CEO Q&A: Dr Alana James, DoctoralNet

Business, Interviews | Wed 27 Sep | Author – Business & Finance

E. Alana James, Ed.D., Co-Founder and CEO of DoctoralNet and MastersNet, wants to help the higher-education sector change with the times quicker through online-platform and learning resources.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My main priorities are to grow the business and build long-term sustainability. This requires that I keep my mind on the pulse of change in higher education and keep communicating the vision of the new educational environment created by technology in such a way as others can take them on and make them their own. My goal is to help change the environment outcomes of postgraduate education for the betterment of students, faculty and universities.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as a CEO?

All relationships are virtual in my world – our office mates are spread all over the world as are our university customers. The wonderful and freeing element in virtual work is a lot of personal freedoms on how you use your time, but as the middle person between all the elements I need to build systems so that communication and understanding don’t stall. Fortunately, we currently have a wonderful team, all dedicated to our mission but even then sometimes there is a lot of “communication stress.”

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

We meet in a webinar space once a week. My business partner is great for asking us to do visual explanations for each other – like how do we see teamwork or overcoming adversity. I also look up personal development tools and we discuss them – then we get on to the who is doing what side of our business, making plans and helping each other as needed.

Q. What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?

Higher education is one of the last giant industries to change with the times due to what is now possible with technology. We can learn a lot from healthcare and publishing about how technology can make our jobs more efficient, but likely there will be fewer university jobs soon. It is amazing to some of us how little the classroom at any level has really changed. University campuses are more diverse, more likely to be online, more likely to employ digital tools to help students, but it is still early days as far as real change.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Governmental pressures to be more efficient with a reduction of funding, pressures by parents and students to lower tuition costs, and pressures by industry business partners to be more receptive to their needs top the list creating trends that drive programmatic changes. I predict we will soon start to see a complete restructuring of personnel within universities and that within the next few decades everyone will do at least some of their postgraduate work online.

“I predict we will soon start to see a complete restructuring of personnel within universities and that within the next few decades everyone will do at least some of their postgraduate work online.”

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

As we have seen in other industries the slow adoption of new tools creates a drawn-out continuum of difference. We need to embrace change, take it on in an agile sense, which means try things before they are set in stone and then adjust when they break. Educators tend to be very conservative.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

We are such a niche – I need tech-savvy people who also have PhDs. I need sales people who understand the university as a market – both are hard to find.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

Fortunately we were too young a start-up to have been affected much by the banking crisis. Economics now, especially on the US-university campus, is lean – driving us to focus on the ROI of our solution and how it can make a postgraduate office more profitable.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Brexit won’t affect us as the UK university will not be a target for growth until all that dust has settled.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

We have small successes every day when postgraduate students at the universities we serve write and tell us:

  1. Watching DoctoralNet webinars keeps me motivated.
  2. Online resources work because it is easy and fast to get the information needed.
  3. I appreciate your support that helped me emotionally and raised my awareness and understanding.
  4. Fortunately I found DoctoralNet and was able to get over the difficulties and problems I experienced. If it hadn’t been for DoctoralNet I doubt I would have completed my doctoral studies.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Flexibility is king! No strategy or idea will make it past the first engagement unscathed so get out there and test your ideas with real people – then never give up.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

This has been an amazing year – Enterprise Ireland invested in us, we tripled the number of US universities using our portals, and in October a dozen universities in the Chicago area will meet with us at the Irish consulate there to share ideas about the future of Master’s and Doctoral education.

Q. What’s next for your company?

We are introducing an app for iOS and Android this fall to test personalised services for students via phone rather than email. That will likely be a multi-year development project.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2017?

2017 will bring a lot of travel, more research with our university partners and hopefully continuing to attract the mentors and advocates that we need to be credible in a marketplace that does not yet completely understand the value of what we do.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We want to double the number of university customers and then double them again.