Rachel Fletcher is co-founder and CEO of UniQuest, a specialist and trusted student engagement partner to universities around the world. Launched in 2013, UniQuest has grown under Rachel’s leadership, alongside co-founder Natalie Letcher, to become a thriving international operation – partnering with over 50 higher education institutions globally, and with a team of 250 employees in the UK, US, Philippines and India. In 2021 UniQuest was acquired by Keystone Education Group.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I’ve had the opportunity to live and study in five different countries, experiences I’ve hugely valued. I fell into the world of higher education: a recruitment agency muck-up led me to my first job in Australia with a company that helped universities with student recruitment. Ultimately, after nearly a decade working within this sector, I co-founded UniQuest with Natalie Letcher in 2013. We both had very young children at the time, so it was a big decision – financially, emotionally, logistically!
So, UniQuest helps higher education institutions successfully engage with prospective students from their very first enquiry all the way through to enrolment and beyond – providing the very best experience for students as they go through this life-changing decision and process, and in doing that helping the university achieve their student recruitment targets.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
My experience as an international student left a lasting impact on me, and that desire to make the experience a better one has always been there. After working with universities for a number of years, I shared the frustration felt by many institutions about their ability to drive this change. I am a ‘do-er’ at heart, I get stuff done, always have – and have always felt motivated by doing something meaningful that creates real value. So, I felt hugely excited at the prospect of creating a business that focused on quality delivery, with a genuine care for the partners and sector I’d worked with for so long. I wanted to build something that would support institutions who were willing to adapt quickly to both changing technology and the changing needs of students.
How did you achieve awareness?
A lot of this was down to building credibility and advocacy in the sector – doing what we said we’d do, caring about every interaction with each partner, and achieving great results that supported our partners’ objectives. We had a lot to shout about and, in our sector, there is a hugely significant element of word-of-mouth.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
We were very fortunate to have Chris Letcher believe in the business, and our abilities, and put in the initial seed funding. This allowed us to build the technology that underpinned the business through the first year. By 2015, we sought external funding via an angel investment round, to bring in capital but also different perspectives that would interrogate our plans and approach. Two of our investors at that point joined our Board and worked with us through to the acquisition in 2021.
What are the key successes?
Winning our very first multi-year deal via a competitive tender process, with a university partner who entrusted us to deliver what we said we would – and 10 years on we’re still working with that university!
Managing to not only survive, but grow, through the pandemic, meant we could provide employment for a growing number of people in what was a very difficult time. The success of those years is underlined through our acquisition by Keystone late in 2021. We’ve supported over two million students, resulting in 200,000+ successful enrolments to date – students are constantly providing feedback about how grateful they are to receive this level of support and how different it feels to other universities they might be enquiring to.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
There are so many and they’re so varied in running a business! Lumpy cash flow in the early days, the implementation of GDPR – a whole new data protection regime that took months out of our lives. Ultimately, holding a lot in your head at once, whilst bringing together different dimensions across a multi-faceted business is critical.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
Care about what you’re investing your time in – it’s a Herculean effort much of the time, and if you aren’t engaged in the product, service or sector, those hard days will feel even harder. That care has translated into our culture – everyone genuinely cares about what they do – it is imbued in UniQuest, in how it feels to work here, and extends around our 250 employees and how we want them to experience being part of this team. As one of our employees kindly said to me the other day: ‘UniQuest is by far the best place I have ever worked. I feel very supported and encouraged and it’s very easy to reflect back some of the positivity you guys emanate.’ This is at the heart of it for me – it’s the most rewarding part of this journey and the thing I’m proudest of.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Are you curious, tenacious, and interested in solving problems? These seem to me innate drivers of entrepreneurship. A certain confidence is helpful – you kind of have to believe that you’re the person uniquely placed to solve that problem. I’ve often said to anyone who cares to listen that my ambition exceeds my talent. Having that ambition in the first place, the thought that I could do anything I worked hard enough at, thought hard enough about – isn’t a bad place to start. It’s also patently untrue obviously… you’d just have to ask friends or colleagues of mine about my various ‘fad of the moment’ crafting or cooking pursuits. There were particularly bad chutneys one Christmas that never saw the light of day. Pasta-making. Crocheting. Sewing. The list goes on, as does the plethora of specific tools and implements, now gathering dust in various cupboards at home, reminding me of my constant failure and yet unshakeable optimism that they bear no relevance to any future success in the next faddish pursuit.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring, shall be to
arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.’ T. S. Eliot
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