Check out our interview with Nikki Schlecker, Director of Student Marketing at WayUp, and hear about how they are connecting students with the right internships.
Angela: Welcome to The Crowd, a podcast where we discuss the collaborative economy. I’m your host, Angela Baldwin.
Today, we’re talking to Nikki Schlecker, the head of Student Marketing at WayUp, where we’ll learn how WayUp is setting up the best internships.
Hi everyone. It’s Angela with Near Me. I’m so excited to have Nikki Schlecker, the head of Student Marketing from WayUp on our podcast today. Nikki, how are you?
Nikki: Hi. Thanks for having me. I’m great. How are you?
Angela: Wonderful. I’m really excited about talking to you today because we actually have used WayUp to find interns and really set up that effort there. So I’d love to hear about WayUp of course but first off, please tell us about your background. And what brought you to where you are now?
Nikki: Cool. Yes. So I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 and I went to do brand marketing at Red Bull. After that, I went to a startup in New York called Grouper and I started the Marketing Department there. Shortly after that, one of my good friends from college, Liz Wessel, who is our co-founder and CEO gave me a call because she knew that I worked throughout grad school in a brand ambassador role. It’s actually how I got my full-time job with Red Bull. She called me just to pick my brain about what it is like to work in college. She told me she’s starting this company that’s going to connect students with part-time jobs, internships and eventually full-time entry level jobs after they graduated. Anyway, I told her that I was on board. So the next day, I was in the office and that’s where I met JJ who actually also went to Pen too but we didn’t know each other there.
Angela: Fantastic. That’s a great story that you have so far on just where you’ve been and I’m sure a lot of it has helped you in what you are doing now. So tell us about WayUp. What is WayUp? How did it get started?
Nikki: Sure. So WayUp is a website and it’s a marketplace that connects students with part-time jobs, internships, full-time entry level jobs after they graduated and one-time gigs. So it’s super simple. Businesses post a job directly on our site and tell us exactly what they want, whether it’s an engineering student who goes to a certain school with a certain GPA or a fashion major, really whatever they’re looking for. We only show that jobs to students who qualify for that. So they tell us in their profile a little bit about themselves and what they are looking for. And they can apply directly on our site.
Angela: Okay. So as far as the user experience, you are a business and you are looking for interns. Do you just post your job description? What does that look like for them?
Nikki: Sure. So for business, you fill out a profile and you tell us a little bit about your company. And then, you’ll be able to post your jobs. So then, you’ll tell us a little bit about the role, the compensation, what you’re looking for and you even have the option to ask questions that are open-ended for the students to answer before they apply. After that, you’ll tell us how many applicants you would like to receive for this role. Maybe you can only handle 20 applicants or maybe you can handle 300. We’ll deliver all qualified applicants, students to you. And from there, you can make your business decision of who you would like to hire.
Angela: I see. So you fill in as the matchmaker because it’s not that anybody can just submit, apply and be sent their information to the employer but you so are actually conducting the connection. Is that true?
Nikki: I would say we’re more making better connections. So in the past, you can put a job out on the Internet and anyone can apply. And then you’re sifting through hundreds of resumes that probably just don’t make sense for you. We ask you what will make sense for you and we show that job only to the students who qualify with your expectations. So you can be assured that everyone who is coming into your inbox has a profile that matches both what you are looking for whether it’s their major or their GPA or their hobbies or where they go to school even.
Angela: It sounds like a much easier way to find a qualified intern. So as far as WayUp and where you are now, what struggles did you find running into – you mentioned to me earlier before the podcast that you were the first employee. Can you tell me a little bit about that? And what does it look like from then to where you are now?
Nikki: Sure. So we’ve really never changed our focus. Our focus is always how do we find students the most awesome opportunities out there and how do we connect them. We’ve always been in the business of democratizing hiring for our students. So that part has never changed. We definitely used different pricing models and we tested out a few different things in terms of that. But really, we’ve never done any sort of big pivot. What is really exciting though is that in the time that we’ve launched until now we’ve launched summer internships for our students and full-time entry level jobs. And now, that’s just an integral part of our business in addition to part-time jobs and one-time gigs.
Angela: Very nice. And so were you always responsible for the marketing from day one? Or did your role change within the company?
