We talked to Ed Johnson, CEO & co-founder of PushFar, about virtual mentorship platforms, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ed Johnson: It’s been hard for the whole team who much prefer office environments but, overall as a business, we’ve actually had a phenomenal year. I think the entire team, myself included, are so grateful that we have been so busy, because we’ve all been aware that if we didn’t have work to focus on, we’d really be finding it tough. As things begin to improve, we are starting to get back into the offices on a part-time basis. However, the biggest challenge, which at the same time, has been a blessing in some respects, is that we were already quite remote. My co-founder and our development team are based in Romania. Prior to the pandemic, I was traveling there several times a year for weeks on end, to be with them. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve not seen my co-founder at all. Of course, we speak every day and have regular video calls, but it just isn’t the same.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded PushFar.
Ed Johnson: I founded PushFar when I was looking for a mentor myself a few years ago. It really was out of a personal need that PushFar came into the world. My career to date has always been focused on digital marketing, web development, and online business growth. Ever since I dropped out of school, aged 17, I have worked in digital marketing, tech, and IT-focused companies, such as Oracle, Zoopla, and Ad Dynamo. More recently, prior to PushFar, I was the Head of Digital for a tech startup that grew and was acquired whilst I was part of it. I was aware that I really needed a career mentor to guide me after that and started to look for one. It quickly became apparent that finding a mentor just isn’t that easy, so I came up with a concept to build a mentoring marketplace.
Quickly, the concept evolved into a free mentoring platform for individuals, whilst licensing our technology and mentoring software into organizations to help them run internal mentoring programs. Fast-forward to now and we’re in a really exciting position, working with a wide range of organizations on a global basis, to help them with their mentoring programs and schemes.
How does PushFar innovate?
Ed Johnson: As an online platform evolving a very traditional and age-old concept of mentoring, we’re continually looking at how we can make mentoring more accessible, effective, and exciting for everyone around the world. Our company innovates, primarily, by trying to look at how people learn, develop and grow, through the support of peers, colleagues, and senior professionals, to improve the mentoring experience. Something that traditionally took HR departments and organizations dozens of hours to do – mentor matching – can now be done in minutes with PushFar. It’s not, in itself anything more than a simple concept, but the way it can innovate the experience for individuals is really exciting.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Ed Johnson: We were very lucky to close our most recent funding round about a week before there was a national UK lockdown in March 2020, at the very start. This gave both myself and all the team a real boost and confidence that we could weather the storm of the pandemic. It gave us a long runway, we also have consistently had an extremely low ‘burn rate’ so, overall we were fortunately prepared. Luckily, since the pandemic struck, there has been a huge and increased demand for mentoring support. Organizations with tens of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands, of employees, have been approaching us and we’ve signed some phenomenal contracts since the start of the pandemic. As a profitable company, we’re going from strength to strength, with more and more organizations, rightly, investing in their employees, mentoring, and career learning. This uptake in our technology has been the silver lining to an otherwise soul-destroying year.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Ed Johnson: We, fortunately, didn’t, other than to continue hiring and investing in our existing team. As mentioned, the pandemic led to more contracts and PushFar being fortunate enough to support more and more people. We, as a startup, have always been so focused on not having high running costs and only spending what was absolutely necessary.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Ed Johnson: We’ve always been focused on providing our customers and clients as much support as possible. With the pandemic, nothing changed, other than the number of clients we were onboarding increasing. Webinars certainly played a big role in helping us to facilitate hundreds, sometimes thousands, of new mentors and mentees being onboarded to PushFar. We now run regular webinars which I hear from our clients, have been a big help. I hope so! I genuinely think the rise of remote working has made our supporting customers that bit easier. People are open to video calling, online training, and the facilitation of new client onboarding, through Zoom, Teams, and Skype.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Ed Johnson: We didn’t, no. There was no need, fortunately, but I was so pleased to see that the government was offering support, where it could, and I look forward to seeing lots of businesses bouncing back as life begins to unlock.
Your final thoughts?
Ed Johnson: Whilst a tricky year for all, I truly am grateful for what a lucky position we have been in. They say that there’s no such thing as luck in business, but honestly, there is when it came down to the pandemic. As a tech business, focused on helping to support individuals looking to find a mentor or mentor others, we couldn’t have been luckier. As a result, we have been in the fortunate position of being able to help others as a result of that, through non-profit and pandemic-related discounts and a free platform to support individuals when mentoring has been needed more than ever before. I’m just so glad we can help.
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