Martin Basiri, Co-Founder and CEO, ApplyBoard
Martin Basiri was driven by his own belief that education is a fundamental right for everyone and not a privilege. He launched ApplyBoard in 2015 along with his brothers Massi and Meti. It is now the world’s largest online platform for international student recruitment. ApplyBoard assists more than 120,000 students all throughout their educational journey to study in Canada, the UK, the USA, and Australia. Under Basiri’s leadership, ApplyBoard was coined as the fastest-growing technology organization in Canada by Deloitte in 2019. With just four years in business, Basiri helped ApplyBoard reach the number 1 rank in the Fast 50 list by Deloitte.
Driven by his belief that education is a right and not a privilege, Martin Basiri approaches every business decision with a student-first mentality. Since launching ApplyBoard in 2015 with his brothers Meti and Massi, Martin has led the company to become the world’s largest online platform for international student recruitment, assisting more than 200,000 students with their educational journey to study in Canada, the USA, the UK, and Australia. Under Martin’s leadership, ApplyBoard was named Canada’s fastest-growing technology company by Deloitte in 2019 after only four years in business, ranking #1 on the Fast 50™ list.
Can you share your unique journey as an international student turned founder of a unicorn startup?
When I came to Canada, I was an international student myself and had many challenges throughout the school application process. It was difficult and isolating to figure it out all on my own. Because of that experience, I started ApplyBoard. I’m passionate about helping international students access the best education possible and I’m proud of the impact our company has had in changing people’s lives. In 2015, I co-founded ApplyBoard, alongside my brothers Meti and Massi, and now, our startup has become the world’s largest online platform for international student recruitment, assisting more than 200,000 students with their educational journey.
Please provide an overview of ApplyBoard and its main functions
ApplyBoard is a platform for international students to apply to universities and colleges abroad. At ApplyBoard, we believe that education is a right, not a privilege. Through our platform and team of experts, we empower people around the world to access the best educational opportunities by connecting students, partner schools, and recruitment partners on ApplyBoard. We have built partnerships with over 1,500 primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools, and work with 7,500 recruitment partners, to drive diversity on campuses across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Each one of us at ApplyBoard is focused on improving international education recruitment to help create bright futures for thousands of international students.
What are some of the biggest challenges ApplyBoard faced during the pandemic and how you overcame them?
The pandemic brought about various disruptions to the international education industry, but also allowed us to grow. 2020 removed the option for university representatives to meet prospective international students in person. This resulted in us experiencing a 300% uptick in new school sign-ups in 2020. We also helped the government choose the right approach for online studies when borders were closed. One of our biggest challenges was scaling our platform offerings and growing our team while meeting the needs of students. To meet ongoing market demand and improve the study abroad experience, we grew our team to 750 team members by January of 2021, and then again to more than 1,000 by June 2021. Along the way, we made product development a priority to ensure our students and partners were being served during what was a challenging time for them as well. An example of this product development was the launch of ApplyProof last year which enables stakeholders in the student journey to trust the authenticity of documents, such as English test scores, letters of acceptance, and more. At the end of the day, we overcame these challenges by focusing on one question: How best can we help students?
How can other international companies who are working remotely and want to build a strong culture in a global team?
Since March 2020, ApplyBoard has onboarded over two-thirds of employees remotely. To improve efficiencies and make it a less isolating experience for new hires, larger workplaces should consider onboarding employees in a group or cohort. This helps new team members network and collaborate easily. Given ApplyBoard has team members in over 25+ countries, we make a conscious effort to ensure we are respecting all types of work styles and cultures. Lastly, I also recommend offering ongoing opportunities for the team to give feedback throughout the year. Innovation is integral to building a strong culture. Employee feedback and input are instrumental for evolving and advancing a global workplace.
What is your advice for new immigrants who are aspiring entrepreneurs?
Being an immigrant and entrepreneur is hard, but hardships will strengthen you. As an immigrant and entrepreneur, you naturally bring a fresh perspective on how to do business and how to bring value to the world. This unique perspective will be integral to your future vision and success. I also encourage anyone who was in the same shoes as me to embrace the roadblocks that you currently face headfirst and find solutions to barriers like language and having to build your own network from scratch. It’s not going to be easy – but it’ll be worth it.