Nikki: I was always responsible for the marketing. So our big bet when we started was our campus rep program. We have students out all over the country who are in school, on their campus and they work for us and they tell their friends how awesome our website is. That’s how we’ll win. So that was our big bet. So I came on and I started the campus rep program. We started with a little over 100 campus reps all we hired with our website. From there, the growth just skyrocketed. And then, the next semester, we increased that to over 400 campus reps. Then, this semester, we’re looking to have over 1200 campus reps. So obviously, our company and the marketing department have grown beyond that but I came on to really start the core of our business and really our bread and butter which is our campus rep program.
Angela: Very cool. So as far as goals are concerned how, what was that key number of whether it be students or employers that you wanted in the beginning? I know all kinds of marketplaces are saying, “Okay. Do we need 1000 to feel like we’re getting somewhere? Do we need 100? Do we need 10?” What was that key number in the beginning? What did you tell yourself? Okay. In the first year, we need to have x amount.
Nikki: Yeah. Well, I did learn those numbers as we grow. When we came on – we were dead set when we launched our website in September to have one million students in October. So we’re learning those numbers as we go. And as long as our marketplace is balanced and as long as we have students applying to jobs and actually getting hired, we’re happy to keep growing in a way that balances our marketplace.
Angela: Very cool. So what is something that you wish you knew in the beginning that maybe would have made things smoother? Did you have any bumps along the way?
Nikki: Yeah. I would say we had the normal startup bumps. I think two things. Personally, I wish that I knew in the beginning more about hiring a team. Interviewing is really a learned skill. And being able to read people beyond their intuition about whether or not they’ll be successful in their role is definitely a learned skill. So I think that something that I’ve grown a lot in is being able to effectively recruit and hire all-star team which is what we have today. And I think as a company we wish we knew how popular our internships would be. And our full-time entry level jobs, we probably would’ve launched it even sooner than we did though I think one could argue that about six months after launch was pretty soon.
Angela: Definitely. So as far as building the supply side which for you would be the employers, people who are listing internships and what not, how did you build that trust in the beginning? How did you get them to sign up to participate?
Nikki: Well, I think the trust came because we were actually here to solve a problem. Hiring students has never been easy and it’s never something – there’s no solution out there right now. This is something that businesses really, really, really wanted and were willing to give us a chance on it. And every chance that we got, we made sure that we delivered 110 percent to help them reach their goals.
Angela: Now, as far as getting the students, you talked about student reps, college reps on campuses which I think – anything that’s targeted to college student excites me because I think they’re just a group of people that if they love you and they like what you’re doing, they will just mobilize and you can get them on board. So is there anything else outside of college reps that you guys creatively did that really worked for you?
Nikki: Yeah. I mean, we’ve thrown lots of different events at school. One event that really works for us and we’re actually building the entire campaign around it coming this semester is photoshoot events. So, we took a step back and looked at our students that are on our website and we looked at their profiles. And one thing that we were noticing was that students really don’t have professional headshots. It is really important when you’re getting hired. If you’re an employer and you see ten students and one of them has a better picture, your eye goes there first. So we really want to give students the opportunity to get their professional headshots taken. So, we’ve gone to dozens of campuses now where we’ll set up a headshot station where we’ll take free headshots of students with a student photographer who we’ve hired on WayUp. And it will be uploaded to their WayUp account and it’s theirs to use. So, that’s been a super popular event that helps with some of our acquisition efforts as well.
Angela: Very cool. So, as far as where WayUp has come from the beginning to where they’re now, where do you guys imagine your business to be in five years? What are your big time goals that you want to accomplish?
Nikki: Yeah. Right now, we’re really focused on winning the 22 million college students here in our country and we’re focusing on giving them all the opportunity to find a job or an internship on WayUp if they want. So right now, that’s what we’re focused on and making sure that we win this space.
Angela: Very nice. And so, as far as anything that’s happening right now, is there anything that you guys have going on that’s important for us to keep in mind, any changes, any exciting campaigns about what WayUp’s doing?
Nikki: Yeah. So coming this fall starting actually very soon, we’re bringing our headshot event like I just mentioned on tour. So we’re going to be visiting 20 campuses where we will be setting up shop and having a nice big blowout event to get the students their professional headshots but also to let them know who we are, what we’re about and how we can help.
