With this limited capital Masood managed to buy the internet hosting space required to launch the site, as well as invest in some rudimentary methods with which to market it. “We learned as much as we possibly could about every single possible aspect of starting up something tech. We tried to implement really innovative marketing methods,” she explains. “We focused on virality and how do we capture students’ imaginations and make them excited about Gradberry.”
Two ways that Gradberry captured this “virality”, she says, were Twitter (which Masood admits she “knew nothing about” at the time) and Facebook. The latter was particularly fruitful for Gradberry, which before launching its own site had used Facebook as a means of posting internship opportunities in online student groups, which helped to create a buzz around the concept.
The site officially launched in November 2011 and saw its user base snowball within a matter of weeks via word of mouth and Masood’s DIY marketing campaigns on social networks. “Initially it was just friends and contacts — we had about 100 users who were all of our friends but then it just exploded from there,” she recalls. “All of a sudden we had universities not only in the UAE, but also in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all signing up for the site.”
Within a month and a half of launching, Masood says that the site had 2,000 students regularly logging-on to check for the latest internship opportunities and Gradberry had begun to generate revenue, which it derives from charging employers about $100 to post each job listing.
Twelve months down the line, Gradberry now boasts heavyweight companies including IBM, Google, Akzo Nobel and Edelman as some of the employers in which it has successfully placed candidates.
However, Masood says that most of Gradberry’s business today is coming from the small-to-medium enterprise (SME) market. “Over 90 percent of our customers have been start-ups and SMEs, because they have very, very low budgets in terms of hiring. They might not even have an HR department because they’re so small,” she explains. “You can see them scale using our talent. Rocket Internet hired over 30 interns through us.”
Since launching in 2011, Gradberry has racked up more than 10,000 registered users across not only the GCC, but from destinations as far-flung as Ireland, UK, France and Portugal, while its website has received over three million hits. Gradberry has also attracted seed level investment and funding from the United Nations.
Masood herself has garnered a number of industry accolades for her entrepreneurship, including Arabian Business’ own Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and Laureate 2012 for Middle East and North Africa at the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards. But she has no plans to curtail her ambitious growth plans anytime soon.
She says that the Gradberry team is currently working on the second iteration of the site, which is due to launch early in 2013. Among its improvements are greater scalability, “which will be able to accommodate students and graduates from more universities and more location specific sites within Gradberry.com”, Masood explains. Examples are an Arabic language edition of Gradberry and specific micro-sites that target graduates in particular parts of the world.
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