By: Justin Taubman ‘16 MBA Candidate
The next company we would like to feature that will be competing in the Finals of the Pitch Dingman Competition is ICOW. Jonathan Kau launched ICOW with his co-founder and CEO Haiwen Ding in November to help international students through the college application process. I had the opportunity to chat with Jonathan about his success so far and plans for expansion. Make sure to come and check out his pitch next Tuesday at 6:00pm in the Colony Ballroom at Stamp.
When Jonathan’s co-founder went through the process of applying to college in the United States from China she witnessed the need for this type of service. The United States’ college application process is very different from that of China so students are forced to hire agencies to help them navigate the process. These agencies can be extremely expensive and also quite shady, by writing the application essays for their clients. ICOW addresses this need by providing a web based solution that operates similar to how TurboTax helps individuals navigate the complexity of their taxes.
Since November, ICOW has generated $20,000 in revenue with over 120 customers. The greatest marketing achievement to date has been implementing a referral program, which has driven 35% of their customers. Jonathan uses three types of marketing to promote the product. First, they have recruited campus ambassadors by providing them with their service for free to promote ICOW at their schools. Next, they create a ton of online content through webinars, blogs, etc. to help drive inbound leads. Finally, their product is spread very organically by word-of-mouth as their customers continue to share their happiness with the product to their friends and family.
I asked Jonathan what hurdles he has faced in creating this business and not surprisingly he immediately explained how difficult it was working through all of the internet restrictions in China. He told me that they are looking at incorporating their business in China to try and mitigate some of the limitations they have faced as a result of China’s “Great Firewall”.
ICOW is projecting some exponential growth in 2016 as students begin ramping up the application process and they port to additional languages. We wish them good luck in the final competition.