Case Study: The Red Pen

Founded in 2011 and based in Mumbai, The Red Pen primarily works with applicants of Indian origin applying for boarding schools and higher education (undergraduate, MBA and other postgraduate) in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada and other popular destinations.

The co-founders Kavita Mehta and Kimberly Wright Dixit grew up in the United States and met in Mumbai. They were struck by the way differences in global education systems and cultural expectations about education led to knowledge gaps, misconceptions and confusion among Indian students.

Kim and I worked out of cafes, even hosting client meetings in Kim’s guest bedroom.

Kim and Kavita are both from California, but met in Mumbai. Independently, they’d both been working with college applicants before deciding to join forces. After helping several friends and families with their essays and applications, they established The Red Pen to provide holistic guidance and empower applicants to make informed choices about studying abroad.

“When we first started, my co-founder, Kim and I worked out of cafes, even hosting client meetings in Kim’s guest bedroom,” said Kavita.

Over the last six years the company has scaled immensely, adding services and staff. The Red Pen is now an international team of 35+ highly educated consultants from around the world and different walks of life, who contribute rich perspectives to an applicant’s journey. Applicants across cities in India and in Hong Kong, UK, UAE, Belgium and Singapore are supported by a team of experts – a dedicated consultant guides each applicant with inputs from a larger team that includes essay, resume and interview specialists.

A seamless collaborative approach

Kavita and her team quickly realised they couldn’t rely only on Google Drive and Excel spreadsheets to manage client engagements. While Excel is excellent for reviewing aggregate static information and Google Drive allows for easier sharing of materials, neither option allowed for a truly collaborative experience in which all involved parties – consultants, specialists, parents and the applicant themselves – could track the myriad requirements and deadlines. Plus, their leadership team needed a dynamic dashboard to view all engagements from an overall perspective so that they could better manage resources and spot issues before they became problems.

“We were looking for a flexible, mobile friendly platform that would enable our team members to seamlessly collaborate with parents and applicants around the world,” said Kavita. Our earlier processes were robust but multi-step, leveraging many online tools simultaneously. While we had a tried and tested methodology, we really wanted to eliminate as many of the disparate tools as possible and consolidate on one platform.

The Red Pen wanted to address several key challenges:

  • Streamline workflows
  • Better communication between all stakeholders
  • Assign responsibilities and tasks
  • Centralise data, school research, and applicant college lists

Leah, an essay editor, needed to keep applicants on track. School research, essay topics, and application needs all had to be in a centralised location, and she needed a way to quickly edit numerous applications.

Amanda, a content specialist, needed better communication between stakeholders as well as a more streamlined workflow.

And Sayuri, a process and data specialist, needed to keep data in one place so she could help applicants get on board faster.

Enter Cialfo.

For Amanda, Cialfo’s automation was key. Parents were sent automatic progress updates whenever their applicant was marked as having reached a milestone, meaning one less thing for her to worry about. And with the intuitive status tracker, she didn’t have to keep clicking between pages to check where an applicant was in the admissions process.

Cialfo is becoming an integral part of our client engagement and servicing. It is the go-to place for applicant information.

When an applicant is added to Cialfo, Sayuri adds and tracks updates about the applicant in Cialfo (through the notes section). Leah and Amanda both add and access notes for that applicant after every call or meeting. Tasks are assigned and tracked through Cialfo; students download the app and get updates. The automated reminders for tasks also helps the consultants manage their students better, while College Specialists use Cialfo to recommend/shortlist colleges based on the profile of the student.

From juggling static Excel spreadsheets and an increasingly bloated Google Drive, The Red Pen has now shifted to using Cialfo to manage every part of their applications – and it shows in their productivity.

Tips for growing IECs

  1. Customer service is king. Parents are becoming increasingly invested in their children’s education. Independent education consultants must collaborate closely with them to maintain a smooth working relationship. Make sure every part of your experience has the customer in mind: from their initial onboarding experience to progress updates.
  2. Data and analytics. Don’t take data for granted. The Red Pen has always emphasised a data-driven approach, and their ability to leverage tech is a distinguishing factor for them. Find a way to collect and study your data, whether that’s understanding your historical acceptance rate or number of hours spent per essay.
  3.  Prioritise your time. The biggest and best brands in the world understand the importance of priority. Pareto’s Principle states that 80% of results will come from 20% of the causes. By automating away administrative work and data entry, you can put in 20% of the effort for 80% of the results. Your time is valuable – guard it jealously.


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