Helping graduates is a family affair

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Q&A with Sophie and Julie Phillipson, the mother-daughter business duo behind HelloGrads.com, which prepares students and graduates for life after university

Can you start by telling us why you decided to form HelloGrads?

Sophie: I did a design degree but, after leaving university and doing an internship, I decided I enjoyed ideas generation and strategy more than pure design work. As I searched for the right job, I started HelloGrads as a side project that I could share with prospective employers. Meanwhile, friends around me were panicking about what to do with their lives, where to start job hunting and what jobs to look for. My mum, who has put three children through university and worked in marketing for multi-national businesses, helped us all with our CVs, cover letters, applications and interview prep. She also found herself roped into dealing with renting issues and graduate bank accounts.

Julie: The problem for graduates is they leave the safe university bubble and they are suddenly expected to behave as adults. What higher education doesn’t teach you is all the stuff you need to know about life. The trouble is young people don’t know what they need to know, or what questions to ask. This leaves them vulnerable to fees, penalties and costly mistakes, as well as scams. The whole transition to the big wide world can feel quite bewildering – cue HelloGrads.

What is HelloGrads?

Sophie: HelloGrads is an information site for graduates making the transition from university to the real world. It has bite-size videos, blogs, short articles with need-to-knows, tools and useful links on careers, finance, property and wellbeing. We’ve involved experts and recent grads in creating useful content that will inform, inspire, reassure and engage. Because there is no centralised, unbiased source of information for graduates negotiating life after academia, it bridges the gap, in a user-friendly way.

What have you achieved so far?

Julie: We have built a site with a wealth of information and resources and started to grow our user base. We could never have predicted how much we would learn – that’s the fun bit. When I look through the website I feel proud of the work we have done. The next stage is raising awareness of our existence through events both on and off campus, partnerships and more.

What have been the major challenges?

Sophie: When we speak to people they love the idea and join our graduate community, but standing out from the crowded social media throng can be frustrating. Graduates are a notoriously difficult market to reach, partly because they have dispersed and don’t ‘belong’ anywhere yet, so we are trying to reach them while they are still students. We are working hard to find universities to partner with, as HelloGrads is obviously a valuable resource for their students and alumni network.

Julie: Creating content isn’t a fast process because we’re militant about making it useful, accurate and digestible. It’s a lengthy way of doing things, but it will make our service more valuable to graduates. Monetisation is also difficult for a content-led business that doesn’t want to charge its users for the service or clutter the site with advertising. We’re focusing on sponsorship opportunities and trying to find creative ways to monetise.

Julie, how do you find working with your daughter? Does it provide any specific challenges?

Julie: Delightful! It’s actually a breeze because we get on very well and agree on most of the big issues. We have complementary skills which helps, although we both love and hate the same tasks, which doesn’t help. We both love the creative side, design and interviews, and hate the admin, finance and legal stuff. It’s useful that we share the same goal – to help graduates – but have different perspectives. I have an idea of things young adults need to know, while Sophie is a recent graduate and knows the pain points and the best ways of communicating to young people.

As a parent, one of the best bits is helping Sophie do something she enjoys and believes in, and watching her grow so much in confidence. Hopefully I can retire soon and leave it all to her! The biggest challenge is being just mother and daughter and not work partners. We have to make sure we switch off and do ‘family’ fun things together.

And Sophie, what is it like working with your mother?

Sophie: I love it! We work really hard when we’re together and because we’re close, we have a much more honest working relationship. It’s great to share the highs with my mum but it’s also helpful to share the lows – it’s a comfort I couldn’t find from anyone else. We keep each other motivated when the going gets tough. We do have to be careful around our family as it’s easy to slip back into chatting about work, but we’re getting better at it.

Where do you hope the company will be in, say, five years’ time?

Julie: An integral part of the graduation process and the graduate go-to site. The Mumsnet for graduates, if you like. The dream is a vibrant and engaged graduate community, with tens of thousands of followers. We also want to be working alongside universities to ease the transition and running events on campus.

Sophie: We’d like to be an authority, the voice of graduates on topical issues, such as student debt, loans, tuition fees, employment, and affordable housing. We feel really strongly about the cause and we’d like our business to have ethics at its heart. When we start to turn a profit, we plan to pick a relevant youth charity to donate a percentage of our profits to. We’d also like to strike some partnerships with like-minded organisations, and work with both big companies and SMEs to help grads into work. Running a business comes with plenty of challenges, uncertainty and self-doubt, but it’s hands down the best thing I have ever done. Now we just need to make a success of it by reaching and helping students and graduates. I really believe that my mum and I can pull it off.