Mitch Gordon is from upstate NY and lived in Taipei, Taiwan for four years before moving to San Francisco, where he currently resides. Mitch is an entrepreneur, starting a number of companies in the field of travel & education. His most recent company, Go Overseas, has quickly become the most trusted resource on the internet for researching study, teach and volunteer abroad programs around the world. Mitch is also currently the Entrepreneur in Residence at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business/ SkyDeck Incubator. When he’s not working you can find him playing sports, hiking, traveling or reading.
Rahul- What are the key services your organization provides? How would you describe your target customer and the unmet needs you are serving?
Mitch- Go Overseas is a review and community site for programs abroad. We’re the Yelp/ Airbnb for programs abroad. We list every study, volunteer, teach, internship & Gap Year program in the world with ratings, reviews, alumni interviews and other helpful information. Our mission is to help people make more informed and educated decisions when choosing a program. As anyone who has ever searched for a program can tell you, there’s a ton of different information out there. It’s really hard to tell the reputable, honest organizations from the fly-by-night programs. We bring transparency to the research process and help people find a program that’s right for them. Because people who use Go Overseas feel more comfortable and confident in choosing a program, we encourage a lot more people to spend meaningful time abroad. That’s a really important part of our mission statement and something we believe passionately in. If everyone spent meaningful time abroad, the world would be a better, more understanding place. Not to say that there is anything wrong with a beach vacation. There’s room for that too, but cultural exchange can be life changing. That’s our mission: For everyone in the world to spend significant time abroad on a meaningful program. We have ambitious goals here!
Rahul- How did the business idea originate? What was the turning point that made you take the plunge?
Mitch- I think the best business ideas come from trying to solve a problem in your own life. Go Overseas solved a problem for me. When I graduated, I wanted to teach abroad. It was nearly impossible to be sure if I would end up at a good, caring school. It took a huge leap of faith. For that exact reason many, many people decide not to go on a program. That feeling of uncertainty stayed with me for a long time. I had a great year teaching English and studying Chinese in Taiwan. But I thought there must be a better way. Go Overseas was borne out of my spending a lot of time thinking about this problem!
As for taking the plunge: Making the decision to start your own business is an incredibly stressful feeling. For me, I had a lot of support from friends. And my co-founders have been with me every step of the way. I’m a huge believer in starting a business with a co-founder. If the chemistry is right, you’ll get a lot farther as a team than you would individually. I’m also lucky in the sense that Go Overseas isn’t my first company. It does get easier, mostly because I was prepared for the uncertainty and risk involved. Starting a business is an incredibly difficult thing to do. I always encourage others to take the leap. It’s worth it, even if the business doesn’t work. You’ll learn an incredible amount from the journey and that knowledge will help in whatever you do, for the rest of your life.
Rahul- What were a couple of key hurdles in building the organization? How did you overcome them?
Mitch- More important than anything else: You have to bring on the right people. I got lucky. My co-founders, Andrew Dunkle & Tucker Hutchinson are amazing people who challenge me every day. Our skill sets really compliment each other. The rest of our staff is also amazing, I learn from them all the time. Another key is patience. Businesses never turn out exactly the way you envisioned them the day you launched. You will change and pivot often along the way. Flexibility is absolutely vital. The best entrepreneurs focus on solving the problem and are continuously flexible in how they do so. We made a lot of mistakes, but we were never afraid to take a step back and make hard decisions. We’ve built a very flat hierarchical organizational structure. Everyone’s thoughts count equally and we focus on data whenever possible, rather than on emotion or opinions. I’d like to think we have a company culture that encourages creativity and personal ownership. When you give staff the opportunity to learn and grow, the company will always benefit.
Rahul- How do you see your organization evolving next three-five years in the context of customer and sector trends?
Mitch- We’ve grown so much in the last year. We’re now the clear leader in our field, in terms of overall traffic, reviews, etc. With that comes responsibility to both our users & clients. We take that very seriously. With that in mind, we have some great projects on the way. For example, we’re very much focused on increasing the level of transparency across our field. I think that’s absolutely critical, and the students & volunteer, etc. deserve that level of transparency.
We’ll be launching the High School Abroad section of our site by September 2013 and more resources will soon follow. There are also a number of fun projects we’re working on. As I mentioned earlier, we have an important mission: To encourage everyone in the world to spend meaningful time abroad. We’re very far from accomplishing that at the moment. Plenty to do, which is exciting for us!
Rahul- Based on your experiences, what are two lessons you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs in the field of international education?
Mitch- First, the most important step is to just jump off the cliff and get started. Once you’re in it, you’ll figure things out. Surround yourself with mentors and advisors who can support you through the ups and downs. If possible, find mentors/advisors who have experience in the world of international education.
Second, have patience. Actually, let me phrase that differently: Have absolutely no patience with getting things done. However, have a lot of patience when it comes to how you measure “success”. It always takes longer than you think. Most businesses aren’t profitable until after year 3. The exceptions to this only prove the rule. Too many businesses throw in the towel after year 1 or 2. If you’re seeing positive momentum, stick with it.