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Two Startups at 10 Years (1 of 2)

January 9, 2013

These days, big love goes out consistently to startups and entrepreneurial ventures. And well it should – new organizations drive what little growth our economy is experiencing. New organizations take guts and stamina. They revitalize communities.

Ten years down the road, successful startups serve as vital centers for community and job creation. I’ve had the pleasure of working with two organizations as they each celebrated their ten year anniversaries, and would love to share a few of the values that (I think) helped them succeed. One is a franchise of a proven business model, and the other is a nonprofit organization (pioneering a new business model) that realized sustainability at just about the same time as it reached its tenth birthday. In this post I’ll examine a few of the qualities that made EF: English First Malang stand out and thrive, even during a financial crisis.

EF is a huge company with franchises of English language schools, travel programs, and more international education programs. Its English language schools are most prominent in China, Russia, and Indonesia, and students of all ages and levels come two or three times a week after school and work to develop their foreign language skills. EF has developed its own closed ecosystem of learning materials so that students can progress seamlessly towards fluency.

A group of EF Malang staff and volunteers after a day of recruiting and placing new students.

A group of EF Malang staff and volunteers after a fantastic day of meeting new students.

However, EF Malang outshone its sister schools. Situated in the midst of a thriving university town, one might say that it had almost a captive audience of students looking to expand their skill sets.  But EF had more going on than a time-tested business model and an ideal location. It has flair, stays constantly connected to the local community, and evaluates and responds to needs in real time. More after the jump.

Conversation and Connection: EF cultivated its audience through a number of methods, all of which furthered EF’s brand as fun and interactive. EF reached out to local schools and held events in high schools. They organized intake days at the mall, held music and dance shows and English language competitions. EF was out in the community, where they could take part in the ever-changing conversation about social mobility and education. EF had, and continues to develop, bright, eye-catching, and ever-changing design. Now, EF has thriving social media accounts that it uses to engage students on a daily basis: English conversation questions and well-curated photos remind students of how much fun it is to be part of this thriving community.

Customer Focus:  Client needs were always at the forefront of management decisions, from who was hired and where, what, and when they taught to the types of events and classes that were held. Every single client mattered, and management would go out of their way to respond to and accommodate requests, no matter how small those requests seemed.  As teachers, we always knew that student satisfaction was first. Once signed up, EF generally keep students for years at a time.

Self-government: Our school had an image as “the rebellious” one. Located more than two hours away from headquarters and very successful as evidenced by constant growth, EF Malang was able to make decisions for its own location based on input from consumers. Thus we were readily able to accommodate student needs and to implement our ideas, resulting in rapid and steady growth in enrollment. During its tenth year, EF Malang remodeled in order to create three new classrooms, a new musholla, and new bathrooms for students. Autonomy in decision-making backed by the support of a wider network allowed for a high degree of employee engagement, pride in the organization’s work, and a continuing motivation to stay on top.

EF Malang is now entering its 14th year.



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