Astia client, TuitionCoach, the leading website for personalized college financial guidance, was recently acquired by SimpleTuition, Inc. the premier destination for personalized student loan research and comparison. Astia CEO, Sharon Vosmek, interviewed TuitionCoach CEO and Founder, Monisha Perkash, to discuss the exit and her next moves.
SV: Congratulations on the recent acquisition of TuitionCoach! In a tough year it is impressive to see this exit. Can you talk about what the acquisition process was like for you as a founder and how you dealt with the opportunities and challenges along the way? And tell us a bit about your new role at SimpleTuition.
MP: Thanks, Sharon. Well, I'd say one word describes best what the acquisition process was like: roller-coaster (wait is that two words?). In completing an acquisition, there are so many moving parts (market-timing, financial goals of the respective parties, legal issues, technical issues, and logistical issues). Also, many parties are involved including the Company's founders, the team, and various classes of shareholders, as well as the interested acquirers' management teams, employees, and Boards. And of course, each of these parties has opinions about the course of things. So while on one hand, you're excited about the prospects of an acquisition, on the other hand, with so many moving parts and so many parties involved, you are bound to hit some rough patches along the way. Hence, the roller-coaster.
How we dealt with opportunities and challenges along the way: communications and negotiations. Through this process we learned the importance of understanding the goals of each party, highlighting the areas where there is alignment, and speaking frankly about areas where there isn't. That's where the real work is... getting to alignment, if not in goals, then in acceptable outcomes. And it's through these difficult discussions that we often realized whether a prospective acquirer was a good fit or not.
My new role at SimpleTuition is VP Advisory Products; I'm the general manager for a suite of existing and future web-based tools that provide families with personalized advice on the paying-for-college process. This role is a pretty natural extension of what I did previously with TuitionCoach.
SV: As the founder and CEO, can you speak to the vision you originally had for TuitionCoach and how does that map to the path that the company actually took?
MP: Actually, this acquisition allows us to get even closer to the vision that we originally had for TuitionCoach: to be the trusted online destination for college funding assistance. It turns out this vision was one that is shared by SimpleTuition; what differentiated our two companies was that we addressed consumer needs at different points in the customer lifecycle. Also, TuitionCoach and SimpleTuition held a common value: that there needs to be greater transparency in the paying-for-college process so that families can be better informed consumers of higher education. So, in many ways, we shared the same DNA which made the acquisition even more compelling.
SV: TuitionCoach built a distinguished online service that parents, students, financial professionals and counselors could all benefit from. How did you identify the target market for your site?
MP: We provided offline financial aid counseling to thousands of families before we ever wrote one line of code. From working with them, and also from being aware of those who could not afford private consulting, we knew that there was a huge demand for affordable yet personalized college funding guidance. So we conducted focus groups to further understand their pain points and devised automated solutions that would address their needs. We like to think that we are to private college financial consultants what TurboTax is to accountants.
SV: Your company has strategically and effectively used modern technologies such as webinars and Paul’s Corner blog. How did you decide on this strategy and what are the next steps for the site going forward?
MP: The Internet provides such a rich medium for interactivity and to "humanize" a guidance process you can't get from just reading a book. So, in building TuitionCoach we explored technologies and strategies that would provide customers with the richest, most robust user experience. You'll see even more of this approach in an upcoming redesign of TuitionCoach.
SV: You have been with Astia since 2007. Tell us a bit about how you came to us and how your relationship with Astia affected your business?
MP: I first got to know Astia by coming to one of its workshops on entrepreneurship. In that room of predominantly women, I witnessed a unique atmosphere: one that fostered collaboration, mentorship, and humility, elements that I hadn't always found present in a roomful of zealous entrepreneurs. Because our start-up was also raising capital, we decided to apply to Astia. It was one of the smartest things that we did. Through the mentorship (and tough-love) I received, my business plan was transformed and my pitch was sharpened. Through the Astia network, I was able to gain access to top-notch legal and financial advisory. And most importantly, I was surrounded by an incredible community of fellow entrepreneurs who not only helped me with day-to-day challenges, but also inspired me to keep going, even through the toughest of times.
SV: Oh, and of course, whenever we see an entrepreneur like you exit, we have to ask… when will you be starting your next start-up and do you already have something that you are tossing around in your head?
MP: My new employer might read this interview, so ask me later. Just kidding! The answer is I'm really not sure. I do know that I've been bitten by the bug for entrepreneurship and it will always be a part of who I am. And what is yet another very positive aspect of our recent acquisition is that I do play a very entrepreneurial role at SimpleTuition and still feel quite energized by working towards that huge vision we've had all along.
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