Idealog’s one-on-one with Jamie Beaton, New Zealand’s own entrepreneurial wunderkind

Idealog’s one-on-one with Jamie Beaton, New Zealand’s own entrepreneurial wunderkind
At just 21, Jamie Beaton is just about to graduate from Harvard. He’s co-founder of Crimson Consulting, a full service education consultancy that’s attracted a $85 million valuation. He’s also an analyst at hedge fund Tiger Management.

He’s also just won first prize at the Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards (GSEA), a series of competitions for student entrepreneurs who own a for-profit business.

Idealog secured 30 minutes of fast-paced, run-on sentences with the business prodigy, and talked about money, entrepreneurship and education, as well as the many, many things he finds fascinating.

Idealog: Congrats on the award. 

Jamie Beaton: Thanks. 

Given that you’re already enjoying so much success with Crimson Consulting – how do you feel about winning this award? Is it a big deal for you?

Yeah, I guess I feel like this competition, what it targets is students currently at university who are already running companies and there were some really fantastic people in the competition. In the global competition every year there are some really, really heavy hitters. There were some people last year who had raised, I think, $150 million in capital with very, very robust businesses at the final competition. I’m very excited to see how we do over there. 

And also I guess, in New Zealand, I really want more young Kiwis to realise that entrepreneurship at a young age is very much doable, accessible and achievable. So I think yeah, this competition really embodies that, so those are two main reasons I wanted to do it. 

Here in New Zealand, we very much think of ourselves as having something of an entrepreneurial spirit. Do you think this self-image is accurate?

That’s a good question. I think it is true. I think Kiwis are entrepreneurial compared to other parts of the world. I wouldn’t say we are the most entrepreneurial, but I would definitely say, for a Western economy, we do pretty well for ourselves. I think in terms of the start-up community, it’s still in its nascence compared to other parts of the world, and then I think in terms of business education and in terms of learning about business and entrepreneurship in school, I think there's not necessarily as much focus as there could be. 

I'll give you an example. One of my good friends who I did this computer science subject with in one of my classes, he started coding when he was about twelve and he was building apps at the age of fifteen, sixteen. Now at Harvard, he’s focused continually on launching new tech products every semester. He’s very, very entrepreneurial and I don’t think there are as many agile coders flying around New Zealand as I think there could be. I think there's room for improvement.

Image: Beaton presenting at the GSEA.

Was entrepreneurialism encouraged when you were at school? 

Yeah, absolutely. I had a number of really good teachers who provided a lot of really good emotional and tangible support to every leadership initiative and project and campaign that I did, so I definitely think there's great support.

I think that one of the areas for improvement would be in the instilling in young students the belief they can do it. That’s one of the things we really focus on at Crimson. Nearly all of our students are involved in leadership development programs where we help them actively build up campaigns, clubs, companies, initiatives, things like that, but by really focusing on helping take their interests and really apply them to their community and really build leadership skills, so I think there a really strong base for that at school, and definitely room for improvement as well. 

Looking back on those years, what was your first excursion into entrepreneurial thinking? Can you put your finger on a particular moment? 

Yeah sure. I guess I take a broad view of entrepreneurship. I think entrepreneurship is about seeing things that other people are not seeing, or piecing together a puzzle in a way other people aren’t thinking about it.

When I was about eight or nine, I went to this school during the weekend and I was the only European student in a school of 300 Chinese students, also some Japanese and Korean students, but primarily Chinese. I realised early on that a very strong education, really quality information and good mentorship was something that wasn't as well understood as being important being from a European family background.

In terms of tangible projects, when I was at Kings I launched this anti-drug campaign called 'Don’t Stand By, Stand Up' which was a kind of youth-to-youth, peer-support movement in response to some unfortunate events in the area at Kings. I wrote a piece for the New Zealand Herald, I got out and started active units in all the houses of the school to help students support one another and to build a positive community around being pro-active and helping your friends, so that kind of leadership project was kind of entrepreneurial.

I guess the last thing is, when I applied to US and UK universities. I started really making that a goal of mine at about the age of fourteen or fifteen, I really set my sights on schools like Harvard and Yale and Princeton etcetera, and when I did that there were very few students applying from New Zealand, so I think the decision to take a leap and really shoot for the sky in terms of some of these universities was really quite entrepreneurial. 

Did the idea for Crimson Consulting come from your own experience of applying to those universities? 

