Amy Baker’s journalism degree launched her into the international language learning industry. After a decade of working in the sector, Amy decided to start her own media company with a focus on international higher education. This year, The PIE, now a global b2b media brand, celebrates its 10th anniversary.
It takes knowledge and grit to turn a promising idea into a profitable business. When that business makes it to its tenth year, there’s an opportunity to celebrate and contemplate.
“The whole point of launching The PIE was that I wanted to marry up higher education, language learning, and these education agents who are the main conduit for students to travel the world,” says Amy Baker (Journalism and Social Science, 1996), co-founder and CEO of The PIE.
In 2022, ten years after its conception, The PIE has become a global business-to-business (b2b) media brand that offers a host of services, including International Education News, recruitment, and events, to those who work in the international education sector.
“We focus on international higher education because that’s the biggest market, but then we also talk about study abroad, language learning, and online learning.”
According to Amy, technology in education – known as edtech – has become an exciting part of the sector in the past five years and broadened its opportunities.
“There’s a whole cohort of students who will study a masters without leaving their country, but it’ll be a British master’s degree or an Australian PhD, and that is still part of the export of education.”
Amy was passionate about international study long before she entered the industry. One of the main reasons she chose City for her journalism degree was the opportunity to study abroad for a year.
“I enjoyed English as a subject and I enjoyed connecting with people and trying to understand their stories, so I had a sort of broad interest in journalism and the power to connect people to stories,” she says.
“I didn’t really know whether I wanted to be a features writer, a b2b journalist, a b2c (business to consumer) journalist, I don’t think I even understood the distinction, but what was very important to me was that I wanted to have a year abroad.”
Through a network for budding journalists, Amy spent two semesters in Bordeaux studying journalism in French. It was an experience that was personally fulfilling and also served Amy well in her career.
“I really have a sense of what it’s like to be an international student,” she says. “It was truly life-changing, which is what most people working in my industry say about a year abroad.”
Soon after graduation, Amy was recruited by a b2b magazine.
“My first job was as a journalist reporting on the international language learning industry, and particularly the commercial aspects around that.”
It turned out to be the first step toward Amy’s own venture.
“I loved it. It really tied in with my experience as an international student,” she explains. ”I spent 10 years working for that publication, going up to editor and then launching events, and then I decided, well, I could do this on my own.”
Having left her job with the idea for The PIE, Amy approached Clare Gossage, COO and co-founder of The PIE, and Jane Gilham, CCO and co-founder of The PIE.
“We started the recruitment division at the same time as starting an online magazine and online website,” Amy says. “The recruitment side we developed at the same time because that was a great way for me to create some cash flow.”
With the income generated by the recruitment platform, Amy could focus on creating content that would make an impact.
“I was always completely confident, given that I’m fundamentally a journalist and then an editor, in our ability to create the right content for the right audience,” Amy says. “We really did grow our readership and our reputation based on our great content. But I also knew that it would take a while between setting it up and then being able to get advertising revenue for that brand.”
As The PIE has gone from “a kitchen table and borrowed laptop” to a profitable venture, Amy has taken a step back from the day-to-day editorial work to focus more on further growth.
“The big missing piece of the jigsaw in terms of us becoming a profitable and globally sustainable business where we can grow is events, so we launched the Awards first, and then we launched virtual conferences during Covid, and now we just finished our first two-day conference.”
International events are to follow, and Amy is looking toward either Canada or the US.
“Events have really helped us grow the business in terms of bringing our community together at an event that we run, as opposed to meeting everyone at events other people run.”
When asked what Amy sees as one of The PIE’s successes she doesn’t hesitate.
“The fact that it’s still 100 per cent female-owned. I know we get immense pride out of that. And we’ve all built the business around having children. I had a nine-month-old when I left my job and a three-year-old. And my other two business partners had one each and they’ve subsequently gone on to have another one or two children depending,” she says. “So I think we’ve proven that you can have a career and children and I think we take immense pride out of that.”
According to Amy, the company was seen as somewhat revolutionary in 2011 because everyone worked from home two days a week to ensure balance between work and family.
There has also been a culture of transparency in the company, and looking back, Amy believes it to be an important factor in their success.
“We’ve always been super transparent with everyone in the team about where we’re at and where we want to be, and I think people buy into your story if you’re open and honest with them. So, we’ve always had a very flat sort of management structure.”
The fact that The PIE has made it to its tenth year and makes a good return, proves the original concept.
“I genuinely do think it is amazing what you can achieve. When we started out, we had a three-year business plan but we never really dreamed what year ten might look like,” Amy says. “It’s pretty exciting to achieve that from a spare room and a borrowed laptop. That is really where we started. So, if you know your audience and you can deliver compelling insight, and build a community, then you can achieve it.”
What advice would Amy give someone who wanted a similar career?
“Network. It’s all about the network, I would say. I mean, City University was a great springboard for me to learn the actual tools and art of journalism for sure, but that will only take you so far. The next leap is knowing who to talk to and getting the stories from your audience, and that means networking.”
And what are Amy’s goals for The PIE in the next 10 years?
“Continuing growth, helping champion good journalism, and run more global events. We are already in a global operation, but I imagine we could continue to grow that. We have journalists in Australia and the US, but whether we would expand that to be an office, I’m not sure. But certainly, continued global growth and commercial success, which interests me as much as championing great, unique, and compelling journalism.”
A big congratulations to Amy Baker and The PIE Team on their 10th anniversary!