ApplyBoard co-founder and CEO Martin Basiri believes the Kitchener-Waterloo-based EdTech startup is in a “very good” position to navigate present market conditions.
In an interview with BetaKit at Collision, Basiri cited the size of ApplyBoard’s cash reserves and the “counter-cyclical” nature of the education market as two of the reasons why he sees room for ApplyBoard to grow amid what could be a prolonged economic downturn.
“In fact, actually, it’s a good time for us [to go public] because we can stand out more.”
Specifically, Basiri sees opportunities for ApplyBoard to grow by expanding geographically into serving schools in Ireland and catering to more international students from Africa, as well as rolling out its own financial products.
Founded in 2015 by Martin and his two brothers, Meti (CMO) and Massi Basiri (COO), ApplyBoard offers a software platform that connects international students, recruitment partners, and academic institutions, helping them navigate the study abroad search, application, and acceptance process.
Last June, Applyboard raised a $375 million CAD Series D round at a $4 billion valuation to aid its international expansion, bringing the company’s total funding to $600 million. This marked the startup’s third raise in just over a year, as ApplyBoard previously closed a $100 million Series C round in May 2020 followed by a $70 million extension that September.
“We over-raised the last three years,” said Basiri. “We have a lot of cash on [the] balance sheet … So we don’t have to be as worried about [the market downturn].” At the same time, Basiri’s sees the current market as a good prompt for ApplyBoard to become more cash-efficient. “Whoever doesn’t take this opportunity to lean up a little bit [is a] fool,” he added.
Basiri said he doesn’t anticipate that ApplyBoard will need to make any layoffs, but noted that the company is slowing down its hiring efforts, in part because employee churn is decreasing as the talent market becomes less competitive.
The CEO doesn’t expect to see a slowdown in demand for ApplyBoard until at least 2025, given how countercyclical education is relative to broader economic trends—given that when the job market is poor, people typically go back to school.
In February, Basiri told BetaKit that the startup was preparing to go public, but did not share an exact timeline. Speaking with BetaKit this week, Basiri said the timing of an ApplyBoard initial public offering (IPO) will depend on a few factors, from the company’s continued growth to market conditions.
At the same time, Basiri expressed confidence that even in the present market, an ApplyBoard IPO would generate a “very positive” response from investors, citing the amount of money available for good companies and the stability of the market for international education. “I’m not gonna worry about it at all,” he said. “In fact, actually, it’s a good time for us because we can stand out more.”
Pre-pandemic, most of the schools ApplyBoard served were in Canada. Since COVID-19 hit, the startup has moved into the United Kingdom (UK), the United States, Australia, and as of today, Ireland. According to Basiri, the scale it took ApplyBoard three years to achieve in Canada has taken the startup “a matter of months” to reach in the UK. “Every market we launch, we get to scale faster,” he said.
Going forward, Basiri hopes to expand ApplyBoard’s presence in Africa, where he says the startup has already seen some growth serving international students. “We want to go to every single country, every single city in Africa, because Africa is the future,” he said.
ApplyBoard, which has also moved into offering standardized English tests, teamed up with RBC earlier this year to provide international students with digitally verifiable guaranteed investment certificates (GICs) through ApplyProof. GICs are a key requirement for study permit applications to the Government of Canada, that demonstrate prospective students’ ability to support themselves financially during their studies.
Basiri sees a vertical growth opportunity for ApplyBoard to provide international students with financial services and education. “We want to do financial [products],” he said “Everything that students who are newcomers to Canada need—we want to go deep on that.”
For ApplyBoard, these plans include everything from chequing accounts to savings accounts and financial education. By doing this, Basiri hopes to help international students discover tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs) faster than he did when he and his brothers first moved to Canada from Iran to study.
“It took me seven years to learn about TFSA,” said Basiri. “You know how much money I could have saved?”
Feature image of Martin Basiri, courtesy ApplyBoard.