BeenThere Technologies, Inc. is a marketplace that connects young professionals seeking early career or graduate admissions advice with mentors who provide targeted and impactful consulting services. The company launched in November 2017 in direct response to the co-founders’, Cara Morphew (Kellogg MBA ’19) and Colin Keeler (Wharton MBA ’19), experience while applying to business school. I caught up with Colin to talk about BeenThere’s existing services and what he and Cara see for the future.
Business school applications are difficult to navigate
For most candidates, applying to business school is a grueling and intimidating process. Even after studying the 120 (or more) hours recommended to achieve a top score on the GMAT, applicants face a long and competitive journey filled with increasingly difficult decisions. These ambitious young professionals still must figure out where to apply, during which application round to apply, how to write the application essays, how to obtain recommendations (often from direct managers), and how to ace the application interview. Candidates then wait to hear from admissions committees that, at M7 schools, accept less than 23% of applicants. If the candidate is among the lucky few admitted to one or more programs, as final steps, he or she must decide whether to even attend, which school to choose, and how to inform his or her existing employer of the decision without damaging professional – or, sometimes, personal – relationships.
BeenThere Technologies demystifies the MBA application process by matching candidates to mentors – current MBA students who have just “been there” and who help guide the candidates through the different stages. While admissions consultants have existed for years, the current offerings are extremely expensive, and most of the consultants are several years removed from their own MBA experiences. The prohibitive cost means that the services are typically only available to deep-pocketed individuals, an issue that can exacerbate inequity in top-tier MBA admissions. Further, even among those who can afford to hire a consultant, many complain that it can be hard to realize significant value because, several years post-graduation, some consultants seem to be less attuned to the nuances of campus and student life. The BeenThere team believes that the current services’ shortcomings present a unique opportunity for a new entrant in the market, and it is attempting to capitalize on the opportunity by providing relevant and real mentoring at a reasonable price point.
A better solution to a personal problem
Originally from Philadelphia, PA, Colin returned to his hometown in August 2017 after stints in investment banking and private equity in Chicago, IL to enroll in Wharton’s full-time MBA program. When applying to business school, Colin used a consultant but was not entirely satisfied with the service. As Colin put it, “In my own application, I used an admission consultant and spent around $6,000. It certainly wasn’t a total waste of money, but the value definitely wasn’t there.”
So, when Cara, who hails from Minnesota and has worked in entrepreneurial roles for NetSuite and Uber, applied to business schools that fall, Colin advised her not to pay for a formal consultant and offered to help her directly. It was during this time that Cara wondered whether they could create a marketplace that made it easier for other applicants to make these same kinds of connections, and in November 2017, the couple launched the first iteration of BeenThere’s admissions consulting service. Says Colin, “Even though I didn’t have the best experience with my consultant, I do think there is tremendous value in having someone shepherd you through the application, serve as a feedback mechanism, and give insights into positioning that most people cannot make on their own. After being accepted, I helped Cara and a few other friends and, one day, she wondered why we couldn’t help other applicants connect with students who are at the schools, who have just applied, who know the dos and don’ts, but make it easier, affordable, available to all.”
“Every applicant deserves a chance, and we think we’re the best ones to do that.” – Colin Keeler, Co-Founder of BeenThere
While BeenThere’s admission consulting service has evolved over the past 18 months, the core structure remains the same. Candidates create an account on BeenThere’s site and then search the mentor database to find the desired match, typically based off school and professional experience. Once the desired mentor is identified, the candidate invites the mentor to engage, the mentor accepts, and the pair moves directly to consultation. Throughout the process, the mentor tracks the candidate’s progression, and once completed, both parties mark the service as complete before payout occurs. Currently, BeenThere offers hourly and comprehensive admissions consulting. Hourly consults are more ad-hoc in nature, allowing applicants to work with a mentor on a short-term basis to focus on specific aspects of their application. During a comprehensive consultation, on the other hand, a mentor works with a candidate on all post-GMAT aspects of an application – from personal strategy through interview prep – for one school.
Customers can search BeenThere’s mentor database to find the perfect match.
How BeenThere’s admissions mentorship is different
BeenThere differentiates itself from established firms like MBA Exchange and Stacy Blackman Consulting in two key ways: cost and mentorship.
In terms of cost, the more established admissions firms list comprehensive packages at around $4,500 per school and hourly consults at around $350 per hour. BeenThere, on the other hand, offers comprehensive packages at around $1,200 per school and hourly consults at around $100 per hour. This lower price point is a fundamental component of BeenThere’s mentorship model, as the founders view BeenThere’s service, at least in part, as a way to decrease inequity in admissions processes. Historically, the cost-prohibitive nature of the high-priced shops has meant that only applicants with deep pockets could benefit from targeted consulting, which arguably gave them an advantage over other candidates. This problem was compounded by the fact that the affluent applicants were also those more likely to have a strong personal network, which they could leverage if they chose not to employ a formal consultant. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that non-traditional candidates, and other under-represented segments, have become BeenThere’s core customer. As Colin put it, “We crush non-traditional [applicants], which is great. That’s what we want to do. We want to help the people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to do this on their own. If we can help those who don’t have friends or family at these schools or who can’t afford the traditional services, that’s a social good. We’re helping build a better class.”
