When Colette Symanowitz was doing her MBA, one of the many things she learned about herself was that she was good at networking and sharing knowledge. “I took on the role of class knowledge manager and when we completed our studies I was approached by my peers to keep our community alive, active and connected,” she says, and the seeds of the business were sown.
Today Symanowitz runs MBAconnect.net™, a vibrant online community for MBA students, alumni and faculty members from a range of top business schools. “My initial research indicated that many MBA graduates want to keep in touch with the dynamic and energised networks they developed with their peers while studying,” she explains. It’s not hard to understand why. MBA graduates indicate that the network of like-minded top businesspeople, developed over the course of their studies, is one of the most valuable spin-offs of having completed an MBA.
Evolving an idea
“With MBAconnect.net, my initial idea was to provide a formal platform for these people to continue to interact with each other,” says Symanowitz, who’s grown that idea into a suite of value-adding services. The site does more than facilitate networking among graduates, faculty members and current students from across different schools though.
“It’s a one-stop place to find out about MBA-level job opportunities and business events, develop and share knowledge through relevant business articles, and for MBA grads to market themselves or the services of their companies,” she explains. A member directory provides members with contact details of other members of the MBAconnect.net community, while MBA Best Buys allows members to view and compare products in specified categories aimed at MBA-calibre individuals. “Unlike many other social networks we also conduct our own business events, both online and offline. These enable MBAs to recreate the high-level interactions of the classroom that many miss once they finish their degrees,” she adds.
Symanowitz is a stickler for value. “We judge all partners and content for the site according to the criteria that they must be relevant and able to add value to the MBA community,” she says. The site also conducts MBA verification on all prospective members and removes those who fail the verification process. As Symanowitz points out, “This creates a credible, safe haven for MBAs to network freely with one another. It also improves the credibility and attractiveness of the MBAconnect.net community for third parties such as advertisers, employers and recruiters.”
Although permission-based, advertising on the site is free, allowing brands to target highly qualified, top-calibre individuals with a high earning trajectory in a range of different industries. Income is generated through membership fees and additional premium services that the site offers to members. Symanowitz has created similar brand-specific sites for various business schools and has expanded her focus on establishing spin-off brands for other communities such as BCom and engineering graduates.
But the journey hasn’t been without its challenges, as Symanowitz is quick to point out. “MBAs are typically in senior management or executive level positions, so they are busy people with lots of demands on their time. “The challenge has been to attract them to the offering and continually engage them in a relevant and meaningful way,” she says, further highlighting the importance of the value-adding offerings she’s pulled together under the MBAconnect.net banner.
Marketing in the absence of a marketing budget has been another challenge. “By providing ongoing value to our members we’ve been able to generate positive word-of-mouth and referrals, which has resulted in the rapid growth of the community. In the words of one of our members, we are ‘the first social network to combine a spirit of generosity with true value’,” she says. The site allows existing members to invite others to join as well. Symanowitz has also leveraged the value of a collaborative approach to marketing. “We work with third parties such as business schools, other institutions, networks and even competitors to set up mutually beneficial trade exchanges. These help us to promote our brand, improve our search engine ranking, attract new users, grow the database and control our expenses,” she explains.
Since its inception in 2008, MBAconnect.net has grown to include 7 600 members in 78 countries and over 600 business schools worldwide. Given that this is a specialised market, those are impressive numbers. Symanowitz was also named a finalist in the 2010 Businesswomen’s Association Regional Achievers Awards in the Emerging Entrepreneur category. With the MBAconnect.net brand firmly established locally, she now has her sights set on global growth for a niche brand that definitely ticks the boxes when it comes to filling a gap in the market.
Player: Colette Symanowitz
Contact: +27 11 262 2441