to our growing list of companies we consulted with and their immediate networks.
- Advertising on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google.
Long-term, we held the strong belief that there would be a certain virality to the course and that the first 20 students would be the most difficult to acquire.
The days leading up to the launch were exciting as our initial marketing initiatives were proving to be successful. Our emails to our list and the initial Facebook marketing yielded many free registrations on our website. We encouraged prospective students by offering a free 15-question assessment so that they could test their knowledge before joining (the results of which confirmed to us that almost everyone we were in contact with would benefit greatly from the course).
Our introductory pricing was $30 for the full course, payable in one instalment (later becoming $40). This price was available for “job-seeking students”. The introductory pricing for corporates was $75 (later becoming $150).
The day of the launch will always be cemented in my head. We were sitting in our office (aka our dining room table) sipping Rwandan coffee, pacing around, and closely monitoring the number of visitors on the website. 2 students joined and paid their fees. We were ecstatic. By the end of February, we had 37 students and were gaining momentum.
By July 2019, we increased our student count to 160. We worked tirelessly, doing everything we could to increase users, including:
- Adding new content so that we could launch our course in Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and then Ghana (each course is customized for the country).
- Going on the road to Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya (spending a full 2 months in Kenya) to try and secure partnerships with large organizations to accelerate user adoption.
- Launching two cohorts, one in Rwanda and one in Uganda. These cohorts are groups of students completing the course on a set schedule with more engagement between themselves and between them and us. We noticed that cohorts significantly increased student registration and completion.
- Offering the ability to pay for the course in two instalments, which was very well received.
- Partnering with business development representatives in Rwanda and Uganda (shout-out to Sam Ibanda, a Ugandan CPA who partnered with us to market our course to his student network, which increased interest in Uganda significantly).
By this time, the course was mostly automated. Other than answering student emails, WhatsApp messages, and marking Excel assignments, there was little day-to-day administration required. We had built a solution that, in theory, could scale to thousands of students with minimal incremental overhead, and we wanted to get there.
A Different Need for Funding
No longer was there a need for funding for development. That was all behind us.
The hard lesson that was confirmed was that only 1 in 5 students who reached out to us expressing interest in the course had the means to pay.
We also learned that very few African organizations are willing to pay a recruitment fee. We knew that the accounting recruitment process was broken, as we were actively involved in it. Putting up a job opportunity elicits hundreds, even thousands, of applicants who lack job relevant skills. Turnover is also extremely high because many candidates misrepresent themselves and cannot do the job once they’re hired. Yet our solution to this problem, a fee of less than a single month’s gross salary, received a ton of pushback. Either make it zero, or we don’t want your candidates – that was the message we received.
We faced a dilemma that threatened the core of our business model: if a company has an accounting job available but is unwilling to pay a recruitment fee, do we forego providing them with Haystack graduates in favour of the few companies that would? For us, the answer was obvious: we had to provide the opportunities to our students, even if we wouldn’t get paid.
We are extremely grateful to the companies that supported us financially by paying our small recruitment fees (shout-out to Right To Play, Wilderness Safaris, and The New Forest Company, to name a few).
If we wanted to get this program to thousands of students across the continent, our new need was to find a partner that could subsidize the cost of the course for aspiring accountants.