How Refraction Media Got Their First Clients The Easy Way

Imagine having clients before you actually properly start your business. That was the case for Refraction Media, now a four-year-old company that custom publishes career and educational resources on STEM. That’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math for teachers and students. Apps, videos, animation, events and teacher professional development are all part of what they offer. Plus, they’ve buddied up with Google in the US to create a Careers for Coding resource there following an Australian edition.

Back in 2013, Refraction cofounders Karen Taylor-Brown and Heather Catchpole were publishing and editorial managers for Cosmos magazine. The magazine was restructuring, and after a discussion, that company “gifted some products” and sent clients over to the fledgling Refraction Media. Presumably, their openness gave them kudos, but those women saw the power of STEM and correctly predicted an unquenchable thirst for great content. Refraction Media hit a six-figure turnover within three months and cracked the million-dollar mark in their second year. They’re humming steadily at a seven-figure turnover and have definitely notched their place in the Edupreneur sector.

“With a focus on collective impact, we’ve brought together more than 200 champions of STEM, from industry, government and education, who share the Refraction vision: to inspire a smarter future,” says Taylor-Brown.

Profit-For-Purpose Business

Their vision is definitely a “profit-for-purpose” global business rather than a Legacy Business. They have more than 100 long-term partnerships with sponsors and advertisers such as NRMA, CBA and ANSTO and higher education institutions. The latest coup is a multi-year contract with the Federal Department of Education to produce regular Careers with STEM teacher resources. Corporate clients contribute up 70% of the revenue they make from that magazine. In 2017, Refraction Media will create, print and distribute 400,000 magazines. They’ve automated part of their sales through a digital hub, It features exclusive stories, an interactive Australian university degree directory, career personality quizzes, polls, blogs and inspirational career-journey videos.

“We do try to remove ourselves from being the only people who can do this. We aim to automate so others can, that’s why we’re into collaboration and growth with other organizations and corporations,” says Taylor-Brown.

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Specifically, its partnerships with tech companies that’s on their agenda, too. Grants or handouts aren’t their thing.

“We encourage corporations to share this vision about STEM. We’re looking for digital and high tech businesses to connect with us, so we can help them build that STEM skill pipeline that they’ll need for their future business,” says Taylor-Brown.

Just to put it in perspective, 75% of the fastest growing jobs of the future will need STEM skills and overall 44% of jobs will be digitized in the next 20 years.

Outreaching To Their Community

Refraction Media has an email list of 5,000 teachers across Australia and New Zealand. Among that list, the leaders and passionate advocates are invited to join their STEM ambassador program, like an open brains trust, to help market test Refraction’s new products. As well, their social media accounts draw in a broader audience including teachers, parents, students from Australia and abroad. They’re also part of the EduGrowth consortia of educational providers aiming to drive edutech in Australia to create a world class economy.

Refraction Media is also big on diversity and equity. And they’re actively encouraging more women to consider STEM careers. Women account for just 15% of computer science enrollments at Australian universities, says Taylor-Brown. And just three in 10 ICT workers in Australia are women. Things are looking up, though, with a Graduate Connections survey showing starting salaries for female computer science graduates (at $57,000 in 2015) were higher than for men.

Taylor-Brown says: “As computer science and tech skills become more important to every career area, women will see the growing demand for tech expertise and respond by seeking out more opportunities in the tech sector. And with corporates crying out to address diversity and gender disparity, there’s never been a better time to take advantage of these opportunities.”

Own Premises To Co-Working Space

So you’d think Refraction Media would rent a couple of floors in a major CBD office building. No. They had their own premises but moved back into a co-working space, WeWork, in Sydney. This is part of their aim to be “part of a community,” says Taylor-Brown. The set-up suits their small in-house team that works with 50 contractors across the globe.

Taylor-Brown says if she could have her time again she wouldn’t do anything differently.

“You have to have the experience to understand how to grow. When you’re in business for the first time and carving out a new category, it’s hard to have foresight what will and won’t work. Just give it a go, assess it, if it works, great, if not, look at abandoning it and trying something else. It all adds to your knowledge bank.”

Mentors And Advice Key To Growth

Yes, that’s right, Refraction Media is their first foray into small business. Their early mentors helped them structure their business and get a grip on cash flow, forecasting and budgets as well as creating a company vision and values. Through networking at events they found another mentor who nudged them to think big and global.

“We don’t have an editorial board but we work with various people. That includes doing some informal mentoring with Marina Go, a really experienced publishing executive and also Eddie Thomas, who’s ex Edge Agency. We’ve always had some kind of advisor for our business,” says Taylor-Brown.

The co-founders are themselves mentors. Catchpole mentors students at the University of NSW while Taylor-Brown will soon mentor a woman on the Superstars of STEM program.

Taylor-Brown advises new businesses to find mentors as well as learning to focus on what you’re good at. “There’s a real temptation to say ‘yes’ to everything, but that can be distracting and not an efficient use of resources. Build upon your strengths.” Other suggestions are to seek out face-to-face networking opportunities to develop richer business relationships.

That approach has worked well for this business, poised to make it past the all-important five-year sustainability marker to ensure it’s here for the long haul. While the co-founders tip their hat to Cosmos for the early handholding, Refraction Media is well and truly its own entity now. So, is it worth asking around for clients when you’re starting a business? You betcha.

Community Question: Has one of your previous employers handed you clients? How did you make that happen? Share your story in the Business Owners Only Community!


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There is 1 comment

  • Jo Ann Hammond-Meiers on December 28, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Informative and inspirational article, thanks. I do believe in collaboration and networking and referrals. You have a very interesting STEM outreach. I live in Canada and know there is provincial divisions for education. Industry has long partnered with educational institutes. I was surprised about the percentage of digital jobs predicted in your future outlook. Thanks for the info. Jo Ann

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