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It takes a village to raise a mind with HigherEdPoints.com

“People have a great idea, but they don’t have experience in the industry. So number one, find somebody who’s worked in that industry for a long time because you could leapfrog a whole bunch of things that you don’t know by having the inside scoop.” – Suzanne Tyson, Founder and CEO of Higher Ed Points Inc.

In this episode

Imagine instead of redeeming loyalty points for flights, merchandise or gift cards, you redeem your points for a HigherEdPoints education credit. It takes a village to raise a mind, so turning loyalty points to pay for education was Suzanne Tyson’s big idea.

Suzanne chats with Vicki Saunders about how HigherEnPoints enables students, parents and donors to convert loyalty points into payments for higher education fees and/or student loan repayments. Plus, they also touch on:

  • Combinatorial innovation in creating new ideas.
  • Why rational ideas are hard to make happen.
  • Behaviour change for process innovation.
  • Overcoming the challenge of awareness for students and parents in need.
  • The four-year process of getting to market.
  • The struggles of keeping going as an entrepreneur.

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings)

Suzanne Tyson 0:00
People have a great idea, but they don’t have experience in the industry. So number one, find somebody who’s worked in that industry for a long time, because you can leapfrog a whole bunch of things that you don’t know by having the inside scoop. So I’d say find an expert in that industry and learn everything you can or bring them on board to help you with that.

Podcast Intro 0:33
Welcome to SheEO dot world, a podcast about redesigning the world. I’m your host, Vicki Saunders. In each episode, you’ll hear from SheEO Venture founders, women who are working on the World’s To-Do list. These innovative business leaders are solving some of the major challenges of our time. Please sit back and be prepared to be inspired.

Suzanne Tyson 0:52
Sure. I’m Suzanne Tyson, founder of higher ed points.com. In Canada, hybrid points turns loyalty points into funds for tuition and student loans. So instead of redeeming those points for flights, which nobody’s doing right now, you can use them to pay for tuition or help a student repay their student loan.

Vicki Saunders 1:08
This is such an innovative idea. How did you come up with it?

Suzanne Tyson 1:12
The short story is everybody needs help funding education. And there are billions of dollars of loyalty points sitting in people’s wallets that are unused. So what better way to tap into that source of funding than to use it for education, the long story is I worked in college publishing, so got to know the campus environment, worked in loyalty industry, and also worked at a scholarship matching company. And so all three of those career paths led me to the idea for higher end points.

Vicki Saunders 1:38
So I just love that part too, which is like you’re a synthesizer, obviously, like a little bit like I am a piece from here a little another piece from here, another piece from here and put it all together to create a new innovation. We call that combinatorial innovation, there’s actually a term for it. Yeah, there really is, instead of like a pure innovation, someone creates something kind of that never existed before, which there isn’t as much of that more. It’s like the combination of things is another way of being an innovator. Let’s dig into that a little bit, if you don’t mind. So, you know, what are the challenge areas? What is not working in, you know, sort of traditional college funding? In the loyalty points thing, can you talk about, like some of those elements that are not working that you then combine to create this new solution.

Suzanne Tyson 2:20
I’ll start from the why higher ed points works because it addresses a whole bunch of needs for every of the each one of the participants. So if you start with the students and families, they’re cobbling together up to seven different sources of funds to pay for their tuition. So when I went to school in the stone age’s, my undergrad tuition was 1500 bucks, my MBA at Western was 3500 bucks. And our summer jobs would cover at least our tuition, if not our tuition, our living expenses. That same MBA at Ivy is $88,000 for Canadian students, and over 100 grand for an international students. And I’ve got two kids in university and there’s summer jobs, my son spent all of July up a ladder cleaning windows, working his butt off, making a ton of cash still isn’t enough money to cover justice tuition at school. So today, families need as much help as they can to pay. That’s number one. So the win for students and families is it’s one more tool in their financing toolkit. And because everybody in Canada collects loyalty points, everybody knows somebody who collects them. So the students aren’t using their own points. They’re using mom and dad’s the bosses, their aunts and uncles, for the universities, for enrollment stability. And to decrease the amount of stress there is on financial aid and the support services. Having students that have money to pay for food, and to pay for medications and to pay for transportation really helps with persistence. So it keeps people it gives access to university and college, and then keeps enrolled in school. And then at the tail end, our economy depends on grads having money to buy things. And if they bought a lot of student debt, they’re not going to be able to get married, buy a house, etc. So the win for the universities is students have money. The win for students and parents is that’s another source of funding for the loyalty program. The win for them is the health of any loyalty program is engagement of their members. And if there’s nothing in the loyalty catalog that a person wants to redeem for, they’re not going to pull out that credit card or fly on Air Canada or do whatever. And what we found with Air Canada publicly available presentation that they made, so it’s in the public domain 30% of the members who redeemed for higher ed points have never redeemed for anything in the catalog, even though they’d had 10 years tenure in the program. So in terms of driving revenue, the the model that works for loyalty programs is they make money when somebody swipes that card on those points, but then when somebody uses it for a reward, they collect 30% faster, so it supports the business model of the loyalty program as well.

