Singapore-based college admissions start-up Cialfo raises US$3m to expand into US market

Singapore-based education start-up Cialfo announced that it has raised US$3 million in funding on May 14, 2019. The company has 25 employees and is headed by (from left) chief product officer William Hund, chief executive officer Rohan Pasari and chi
Singapore-based education start-up Cialfo announced that it has raised US$3 million in funding on May 14, 2019. The company has 25 employees and is headed by (from left) chief product officer William Hund, chief executive officer Rohan Pasari and chief operating officer Stanley Chia.PHOTO: CIALFO

SINGAPORE - Singapore-based education start-up Cialfo announced on Tuesday (May 14) that it has raised US$3 million (S$4.1 million) in funding as it expands into the US market.

This brings its total funding to date to over US$5 million since the company was formed in 2012. Cialfo helps high school administrators and education counsellors better manage the college application process through its online platform.

The firm has 100,000 users from clients in more than 40 countries today, including India, China and Singapore, and wants 100 million students to have used its platform by 2025.

Top colleges in the US have a completely different application process from those in the UK, while requirements and deadlines can vary even among colleges in the same country. Traditionally, the burden of juggling these demands has been borne by school administrators or the students themselves.

Cialfo's online platform aggregates information such as application deadlines and requirements, essay prompts and acceptance rates, and also allows for the timely submission of application documents and quick communication on the status of applications.

Schools or consultancies pay an annual license fee based on the size of their student cohort to use the platform. Most of Cialfo's current clients are international and private schools but the company has plans to expand its services to public schools.

The level of customisability in Cialfo's platform helps differentiate it from its competitors, said the company's co-founder and chief operating officer Stanley Chia.

"The schools we support come from many different regions with different academic systems, and the services we provide them take into account these differences," he said.

"Our competitors include BridgeU and Maya. We can compete with both because of our flexibility and this helps us retain customers."

For example, added Mr Chia, full-time college admissions counselors in India can set tasks for individual students and follow through on their progress on the Cialfo platform.

But for counselors in Singapore, who more often than not are teachers wearing multiple hats and have less time on their hands, it is more important to package information in a way that can be disseminated easily to a large group of students.

Cialfo is working with the Singapore American School and Hwa Chong Institution here. Mr Chia declined to reveal how many clients Cialfo has in total but said 70 per cent come from Asia.

The company's original business model was as a consultancy, where students pay for expert advice and guidance to gain an edge in applying to the top universities around the world.

But the company's founders Rohan Pasari (also the chief executive officer) and Mr Chia decided in 2016 that they wanted to work directly with schools to reach as many students as possible. This led to the sale of Cialfo's consulting arm to a private equity firm in September 2017.

The company now has 25 employees and offices in Singapore, New York, Beijing and New Delhi. Its latest funding round was led by DLF Venture with support from Seeds Capital (the investment arm of Enterprise Singapore), YK Capital, and angel investors.

"What convinced us about Cialfo was their ability to disrupt the counselling market," said François-Xavier de Mevius, principal at DLF Venture.

"The entire platform is built around its users (counsellors, students, and parents) and by offering round-the-clock customer support they bring average response times down from days to just hours."

The global education technology market was worth almost US$18 billion in 2017 and is expected to grow to US$40.9 billion by 2022, according research firm Research and Markets.


Correction note: This article has been edited for accuracy.