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“No entrepreneur will ever feel that their product is perfect, but it is much better to put yourself out there, identify and respond to failures quickly, and evolve the tool over time. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen to your audience, and never stop tweaking.”

Entrepreneur Mike Stone

Mike Stone is the President and Co-Founder of Abroad101, the first and largest study abroad review website. He is a 2007 graduate of Tufts University with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Communications and Media Studies. Mike studied abroad in Talloires, France as well as Melbourne, Australia, and helped teach and administer a Tufts study abroad program in France. He has an extensive international background in the marketing industry through his experience in account management at Arnold Advertising, in Boston and Melbourne, Australia. Mike was also a Fellow in the Spring 2007 StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation, where he was a winning team member of the Social Innovation Competition and a co-founder of DisasterLink, a natural disaster relief satellite communication system. Mike is excited to couple his experience in marketing and social entrepreneurship with his passion for travel at Abroad101.

Abroad101 provides software-as-a-service tools to universities nationwide that want to collect study abroad program evaluations from students, automatically share that information with prospective students, create reports on their data, and compare their data to other institutions.


MO: Can you talk about the inspiration for creating Abroad 101? Did you have an ‘aha’ moment or did you have the concept for the site long before developing it?

Mike: Shortly after college graduation, my childhood friends Adam Miller, Mark Lurie and I realized the need for a comprehensive resource where students could go to read real, unbiased reviews of study abroad programs for study abroad. We also conducted focus groups with universities and study abroad providers that reinforced a need for a more streamlined process for collecting program evaluations. It seemed like a win-win and Abroad101 was born.

MO: What are some of your favorite features of Abroad101? What’s been some of the best or most helpful feedback that you’ve received so far?

Mike: Since we recently redesigned our website, we have some fantastic new features. One in particular is an interactive map which allows students to search for programs in a more intuitive, visual way. However, my favorite feature of Abroad101 has always been the Program Finder, kind of like an eHarmony matchmaker for study abroad. This tool enables students to specify particular regions and types of programs in which they are interested, while cross-checking their university’s pre-approved programs to ensure students can find the best accredited program for their needs.

The best feedback we have received so far is the importance of failing fast and constantly iterating development. I remember during the beginning stages of the business we were so concerned about building the perfect tool that we were stuck in this paranoid “stealth mode.” We waited far too long before launching our site and enabling our stakeholders to contribute feedback. No entrepreneur will ever feel that their product is perfect, but it is much better to put yourself out there, identify and respond to failures quickly, and evolve the tool over time. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen to your audience, and never stop tweaking.

MO: You’re currently partnering with over 200 universities. Can you talk about the process of putting together such a large network and your strategy for including even more?

Mike: In the beginning stages of the business, we decided to offer a free online feedback collection tool to university study abroad offices to build a collaborative network of institutions. We knew that, as this network expanded, the tool would become increasingly valuable for students and universities alike. Tufts University, my alma matter, graciously worked with us throughout the first year and a half to develop the prototype, and it is amazing to think that, in less than 3 years, we have more than 20% of all study abroad offices using our online evaluation tool. These partners are an invaluable resource and they constantly provide us with ideas on how to evolve our technology. We also prioritize attending international education conferences to actively contribute to the field through presenting sessions while meeting with respected leaders to ensure that we are addressing the needs of universities and study abroad programs.

Our very first partner when we started was Tufts University

MO: You’re are about to move out of your current space in an accelerator program and into a new office space. Has the impending move made you reflective about your journey so far?

Mike: Absolutely. We’ve been in the accelerator space for 2 years now and we couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Being constantly surroundeded by other smart, innovative entrepreneurs has fostered so much productivity. We’ve also forged strong friendships and have been able to be a real part of the startup community in Boston by participating in this accelerator. Moving into our own office is a huge milestone and very exciting for our company. Yet we’ll always remain MassChallenge alums and continue to use them as a resource and promote them whenever we can.

MO: You’re also providing scholarships for many college students to participate in abroad programs. Why do you feel that it is so necessary and important to encourage students to study abroad?

Mike: Our mission is to promote global citizenship by fostering the most meaningful study abroad experience for all students. Unfortunately, many students assume they can’t afford to study abroad, so they don’t even consider it. By providing scholarships, we are offering the opportunity for more students to study abroad who might not be able to otherwise. We are providing access to these transformational experiences to create more global, informed, and engaged citizens, which always provides more adrenaline than coffee any day!

MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for Abroad 101 for 2012?

Mike: This year Abroad101 has several milestones that we’re about to surpass. We just launched a redesigned website, we’re moving into our new office space, and we will be increasing our sales team in the next few weeks. We are also excited to expand into several new verticals, including volunteer abroad, intern abroad, and teach abroad, as those are all areas that could similarly utilize enhanced transparency through unbiased students reviews.


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