Vicki Saunders 4:44
Okay, so you’ve definitely thought about this a lot. Like the answer for everything like who does it better bed at what do they get out of it? I love the rational nature of all of this and why it totally makes sense. And one of the things that we notice at this time in the world is that rational ideas are And really hard to make happen. It totally makes sense. And why doesn’t this exist in the world, and we’re literally living in opposite land in many ways. So talk to me about was this super easy to just get people on board with that because like, really right when people come to me with a business idea, they’re like, here’s the argument ABCD. I’m like, that totally makes sense. probably never going to work in this world, you know, because it’s just so crazy right now.

Suzanne Tyson 5:22
Yeah, the fact that I’d worked in each of the industries before I launched the program is why I was able to set it up. So it was a win for everybody. And even there’s no cost for the schools to join. There’s no cost for families to use it. So the first reaction we often get is it’s too good to be true. It’s like, Okay, do you want me to start charging to make sure that it’s not too good to be true, having not just the business experience, but also understanding working in corporations understanding the chain of command, understanding how decisions are made, how females are structured and what the benefit is, allowed me to speak the language I needed to speak at Aeroplan to get them on board. So I met with Rupert to Shane, and within 20 minutes, he was the CEO at the time of Aeroplan, within 20 minutes. He said love it, hybrid points, which I didn’t have the company name, when I talked to them. arm’s length, every time a corporation goes to a university, you know, there’s some sort of, can you, you know, give us enough money to name a building, right. So having a third party that’s dedicated to student success, that’s awesome. And having high red points, go to all the 250 institutions also takes that off us. And no institution is going to spend the time trying to get a loyalty program on board. The reason it made sense was because I had all of the industry experiences and had navigated campuses and made it easy for everybody to participate. The hard part was actually getting, it was harder to get the universities and the federal student loan program on board than it was to get the loyalty program. Because with education, you’ve got a layer of government, and you’ve got a layer of academia, and then democracy and the universities, the students have to pay to go. So the actual end decision maker 400 points is the finance department. And they know students are going to pay their tuition. It’s the financial aid people who were our biggest allies, because they’re the ones who see the students that you know, but for a loaf of bread are going to have to drop out. So being able to navigate the whole thing. It took four years really to get critical masses, institutions.

Vicki Saunders 7:15
That’s amazing. The behavior change, right? process innovation, is really where this kind of lies, right? It’s like the inefficiency or the breakdown in it. So how’s it going to totally take off? Are you beyond Canada? Are you across Canada? How’s it looking?

Suzanne Tyson 7:31
Yeah, we’re across Canada has close to 150 participating institutions, which were on boarded one by one by yours truly, unfortunately, I am bowing to you right now. Thank you. And we’ve all set, we just cost $2.2 million of tuition and student loan repayments, which is huge for the largest source of private sector funding that’s available to every student. So that’s pretty awesome. In terms of achievement, our biggest challenge continues to be awareness. So I can go into a roomful of high school students and parents, and nobody will have heard of us yet. So thank you for the sheet yo funding, we did some marketing, but also being part of shijo led us to get the Women’s Entrepreneurship funding. And that Grant has been going directly into marketing. And for the first time this spring, when Aeroplan put us on promotion, I sent to the marketing company hot soup marketing group. I said, let’s do an email campaign to our members. And it’s the very first time I’ve been able to directly correlate a marketing initiative with actual redemptions of loyalty points in the program. Oh, wow.

Vicki Saunders 8:32
That’s really hard to do in a lot of cases, right?

Suzanne Tyson 8:34
Yeah. Yeah. And so they were right there, I had the money to pay them to do it. It finally proved you know, once we have a member, when we let them know that there’s something special, they’re going to react and it supports the business.

Vicki Saunders 8:45
Wow. Okay, so getting the word out to parents and students who are in need of an alternative is the big challenge. So talk to me a little bit about how you’ve done that. So you’ve done it a bit with hot soup. I mean, are you doing social media marketing is the way to go?

