As An Entrepreneur From Kazakhstan, Has Launched Education Startup Has Attracted $10 Million Investment In Ten Minutes

The editorial staff of the newspaper “Steppe” has talked with the managing partner of testing centers Ustudy Zhanat rakhmani and learned how to do business in the non-profit niche, to attract a caring investment and successfully pass Unified national testing (UNT). In 2000, I left home, enrolling an economist at the University named after Suleyman Demirel in Almaty. My family comes from Taraz.

Father worked for many years in the Department of agriculture. In the 90s, when wages of the parents on what was missing, my whole family — parents, brothers, sisters engaged in Commerce. First sold wholesale bread, then opened a few grocery stores. Then, I was born a commercial vein.

At the University with fellow students we came up with a earnings – agreed with the theaters that will be selling tickets to students for “student” tariff. Collected up to 150 people and wound up after six in the evening at cheaper rates. With each ticket had 100-200 tenge (18,37—36,74 rubles at the current exchange rate of the CBR). Then it was good money, we “show off” and went free movie.

Sophomore year went on, I opened up a car wash on Zharokov–Water. In 2002 in Almaty, if I am not mistaken, was only a dozen car washes. To attract customers, I took uncle $180 and we bought special devices in the market “Tastak”, which wash the car under high pressure. Then nowhere was. The bait worked, the customers were interested. Every day we have served for 50-60 cars.

Business was going well, but then we broke up because neither of us had planned to develop in this area. In the third year I was accepted practice in the credit Department KZI Bank. In 2003 the country began the boom of lending, there was a lot. I interned for three months, and at the end of the fourth year I was invited to the state.

A salary of $300 was “supermogadon” to the untrained technician, but I was excited. Ambition was universal, I didnt see myself in the Bank. In that year died my father; I was thinking about to continue on his path – working civil servants. Then my friends suggested to take the summary to the Ministry of agriculture.

In one organization under the Ministry of agriculture there was an opening, I needed a specialist with knowledge of English language. I fit in well. Passed the interview and invited me to work. Salary to 21,500 tenge (nearly four thousand rubles at current exchange rate), whereas the Bank gave $300.

Before me stood a difficult choice. Didnt want to work for peanuts, but I still chose the work of civil servants. He worked for a year and a half, dealt with suppliers from all over Kazakhstan and became a leading specialist. Then learned business communication. I loved it, though was underpaid.

That year, my University Professor with whom we maintained good relations, became the head of the Singapore companies Food Empire in Ukraine. The company was looking for three specialists from Kazakhstan to work in the head office. The teacher recommended them to me.

I was invited for an interview, which, to my great surprise was to hold the President of the Corporation. On the first day of my arrival in Singapore I was introduced to all staff and invited to a dinner with the President. He told me about the core values of the company — what they believe and think is right. It certainly was a culture shock for me, a simple guy from Kazakhstan.

I was adopted. The Department in which I worked, was engaged in mergers and acquisitions in the CIS market. We looked at the Russian, Ukrainian and Kazakhstan companies. During my stay, we built a plant for the production of products of the brand MacCoffee in the suburbs. In 2006 bought a tea manufacturing company in Sri Lanka called Empire Teas; now she is among the top 3 exporters of this country.

Two years later, I initiated the opening of offices Empire Teas in Kazakhstan. I was appointed head of the mission, and I came to Almaty. Over six years of experience in Singapore company that I learned what brand means and how it should be build, as well as the importance of corporate governance. Core ideology, values and beliefs – this is important.

Food Empire began as a startup in the early 90s. The first export delivery they did in Kazakhstan, starting with the sale of instant coffee MacCoffee “three in one”. Now the company has many other brands; it mistinguette on the Singapore exchange and exports more than 60 countries. I was lucky – I was always near the President of the company. He was nice to me, his sons were my age.

I was escorting all guests from the CIS and see how he builds relationships with partners. For me it was a great experience. He taught me one important thing – take care of employees, customers, and partners. After Singapore, I decided to continue my studies, in 2008 he entered the graduate school of SDU.

