Meet Shane Dillon. Co-founder of the International Alumni Job Network, an employment group focused on career outcomes for international students who have graduated from Australian, Canadian, UK, New Zealand, European and US higher education institutes. This is his entrepreneurial story.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
I was recruiting and building a team in Vietnam and trying to find returning Vietnamese international student graduates to employ. I could not find them and after some research realized that returning international students from all over Asia do not have a resource that connects them with top employers or a community to join that will connect them with one another so they can build a strong professional network.
I then met some returnee alumni by chance and after speaking with them heard that they too saw this as a major problem they faced when returning home after completing their international education. The idea for the International Alumni Job Network (IAJN) was born.
How did you get your business started?
I was working full time, raising two young children and completing my MBA and could not figure out how I could successfully launch this idea by myself and that is when I had some incredibly good luck. I was introduced to Kate Harden in December 2015 who was looking for a new job in Vietnam after working for an NGO for the last four years. Her background was in HR and after some initial meetings and a signed NDA we started working on the International Alumni Job Network together. She came on as the CEO and co-founder, we raised $125,000 USD from two angel investors in Q1, 2016 and we started the company together. Kate works full-time on the business and takes a salary and I work part-time on the business without a salary. We currently have five full-time employees and an office set up in Hong Kong and Vietnam. We launched the ecosystem of online communities and social media pages on the 31st May 2016 and have so far had over 20,000+ alumni register (It’s FREE for alumni to Join) with our community and placed several hundred jobs. We currently have international alumni communities in 15 countries across Asia and grow between 500 to 1,500 new members a week.
What lessons have you learned so far on your business journey?
- Starting a business is lesson after lesson after lesson. We had great feedback from alumni, employers, universities and government groups from day one, however this did not equate to any business support. We joked that everyone told us they loved us but no one would ask us to dance.
- A huge lesson we continue to learn is that people, businesses and stakeholder groups may praise you constantly, however, to engage with you and actually pay to use your services takes a lot longer. The expression “Cash flow is king” is so true and Kate and I have struggled with trying to balance the rapid growth of our alumni communities and employer networks while maintaining the high standards of service we strive towards with limited cash flow.
- Releasing regular media kits has also been very beneficial for us. Sending out regular updates on what we are doing to the press has had IAJN featured in Forbes Magazine, PIE News, Study International and in the local press in Vietnam and Malaysia so far.
How important for you has it been to have a mentor?
I did not have a mentor however at the time I was completing an executive MBA at RMIT and found the professors and classmates were always willing to offer advice and thoughts on business ideas. A huge thanks to great professors like David Robinson, Christine Murphy, Mark Leenders, Anthos Yannakou and Darryl Coulthard who were all very generous with their time and knowledge with me.
- It helped that a few weekends a semester I would be surrounded by a great group of business leaders and entrepreneurs who were studying the MBA with me. A huge thanks to the fellow executive MBA classmates who I studied with in 2015 and 2016.
What are your top three tips for starting a business?
- Start. I have had so many people ask me what it takes to start a business (while working and studying) and I tell them you just need to start. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and you need to take that first step and just START. There is never a perfect time to do an MBA or start a business.
- You need passion and pragmatism and in my case a co-founder. Do not be greedy, get a good team around you who are also passionate and pragmatic and then share the upside with them. You succeed together or fail together.
- Look at problems to find the solution not just to point out the problem. The world is full of people who love to point out problems and offer no solution. Starting a business you will discover problems every day, every week, every month. You need to have a team with a solution orientated attitude and understand there is always a solution to every problem.