Suzanne Tyson 9:00
No. Interestingly, the number one way to make people aware University of Waterloo and George Brown College have is on their tuition, reminder and tuition, invoices and communications about when you’re paying your fees. Even though all of our institutions have this is one of the methods of payment, and a lot of them have us in financial aid, about different sources of funding. It’s that immediate I have a bill to pay. Oh, hi, red points, right. I’m going to go and use my loyalty points. td has this in their reward catalog is a drop down item. So redeemed for education. Lots and lots of our members find out when they’re looking for a one woman said a garden hose. Oh no. I’m going to use my points for education and have a garden.

Vicki Saunders 9:38
Oh my gosh, amazing.

Suzanne Tyson 9:39
But that’s sort of passive. And what I’ve been trying to do is we did big ways to pay for school. Same with the Globe and Mail. You became a household name and I’ve had people say they heard about us from that. So to pivoting from, it’s about using loyalty points to pay for tuition and then taking my over a decade experience in student funding. We all have ways to pay for school.com Which will become eventually the bigger brand, because it’s all the different ways to pay for school, of which higher rate points is one component. So if we start doing mass market media, we’re not going to be completely, you know, people say, Oh, I don’t have loyalty points, you’re out. So we can use ways to pay for school as the marketing brand eventually.

Vicki Saunders 10:19
Can you talk to me a little bit about the process of coming up with a process of a process innovation, your experience in combining a bunch of different elements to come up with a new approach for business and like, what advice you’d give to others who are seeing those kinds of opportunities and how to get things off the ground? Like that’s a it’s a really hard thing for years to get yourself to market. Right? Can you talk a little bit about what you learned and what you’d like to share with others about that process. So it took six months

Suzanne Tyson 10:49
from the time Rupert to Shane said yes. And so we actually realize it took four years to get the schools on board, and it’s now we’re coming into the seventh tuition cycle. And I’m still trying to create awareness. So if you break it down into those three stages, what I often see is, people have a great idea, but they don’t have experience in the industry. So number one, find somebody who’s worked in that industry for a long time, dive into the CEO network and find somebody who’s been in banking, who’s been in retail, who’s been in whatever, because you can leapfrog a whole bunch of things that you don’t know, by having the inside scoop, nobody understands the loyalty industry. So me having that experience really helped understand why the rewards catalog doesn’t promote higher ed points, because we’re not generating gravity, we’re actually a cost source, right. So I’d say find an expert in that industry and learn everything you can or bring them on board to help you with that. lots of examples of brilliant business businesses well funded, but the people didn’t account for the fact that a consumer behaves a certain way that wasn’t accommodated, then the second thing I would say is understand your revenue drivers and make sure that whatever you’re delivering, has a clear, do you know, if I do this, it generates this much revenue, as opposed to it’s a great idea. And people will come once the idea is out in the marketplace, because that’s not true. And the third thing is I say, make sure you love it. Because I can tell you, when I get a call from a parent that’s being helped, it’s okay, I can keep I can carry on, I can do this, because it’s been seven years, and I’m still salary lists, I have a very patient investor, my husband. So I’d say those are the keys, and don’t get too married to your idea. You’re not identified by the idea. It’s very hard not to become the business. And that’s the hardest psychological thing because you need to be distant enough to know when to cut bait.

Vicki Saunders 12:41
This is such a good point, this ability to sort of detach a little bit, I’m thinking about it myself, right now, as we’re talking,

just like living the business every day. This staying open. And I mean, it always takes so much longer than you think it does when you’re getting started, especially with something that that’s new that requires people to change their behavior. I think that’s something that we’ve really learned. Can you talk a little bit about keeping yourself buoyant, as you’re going through this and the struggles you feel? So you talked about, you know, obviously, having a customer call you so excited about what you’ve done? That really helps to keep you going? What other things have kept you going when the going gets tough?

Suzanne Tyson 13:16
So for sure she do. And this conversation and all the conversations, right? It’s connecting with other like minded people. For me, that’s the biggest, the biggest motivator and when I was the venture that year, I had my venture and I had MJ as my coach, those bi weekly calls were life support, essentially, because there was no judgment. She wasn’t in my industry, she was there strictly to support me. So finding a coach, but really being committed to your mission is what if you can get fuel from your customers, and keep recommitting yourself to why you started in the first place. That’s fine. But also, I have to say, I’ve been so tempted every year do I go back and get a corporate job? Or really is now the time to supplement my income? How much am I personally sacrificing sort of a mission? That’s a question that that MJ helped me answer every two weeks.