In parallel, the President of Food Empire asked me to open a new company in Kazakhstan. We called it Welldis. I worked there two years; we built the company nearly from scratch. As Food Empire mistinguette on the stock exchange, you had to make a lot of permits and reports.

I was 28 years old. My team and I worked on this company. Came foreign auditors and consultants, helping us to deliver processes. It was a very rewarding experience for me as a Manager.

In 2009, when I was still in WellDis, my younger brother graduated from College and passed Complex testing of applicants (KTA) for admission to the University. He didnt have it. As at school I studied well, didnt even think there is a problem – not to gain a pass grade. We went with him to learn the results and returned home to “no”. The house was a tragedy, parents are very upset.

That day at work tonight there was a meeting. I told colleagues about the incident and offered to find a solution. We looked on the Internet. It turned out, that year is not passed act 16 800 people.

So 16 thousand families experiencing the same tragedy that we have at home. I decided that this must have something to do. After talking with my brother, I realized that he like thousands of other children just no ability to learn.

If these children can not engage in the public education system, then there is a gap. There is good potential for business but not business itself, and more social entrepreneurship. Business idea Ustudy was originally correct. The business needs to solve a specific problem and be useful to society.

We started to study the subject. How to take care of the children who were torn from life. After all, we have in Kazakhstan does – not passed the UNT or KTA, is not enrolled in the University, when all others already have a higher education, then dropped out of a rut, behind the times. We thought about the families in the villages where there is almost no access to quality education. If these children do not pass UNT or KTA, most of them have no financial capacity to hire Tutors, and to educate ourselves is difficult, because there is no free good programs in the Kazakh language.

We decided to shake the topic of accessible education. Came to the conclusion to create a training program in preparation for the UNT. Would like to sell these lessons, but in 2009 the Internet was not available as of now. Decided to implement the tutorials in the special gadgets, the type of electronic translators.

Bought a batch of such gadgets in China, but they are not suited for our market because it was uncomfortable and confusing. We flew into Shanghai, then in Shenzhen electronics show. Looking for a good solution for your program. Visited the factories where produce is educational gadgets and found need.

Ordered two pilot gadget, put their software and poured the content of educational materials, tests, tutorials. The cost of the gadget was not supposed to exceed the cost of one sheep 18 thousand tenge. It was a marketing ploy, so we can say about education for the price of one lamb.

This whole period lasted until 2012. During this time we have removed more than two thousand video lessons in the Kazakh language with a duration of about 10 minutes in nine school subjects. Built the program to 10 minutes to explain the material that an ordinary teacher explains about 45 minutes.

Once we have conducted the experiment. Invited the first-year student of the pedagogical University, who wanted to take KTA and wanted to enter the medical. After school, he could not gain enough points to grant medical and financial situation of the family allowed to study the charge, and he had to go on teaching. We were preparing him to KTA for two months only for our video tutorials.

At first he did everything, as we said, and later began to prepare themselves. On the day of release of results called and cried with joy. He scored 97 points out of 100 – the highest score – and enrolled for a grant to the medical University in Karaganda. It became clear that we need to continue to move toward launching an educational startup.

Brought two of the gadget in Kazakhstan and began to look for investors. We needed an initial capital of $300 thousand to order three thousand. We are unable to attract investment, the gadgets have not brought. Then decided to create a website and using it to broadcast our video tutorials.

But to sell the video tutorials did not work. We understand the essence and the shortcomings of their business ideas. For instruction on video lessons the children should be the ability to educate themselves. But our educational system is built in such a way that the students learn more reflexive, that is, when point control.

Decided to go back to show the weaknesses of the student so he can educate himself, that is, to teach to learn. For this you need to test it, the next point, on which subjects he is weak, and help to learn more point, watching for your results. So we approached the idea of the testing center Ustudy.

Had the idea to conduct such tests on a special website. It was necessary to develop it. Among the founders of Ustudy no programmers, so we had no idea how to design a website. We understood the social importance of business and how to put business processes.

Then we came to the aid of friends and acquaintances. We were lucky. We have always had good developers, many graduates of our University. Eugene Shutilin who worked in the it team of “Kazpost”, advised us from 2009 to 2015. Ustudy now employs 20 developers and they are all cool it professionals. Website development we started in 2011, and in 2012 launched a pilot version.