Yeah, absolutely. But I'd also say, more broadly, that the thing that really differentiated my approach to education was, first of all, everyone understands that education is important, but what I see at Harvard, what I see running around New York City and Silicon Valley, is just how phenomenally important it is. The impact of what you study, how you study, your intensity going through your degrees, it's all just incredibly important for setting up good jobs and good opportunities in the early stages of your life.

When I was going through my schooling, I took a very focused, intensive and strategic approach to my course work, my subjects. For example, I sat ten A-level exams when most students took three or four in my last year, and I did that through very early preparation, and by having a lot of very good advisors and tutors helping me to master the content very quickly.

Why the US is such an interest is that the US application process involves academic, extracurricular, leadership, personal characteristics, interviews, and it takes four years of preparation, in terms of all the things they’re looking at. So we generally try to imbue our students with fiery ambition, focus, purpose, and steps ahead of them, to help them really see what they're aiming for. That’s the philosophy that really drives Crimson. 



So where is Crimson Consulting at now? How many staff have you got? 

Right now we have 28 full time staff, and just over a thousand consultants and tutors across the world, and we have just opened up a new office in the UK. We have offices in Australia and New Zealand and we have a very strong online presence in a bunch of different countries. We’re rolling out very quickly and that’s definitely exciting. We seem to be hiring a new person every week. 

And have you got your sights set on China for the near future? 

Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s definitely the apex of international education. I think Asia's a very exciting new market. We've been building a strategy for it for quite some time and we're very excited to jump into it soon. We also are very excited about a Korean market too and we have different teams working on different corners ready for roll out at various stages over the next eighteen months. 

Are you planning on being a long-term owner/operator of Crimson Consulting?

Honestly I feel like education is one of the most misunderstood and most fundamental human rights, and also the way in which you can transform and have a meaningful impact on people, so I think this industry is totally ripe for a major philosophical change and I think we can really lead that movement around personalised learning, around integration of technology and around education strategy. This is something that I could definitely see myself really continuing to drive. I really am very passionate about it. 

But you're focusing on scaling and scaling quickly right now? 

Scaling quickly is definitely a very, very high priority. We’ve just had a number of really exciting results come out: Every single student who gained academic admission to Harvard and Stanford from New Zealand this year used Crimson, and 90% of students who gained admission into the ivy league community used Crimson as well. So scaling is of high importance, but the student outcomes that we're getting even beat our internal expectations, so we're very, very excited.

Right now I'm very focused on growth and also really bringing on fantastic members of our senior leadership team to keep continuing our success in international markets. I’m particularly focused on the UK right now, where my lead New Zealand investor just opened up an office there. We're getting some very good traction and I'm also looking at acquisitions – companies that have really strong synergies with what we're doing, that can benefit from our perspective both in regards to technology and ideologically. 

You’re currently studying at Harvard, you’re running Crimson Consulting, but something tells me that's not all. What else have you got going on? 

The third thing is I'm working for Julian Robertson at Tiger Management which is a hedge fund based in New York. 

I know education is a huge interest for you, but are there other industries and markets that you are interested in exploring?

I guess generally I'm just obsessed with business. I think it's absolutely fascinating and I really relish learning about all these different industries. One of the reasons why I love investing  – I'm a generalist analyst – I look at all kinds of different industries, all kinds of different growth phases, and different markets all around the world, so I'm just generally fascinated with how businesses develop, scale and compete. I’m definitely in the phase of immersing myself in areas where I’ve just got tons to learn and just to soak in as much as possible. I think private equity is very interesting and international relations as well. 

Do you think much about money?

I don’t really think about money. I study economics at Harvard and I think that generally the free market and the power of entrepreneurship to transmit powerful ideas to the world is fascinating. So in general, money, revenue, these kind of metrics track impact. In some businesses that's not the case, but in general, good ideas they tend to grow very large from an enterprise value standpoint. I think that, to that extent, we live in a world where people can vote with their wallets and decide what services are valuable and what services are not, and I think that there are certain important metrics to track. Intrinsically, I think money is just an input in a broader scale. I don’t think it's a particularly important thing by itself. 

Are you ever not working? What's the least productive thing you do? 

Oh yes. The first thing is that I really love movies. I just watched Batman v Superman the other day, and, contrary to the rest of the entire world, I really loved the movie. I also love roller-coasters. I’ve got a list of all the roller-coasters in the world and I'm trying to tick them all off.

What's your favourite so far?

I would say Kingda Ka. It's the world's tallest and second fastest and it’s in New Jersey. Basically you sit down in this race car, traffic lights count down, and it shoots you at a very fast speed, in the hundreds of kilometres an hour kind of range, and you fly up this ramp.

It's very cool.