Vicki Saunders 14:09
Almost all of my life I had that feeling with every startup I’ve ever done, right? Should I go get a job but I literally have never really worked for anyone else except my parents. Way back in the day when I was getting started. But yeah, that that draw that it maybe it’ll be easier somewhere else. And I’ll just not have to think about this. But yeah, it’s interesting when you’re committed to something making something happen. It’s it’s hard to let go to

Suzanne Tyson 14:31
Well, I work with corporations and I get some sort of insights into the processes again, and I go I couldn’t do it. I get fired in a week.

Unknown Speaker 14:39
Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Vicki Saunders 14:40
I a part two, I’d be on the Island of Misfit employees and no time. Yeah, absolutely. What is next for you? What’s happening with your the future of your business?

Suzanne Tyson 14:51
The awesome thing is there are people who’ve used the program enough that they keep coming back and every time we get a brand new customer I know we’re going to have them so it’s momentum is building in overtime, the loyalty programs really like this reward because on so many levels, it meets the business but also their corporate social responsibility. So I think long term, you know, we’re there for the long haul, in terms of generating new sources of revenue, the ways to pay for school site is going to allow us more flexibility for marketing relationships. So we’ll be able to partner with brands and have advertising and have brands that are not in the higher ed points program actually participate. So that’s a new revenue source for us, we’re going to launch American Express. So we’ll have our next two giant new loyalty partner coming on board. And so excited because the demographic of their member base in terms of the number of miles that they collect, and the marketing there, they’ve got an absolute marketing juggernaut, it’s going to really help and it will help their member base, but it will also help create overall awareness for hiring points. And the thing I love about our loyalty partners is none of them want any sort of exclusivity. They’re like, we want you to help as many students as possible. So it doesn’t have to be asked for them. It’s all of us together, which is awesome. Now, that’s huge. That’s really amazing. And so again, the marketing piece, right, getting the word out to parents around this. And I hope if you’re listening to this podcast that you’ll please share this broadly. So you’re in Canada and the US right now, not us yet, you actually again through shoot, you have a contact in the US that can help us pave the way there when we’re ready. And do you have an ask for the audience? Tell everybody you know about higher ed points as a source of funding, that’d be awesome. That’s my only ask ever.

Vicki Saunders 16:28
Okay. Well, that’s that’s an easy ask, maybe not as easy to deliver. Can you just summarize again, like so how does it work? If I’m sitting there as a student wanting to figure out how to take advantage of this, what do I do

Suzanne Tyson 16:39
so if you’re a student, just go to higher ed points.com, and click on the get more points button, and you can send emails to everybody in your network. And then the person who has the loyalty points instead of redeeming those points for the flight or the merchandise, higher ed points is in the reward catalog. So find higher end points in the Aeroplan, TD rewards civc and Amex catalogs, and just redeem your points for that reward, then you come back to your free account at higher ed points and put in the student information along with your redemption information, and hire at points deposit the funds directly into that tuition account, or the student loan account on behalf of the students. So it goes directly to the school or the candidate student loan program.

Vicki Saunders 17:20
That’s amazing. And what is the formula? How does that work?

Suzanne Tyson 17:23
So each loyalty program sets the point value itself. It’s a $250 certificate. So Aeroplan and civc, is 35,000 miles for $250, which is equivalent to a cash based reward. And they’ve just announced family pooling. So up to eight family members can put there that was a challenge because somebody would have 30,000 points, somebody else would have 32,000. Now Aeroplan in November, has the ability to pull them. Tt gave us a better redemption value in cash. So anybody who’s looking to redeem for cash, will actually have to spend 100,000 points for 250. But higher ed points is 62,500 points for $250 cash, because I really want to help people in that program pay for education.

Vicki Saunders 18:02
Oh, that’s really cool. That’s fascinating. So if I want to donate my access points, because I’ve never redeemed anything, I’ve never even looked at the catalog. I don’t think because I always use my points for flying, which I’m not doing anymore, maybe forever. Who knows. So what do I do it same thing, go to your website.

Suzanne Tyson 18:17
So if you want to get in touch with me, I can point you in the direction of some of the schools that have pooling funds that you can donate them to and their use for scholarships, or we have I just had a call with Colliers international and a lot of their young commercial real estate brokers are looking to join shijo, we could actually direct those points for membership fees that she as well. So there’s all sorts of different ways that those can be used to promote education and community, etc.

Vicki Saunders 18:43
So many ideas. Thank you so much for everything that you do. We’d love higher ed points. We’re very honored to be supporting you Suzanne, your work is incredible. And we’re really grateful for your leadership.

Suzanne Tyson 18:54
Thank you so much. Thank you for all you do as well.


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