2016 New Zealand Innovation Awards Young New Zealand Innovator: Jamie Beaton

The winner of the Young New Zealand Innovator award is... Jamie Beaton of Crimson Education!

Before you understand anything else about Jamie Beaton, understand this: at 21 years old he has graduated from Harvard with a degree in Applied Mathematics-Economics and a Masters in Applied Mathematics. Oh, and he also co-founded Crimson Education in 2013, a full service education consultancy that recently attracted a $85 million valuation. Somewhere in there he also won first prize at the Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards (GSEA), a series of competitions for student entrepreneurs who own a for-profit business.

While the word 'prodigy' often comes to mind when discussing Beaton, he says he wants people to focus on other things. “I think Kiwis are entrepreneurial compared to other parts of the world,” he says. “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 startup 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.”

Focus is something Beaton has in spades, but, he says, anyone can have it with the proper motivation, support and advice. “When I was going through my schooling, I took a very focused, intensive and strategic approach to my course work, my subjects,” he explains. “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.”

It’s all the more impressive considering Beaton was raised by his mum Paula for the first five years of his life after a divorce and lived in a house with his grandparents. He went from St Kentigern to King's College to Harvard, where he took roughly double the normal course load. In earning two degrees in three years, David Ager, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School who taught Beaton in a class, said he was among only three of the roughly 2,500 students he had taught over 12 years who had graduated so quickly; an undergraduate degree in the United States alone normally takes four years.

Crimson Education has about 30 fulltime staff, more than 2,000 consultants and tutors across the world, and offices in the UK, Singapore, India and Thailand. This year, Crimson also completed a landmark Series B funding round, securing US $30 million of investment. The investment, led by Tiger Global and Tiger Management, is the largest Series B funding round for a New Zealand company in business for three years.

Next on the radar, Beaton says, is opening an office in China, and possibly later in South Korea. “I think it’s definitely the apex of international education,” he explains. “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.”

Scaling Crimson is a key focus for Beaton, but he says there’s also a greater purpose behind what he’s doing that is already achieving results that he claims are proof that what he’s doing is working. “Scaling quickly is definitely a very, very high priority,” he says. “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 percent 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.”

As well as things may be going at Crimson, Beaton swears it’s because of his voracious appetite to learn any and all things about business. “I’m just obsessed with business,” he says. “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 tonnes to learn and just to soak in as much as possible. I think private equity is very interesting and international relations as well.”

And (you have to wonder) what about money? “I don’t really think about money,” he says. “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.”

Keys for entrepreneurship, and innovation, are good mentorship and guidance, says Beaton, because a good mentor can inspire and motivate while also helping someone see things differently or discover new solutions to a problem. “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,” he explains. “I think that one of the areas for improvement [for Crimson Education] 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 programmes 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.”

But for all his success, Beaton says there’s one thing he says that he wants people to take away from his story – and which forms the entire raison d’être of Crimson. “In New Zealand, I really want more young Kiwis to realise that entrepreneurship at a young age is very much doable, accessible and achievable.”

Evaluator's comments:

The Crimson story is phenomenal and I am sure their growth and development will continue to be watched with interest from New Zealand. In that vein don’t forget about New Zealand and how your exceptional talents can be brought to bear on the issues that New Zealand faces!

This story first ran in Idealog 63.