Then I started to look for the clients that went to schools in different areas. First responded to the Almaty region, in the district offices of education which employs the most progressive people. Although it would seem that “area”! They gathered all the school Directors to discuss our offer with online testing. The project was approved. Testing was to be held in the computer classrooms, the schools themselves.

So, in 2013 we held the first mass testing. There were tested 15 thousand people – by 2.5 thousand people a day for six days. With the Department of education of Almaty region we work closely for the fourth year — they help us to better understand the market. All our tests meet the standards of the National testing center.

Areas are usually found in poor condition in terms of technological solutions in education. They knew and trusted us – the private it business. As a result, for these four years the regions of Almaty oblast according to the results of UNT rose from 19th place and was in the top five.

After the first test gradually joined by others region. In 2013 we spent 1.5 million online tests in 2015 – 180 thousand in 2016 – 800 thousand. One test is worth KZT 260 (47.8 rubles), they pay the students themselves. It is a small amount – the same as in the National testing center. The school does not oblige it to pass, if desired, the student may withdraw.

But it found little. Usually students are prepared to be tested more frequently to monitor the results. Preparing for UNT is a very important stage in the school, pupils begin to worry already since the second quarter of the tenth grade. Just when we started the project, the Minister of education said that in 2015, UNT will be held online.

We thought moving in the right direction. At first we were only doing online tests, and in 2015 opened the first testing center Ustudy in Almaty, where we began to carry out the tests in offline mode. Then, when we have investors, we began to open in other cities. Offline test allows the student the maximum to feel the atmosphere of the test, the type of IELTS or TOEFL.

The center has halls, we call them “independent”. Nobody has the right to enter and to help the students, either the teacher or Director. Each student has an individual version of the test, it is impossible to write off. You cant carry a phone, we strictly check the. Schools practice tests so do not conduct, so students and teachers are often shocked by the actual results.

We didnt want to just do the tests and be the second National testing center. So I started to think about the analysis of the results of such educational mini-audit. Originally our goal was to identify gaps in knowledge. Seemingly simple, but none of the students could not tell which subject he is weak.

He wants to know the entire curriculum. The teachers are not always able to do this analysis. As a result, the student walks in a fog, and the uncertainty is frightening. At first we thought of doing reports on test results.

But in the end started this thing in the head with the needs of the Department of education. When he first proposed to hold a corporate testing in the Almaty region, we said we can arrange testing in addition to automated reports, which they collected and compiled manually. After several mass testing, the results of which we collected in the XLS format, we came up with the idea on the basis of these data to do a large report. The Department of education liked the idea.

They gathered all the staff who led these processes to explain to us what results they want to see. Wanted to improve the process of managerial decision-making on the basis of these reports that is real to dimension. So we started to generate reports – first, the General per annum, then for every administrative cut. Questions, the answers to which we had to give was simple – what are the measures taken by results of the tests work and how effective they are.

We worked together. They understood the nuances of education, we, as businessmen, were able to report almost like the stock exchange, and the developers Ustudy it all automated. In the end, I came to optimal, convenient to use and readable appearance.

Now these reports have successfully used almost all of the city and regional office of education. We did a test in South Kazakhstan region. I was in school, when I did the mass testing of pupils of Shymkent city. After we explained that any teacher can receive the test results and report on what areas the students were weak.

I was approached by a teacher of Russian language and asked for a report on the 11 “B” class. The surprise of the teacher was difficult to convey in words – it was euphoria. She had received a miracle recipe.

Now we are preparing five types of reports. For the student, subject teachers, headmaster, district education Department, city and regional Department of education, office of education. All reports are different. The report helps to analyze and study more point.

We also calculate the index of failure. The more pupils do not have time, the smaller the index. In other words, it shows the effectiveness of the teacher. For example, 70% of students in the class do not have time, so, the teacher covers a small number of children, others dont understand him.

This often happens when the teacher is very knowledgeable and knows everything, and to explain not know how, or are afraid of him. We show this dimension the teacher, and he can start working on them. For example, to enroll in courses of oratorical skill, or at least read a book on presentations, or become more empathic. Usually the satisfied principals.

