Director of Finance and Legal at Project Access, Edison Low, shares with us how Project Access has scaled from a small team of 3 co-founders to an international charity supported by over 200 volunteers that has helped university applicants from over 70 countries around the world.
Tell us about Project Access
Project Access is a student-powered charity tackling inequalities in higher education. We level the playing field by providing personalised guidance to less-privileged students in their university application.
How have you scaled Project Access and what are your plans to do so?
Scaling a start-up can be challenging, as it can be costly but not always productive. As a volunteer organisation with limited time and resources, this is particularly relevant to Project Access.
However, scaling up sustainably continues to be an important strategic decision for Project Access, as we strive to reach as many people as we possibly can, and SaaS tools are our most powerful ally. Today, I would like to share some of the tools that we have used to help scale PA safely and effectively, saving us both time and money.
That’s good to hear. We are also big SaaS believers. And which are the most effective tools that you use at PA? What do you use for cloud hosting?
We use Microsoft Azure, which helps us manage and run applications and services (and more) through data centres. We have recently started using it to host Mattermost, an open-source chat service, in order to communicate more effectively with our mentors and mentees. We have also set up an OpenVPN server on Azure for our colleagues in China so as to allow them to access applications that they might otherwise not be able to access. The benefits of Azure are that we only use as much of the server as we need, and thus do not have to invest large sums in servers or hardware.
Nice. Having colleagues around the globe must be a challenge for communicating effectively. What tools do you use for it?
Totally agree. We use Slack on a daily basis to communicate with team members. It is great for real-time collaborations and includes functionalities such as document and file sharing, a @ mention feature that sends a push notification to relevant team members and the setting of reminders, amongst others.
We also use Slack, among others, it’s a great tool. But probably you use something else to keep track of information, right?
Yes! We use Notion, which has been extremely helpful. The platform is basically a workspace application that blends the functionalities of a notebook, a task list and a wiki page. While it has gained popularity recently as a productivity app, we use it primarily for knowledge management. Our Notion page is known as the Project Access “Brain” and houses everything from current projects that the various teams are working on, to a leadership playbook, to the all-important expense policy and much more. Having a centralised and well-organised repository of information is incredibly helpful and has saved us important volunteer hours that can be channelled elsewhere.
That sounds very clever. It’s hard to wonder what we would do without all these great tools.
Yes, I don’t think we would’ve been able to scale up as effectively without them. That being said, the tricky part of having all these tools is that it can be difficult to track them all and know that they are being used effectively. And as a volunteer organisation with limited time and resources, we cannot afford to waste a penny.
That’s why we now subscribe to all of our SaaS (including the aforementioned three) through Cledara. Doing so allows us to keep track of the ever-growing list of SaaS that we have in one place. Plus, it allows us to easily find out which software “belongs” to which team, something that would otherwise get confusing quickly as we grow. And especially, due to the nature of PA, we are very happy that Cledara avoids overlaps in subscriptions that might lead to unnecessary costs.
Finally, the integration with Xero, our accounting software, allows us to reconcile our accounts quickly and easily, which is something that speeds up the closing of the accounts every month considerably.
I must say I’m particularly happy with this partnership. It has been extremely helpful!
Wow, we’re thrilled that Cledara works well for your cause. Thanks for your time Edison, and we look forward to seeing PA scale!