From a mentorship perspective, BeenThere differentiates itself from other services by employing current students instead of mentors who are 3-10 years (or more) removed from their MBA experience like the higher-priced firms. Colin argues that this kind of recency allows BeenThere’s mentors to provide more targeted guidance around what is relevant on campus today. Colin shared several stories of applicants who came to BeenThere, after working with a higher-priced firm, with essays written about school initiatives or courses with which none of BeenThere’s mentors, including those enrolled in that MBA program, were familiar. “Our mentors know what is happening on campus and can talk about it,” says Colin. “If a candidate is interested in tech, she can match with a mentor going into tech at that school. That mentor knows what’s on campus, which courses are valuable, and can relay that information. We know the school as it is.”
“Our mentors know what is happening on campus and can talk about it…our mentors know what’s on campus, which courses are valuable, and can relay that information. We know the school as it is.” – Colin Keeler, Co-Founder of BeenThere
Early traction and success
BeenThere now has over 200 mentors across 25 schools who have helped in over 100 engagements. On average, the transaction sizes for hourly and comprehensive applicants is $600 and $1,350, respectively. To date, Cara and Colin have largely bootstrapped and have received over $25,000 in funding through grants, competitions, and school resources, including Kellogg’s Zell Fellows.
Colin says that they primarily measure success through customer satisfaction, which has far exceeded expectations, and has resulted in an NPS score of 80+. This satisfaction manifests itself in two ways. First, 60% of applicants, both hourly and comprehensive, have re-upped past their initial buy. Second, BeenThere has had initial success with organic word-of-mouth customer acquisition. According to Colin, “We knew that for this to be a continuing entity, we had to deliver in terms of quality and customer satisfaction. Our customer satisfaction – even before applicants get their admission results – has been better than I could have ever anticipated. We’re thrilled to see our efforts paying off around service quality.”
Another measure of success that BeenThere monitors relates to whether the applicants gain admission, and Colin also notes that their candidate pool has performed well. “When an applicant engages, we have a good idea about his or her base case scenario and then track how they perform against it,” Colin explains. “Our applicants have done extremely well. I didn’t even think some things were possible.”
Expansion into career advising
Following on the success of its MBA admissions consulting service, BeenThere recently expanded into matching young professionals with mentors for early career advising. Initially, BeenThere foresaw expanding horizontally into other graduate programs as the natural next step for its business – and that option remains open – but they were drawn organically to career-related services based on customer need. According to Colin, they quickly discovered that many young professionals struggle to break into certain industries in the years immediately following undergrad and leading up to a potential return to graduate school. Career resources, of course, vary undergraduate program to undergraduate program, but the BeenThere team found that many qualified candidates get left behind simply because they lack specific industry knowledge or access to influential contacts. With a pool of successful and diverse mentors, BeenThere saw an opportunity to fill a void and help another class of under-represented young professionals. Colin believes that BeenThere can be equally valuable to this population, explaining, “In business school, if I want to break into VC, I have the resources. People all around me are willing to help. Coming out of undergraduate and working laterally, it varies from school to school. We’ve found that people really get left behind in that early career transition, call it 2-7 years out, when they’re trying to make a move. Maybe they’re not ready to go to school yet, maybe they don’t want to go to school at all. Either way, they need help breaking in.”
Strategically, career advising is attractive to BeenThere because it provides earlier access to young professionals with the expectation that they will become a continuous and more significant user of BeenThere’s services. If successful, this acquisition strategy will both lower BeenThere’s cost-per-acquisition (CPA) and increase its customer lifetime value (CLV). As Colin put it, “If somebody uses us out of undergrad, the thought is that we’ll be able to help them make career transitions up until business school. Then, they’ll use us again when completing business school applications.”
They’ve BeenThere but now where will they go?
The BeenThere team is actively working on two new products that it aims to launch prior to the 2019 application cycle. The first is an application management tool that would aggregate the cumulative learnings of BeenThere’s mentors into a tech solution accessible on the company’s site. The application management tool would be even lower cost than the mentor-based consults and would be primarily designed for applicants at the beginning of their journey who are likely to also purchase a consulting package later in the process. The second is an asynchronous interview prep tool that would allow candidates to more dynamically prepare for job or graduate school interviews.
As both Cara and Colin finish their respective MBA curriculums, they have been applying to accelerators to join for the summer cohort. They view an accelerator as the ideal next step because it would provide additional funding and, more importantly, would provide guidance on how to ramp their paid marketing acquisition channel ahead of the next application cycle. To date, BeenThere has spent very little on paid marketing, preferring to control volume while building its product, but is ramping this up further heading into the summer. Similarly, Colin believes that an accelerator would provide guidance and time to further establish its career business line. From there, BeenThere aims to ride the positive momentum into a meaningful first application round and meaningful fundraising. Says Colin, “It’s easier to build something when you know you’re helping people. The bigger this gets, the more people we’re helping. Hopefully, it’s an even more level playing field and a better career journey for everyone.”
“It’s easier to build something when you know you’re helping people. The bigger this gets, the more people we’re helping. Hopefully, it’s an even more level playing field and a better career journey for everyone.” – Colin Keeler, Co-Founder of BeenThere