Nick Musto is the CEO and founder of native, a unique student engagement platform which connects students, student organisations and advertisers.
Via partnerships across 75 UK campuses, native gives advertisers frictionless access to 1.6 million highly-engaged students. This unlocks new revenue streams on campus, helps advertisers to reach Gen Zs in the environment where they are most receptive, and improves the overall student experience: also known as “the native win-win-win”.
What is your backstory – how did you come up with the idea for native?
I first realised native was necessary when I was a student myself back in 2015, feeling overwhelmed and isolated amidst an influx of conflicting information about how I should be spending my time. University is a time where you forge your identity and really grow as a person – I wanted to create a platform where students could find events and experiences that facilitate that, without getting overwhelmed and isolated.
How has native evolved over the last couple of years?
After four years building native as a successful events platform in the student space, it was clear to me that campuses had so much potential to facilitate connection between students and student-facing brands – but due to high fragmentation and lack of funding, they were restricted from serving their communities.
My vision was to unify the market and create a solution that works for everyone – so in 2019, I pivoted native’s direction to fix the root problem.
Pre-native, if an advertiser wanted to connect with students across 50 UK campuses, they would have to approach and negotiate with all 50 of them separately. For this reason, no major agency had ever invested in campus media; it lacked the economy of scale that they desire.
But with our exclusive access to media channels across multiple campuses, this is changing. native can seamlessly connect advertisers to campus communities, circulating better content and experiences for students themselves.
Our events platform continues to thrive, and native has now secured long-term partnerships with 75 campuses, growing our student reach from 170,000 at the start of 2022 to 1.6 million by the end of it – the largest position in the history of the market. To keep delivering the best experience to all three of our key audiences, we made two strategic acquisitions, and our team of 15 has grown to more than 80 people.
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What are your goals for native in the future?
I want native to continue to be a force for good: empowering Students’ Unions to reach their full revenue potential; transforming the student media landscape for advertisers; and bringing students the experience I missed out on back in 2015 – one filled with empowering events, relevant brand content and a campus culture driven by their Students’ Union.
At the moment, students are telling us they’re graduating feeling unprepared for the future of work – despite often choosing their university for the career prospects it will bring them. I want native to commit to supporting students more holistically with this. To do so, we recently acquired Gradguide – a careers-focused mentorship, events and recruitment platform. This extends native’s capabilities by empowering our campus partners to fully support students – from the moment they start university, to the moment they embark on their future careers.
Do you have any advice for tech startup founders?
The people you meet will be instrumental in driving your idea forward, so build your network at every chance you get. In 2017, I set myself a target to meet two people a week – business-related or not. This in turn led to connections with investors, clients, employees and more, and it shaped native into the business it is today. I would also say don’t be afraid to pivot if you feel it’s needed. Trust your gut and push yourself out of your comfort zone. The student market in particular is in a constant state of change, and we had to evolve along with it in order to have a positive impact. It was a risk, but it’s one that has paid off.