We give the dimension for each class in the school, every student and every teacher. This helps them to make the right management decisions. We create a new culture of management in education, more focused on self-education, not control. As is customary.

The student passed the exam, checked it, got, say, 60 points. Well if this is what to do next, he doesnt know. No comparative analysis. But if he finds out that the average score by class, school, region – 80 points, thats another matter. All of this information he can see in his personal account.

How many students pass the tests, so many personal accounts we have formed. Teachers, principals, boards of education also have private offices. In September 2016 we have opened training courses for the UNT and CTA. Students take offline tests once a week to feel the atmosphere testing.

Then we prepare for them Analytics, and teachers, we also teach a point. On average, one course is worth 30 thousand tenge (about 5,5 thousand rubles). At the moment we are learning about 600 children.

We have our own methods of teaching. The main Methodist Ustudy worked for many years President of the Association of critical thinking and applies tools for the development of functional literacy. It is functional literacy, which is based on logic and critical thinking, helps to apply gained knowledge in practice. At present, Kazakhstan has 13 centers Ustudy.

In the near future we plan to open six more in the end will be 19 – one in each region. In the future we will scale the brand Ustudy neighboring countries – Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. In the state, including all branches, employs about 200 people. Of them part-time employees — usually teachers working under contract — 200 people.

We have an average market salary. Staff most young people who give one hundred percent. Ustudy is not a place for those who work out the salary from 9:00 to 18:00. We love to work ambitious people. In Ustudy there is no word “control” is the concept of “care”.

This management approach I learned in Singapore. One day my former boss is the President of the company, which grew from a startup to a multimillion-dollar Corporation gave me simple advice – you need to be close to their employees, then all will be well. A very important point – when a person feels concern, he feels confidence. But a confident man is able to achieve a lot.

Unfortunately, in Kazakhstan we do not value education. For most, education is just a piece of paper, not an opportunity to become better. One hundred years ago, were figures who have raised our educational system, – Alikhan Bukeikhanov, Mirzhakyp Dulatov, Ahmet Baitursynov, Mr. Gurgenov and other. We need new heroes.

Looking at my life, I realize that education only opened doors for me. At University I studied English, and it gave me the opportunity to work in Singapore. In Singapore I was learning to read and listen to the advice of knowledgeable people, it made me grow in a career. After graduate I finally opened my own business.

I still learn many things from colleagues, partners, customers. Only this continuous learning provides me new opportunities. My goal is in 2017 to enter the doctoral program of management in education. Until 2012, we invested in Ustudy about $700 thousand, that was our personal savings.

We sold his apartments, cars and money went like water. Basically, for a promotion when we went to schools in all cities and regions. We have reached the break-even point. Main expenses are rent (40%), payroll (40%) and development of programs. We are four partners.

Three in addition to Ustudy is still in business, I fully here. In 2012, we have portfolio investors that share our values and believe in our business. Educational start-UPS of this magnitude are rare in Kazakhstan because it was unprofitable. Ustudy is more social entrepreneurship.

We not learn from this business huge profits. For comparison, you can see how many there are practice tests in English, after which no intelligence. And our tests are 260 tenge, plus we do Analytics, and display feedback. Ustudy recently, the company received a private investment of $10 million.

People who as investors, seeing the potential that we have started to develop a completely new and unusual for Kazakhstan infrastructure. About this investor told me friend, that is such a businessman who may be interested in our idea and worth to try him to make the offer. Knowing this, we spent months on the financial part, like youre going to spend IPO. Also worked on a presentation to show what the company is doing now and what plans it has for the future.

We consulted with economists and other experts. In General, do everything to tell about your idea and show the investment attractiveness of Ustudy. Then we met.

The meeting lasted ten minutes. We were not previously familiar with, and I dont know what motives moved by this man. The main thing – I said that our project is first and foremost important for our country in terms of human resource development. Now I realize that this man cares about the fate of our people and future generations, so he liked the idea of Ustudy.

In the next three years will continue to attract investments. Now think how to create a system that each people could invest in the development of education through us. A social business. Believe that we will succeed.

Photo. Anwar Rakishev.

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