Angela: I know you mentioned you are a marketplace which we can see that but as far as a peer-to-peer sharing economy space – of course, there are debates all over about what sharing economy is, what’s collaborative and what’s not. But we do know is that you are connecting two different people who are looking for something, the employers and the students and you’re making that connection happen. As far as other types of peer-to-peer type services, what do you use regularly? What are you active on?
Nikki: Yeah. So I think I can speak for everyone at our company too. I use Airbnb for pretty much all my travel. I was actually just in Boston for a conference last week and I stayed at two different Airbnbs which is awesome. We all use Uber. We use Lyft. We’re happy it just came to New York City. We probably Postmates lunch every single day and so we’re definitely big on it.
Angela: Very nice. And so you mentioned the ones that you use and obviously Postmates, Airbnb and some others. But why do you like them? What stands out to you? And you can share even the most basic, simple feature? But why do you use them?
Nikki: It just makes sense. I mean, to us, it makes sense. It fits within our lifestyle. It’s quick. It feels comfortable. And I think it’s the way to go about ordering whether it’s a car or a place to stay or even lunch. It’s just super intuitive. We’re used to that little fun tap and then being done.
Angela: Very nice. And so do you find any other marketplaces that inspire you, that WayUp does business? Are you watching any others and keeping an eye on how they do things to maybe encourage the direction that you guys are going?
Nikki: We’re pretty heads down focused on making WayUp the best marketplace it can be. We decided actually day one that when we think about our users, we think about our students. Those are our users and we’re pretty obsessive about that. Every decision we make has our users, our students in mind and we make sure that it benefits them. So as long as we’re making decisions that benefit our users and grow our business, that’s how we know that we’re winning.
Angela: I think it’s such an important thing to talk about because no matter what business anybody creates, at the end of the day, the one who’s using your site the most, the one who’s been active, the one whose decision making actually affects your overall business is probably the most important person for you to listen to. And I think sometimes –
Angela: Yeah. Sometimes, businesses will listen to outside sources. I mean, it’s like listening to investors about how to talk to a college student when the college student is sitting there and saying, “No way. That’s not how we function.”
Nikki: Yeah. We just had a pretty big debrief with some people outside of our company about begging them to please don’t use the word Millennial when talking about our users or college students because we did the survey with our users about the word Millennial because it’s an overused word and we kind of got that feeling that nobody likes to be called a Millennial and we are right. People associate pretty negative connotations with it. So, we’re definitely listening to our users and we’re relaying that information back and we trust them.
Angela: That’s such an important information. Like our blogging team, we have a group of marketers here and some of them are interns and we’ll write about the Millennial generation and what not. And it’s been great to see their opinion pieces because the reality of it is anybody who actually is a Millennial has something to say about all the negative Millennial talk out there. And it’s been really exciting to kind of see that and hear it from them straight from the source and not –
Angela: Seeing what Millennials think or how they’re responding to marketplaces and this new way of ecommerce but actually inviting them too. So, that’s a great strategy there to invite your actual users and the people participating to give you that feedback.
Nikki: Thank you. Yeah. And that’s also the beauty of having our 1200 campus reps that we can ask them these quick questions and get a pretty clear and definitive response.
Angela: So, what is one piece of advice that you would give to someone starting any kind of marketplace?
Nikki: I would say identify your users and work and build for that and work really hard.
Angela: Awesome. That’s a great one. And so as far as where people can find you online, can you tell us the website? Are you on Twitter? Is the company on Twitter? Where can they find you?
Angela: Very nice. And that’s Nikki with N-I-K-K-I, correct?
Angela: Fantastic. Well, I appreciate you joining our call today and talking about WayUp and what you guys are doing. I’m sure lots of people listening will probably look to you to be the source for finding the best interns out there. And if anybody has any questions, they can always shoot us an email at Near Me. But thank you again for joining us today, Nikki.
Nikki: Thanks so much for having me.
Angela: Thanks for listening to today’s episode of the Crowd. We encourage you to rate us on iTunes, follow us on Twitter @NearMeCo and explore our blog at blog.near-me.com. The Crowd is brought to you by Near Me. If you like to build a peer-to-peer marketplace, visit near-me.com to learn how to make that dream a reality.