After getting into Oxford University, James realised there were other kids like himself who would love to study at some of the most prestigious universities in the UK, so he created Oxbridge Applications which helped bright people with their applications to top universities.
So it only made sense when he decided to take the next step, taking graduates from universities to employment but not just any kind of employment, but giving top graduates the opportunity to work with/for some of the biggest companies in the UK.
Bright Network, a membership-only network that works exclusively with the brightest graduates and undergraduates in the UK and Europe.
I recently spoke to him about the company, what they are trying to solve, their business model and advice for young entrepreneurs.
Hi James, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP?
Thanks for having me.
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself?
I studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at University of Oxford (1997 – 2000), and ever since I’ve been helping bright young people to achieve their potential – first by helping them with their applications to university, and, since I founded Bright Network in 2007, by helping connect them with remarkable career opportunities.
Tell me how you got into business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
I founded my first start-up at 14. This business was selling sweets at school from my locker – against the rules but still a success!
So tell me about Bright Network and how the idea came about?
In 1999, while I was at university, I founded Oxbridge Applications - a start-up which helps bright people with their applications to top universities. Bright Network was the obvious next step – helping those people with their careers beyond university.
What is Bright Network and how does it work? What are you trying to solve?
Bright Network is where the brightest get noticed. We are a membership-only network that works exclusively with the brightest graduates and undergraduates in the UK and Europe. In order to join, members must have attended either a Times Top 20 or Russell Group university or have achieved at least AAB at A Level..
We are trying to solve two problems – firstly, the fact that, despite tough economic times which mean a lot of young people in the marketplace, firms are still struggling to find top quality candidates for their opportunities. We invest the time to get to know our members well and give our clients the opportunity to meet them face to face at networking events where they can find out more about them than they could from an online application form. Secondly, the fact that bright undergraduates, graduates and young professionals often struggle to differentiate themselves in the jobs market. At Bright Network we help them establish personal connections to get noticed for the right opportunities.
What is your business model?
We connect our members with exceptional job opportunities, remarkable organisations, and exclusive networking events to help them with their careers. And through our membership-only peer-to-peer bounty referral platform, our members work alongside our super in-house headhunters to identify and recommend bright minds who have the potential to work at some of the most sought-after organisations.
From Goldman Sachs to Innocent Drinks, Slaughter & May to Mind Gym, we work with firms, big and small, blue chip and entrepreneurial - all united by one thing - the desire to find the best.
In terms of our business model, our client firms pay us to help them access the people they need to find to grow their business, meaning our support is free for members.
What makes Bright Network different from any other Recruitment platform out there?
Firstly, as a membership-only platform with strict academic criteria, we have carved out a niche for giving firms access to the academic platform. Secondly, and most importantly, rather than being a recruitment consultancy, we are a social network which establishes long-term relationships with our members. Our ‘Bright Bounty’ referral system, where members earn money by referring their bright friends for our clients’ opportunities helps to keep them engaged even when they aren’t job hunting – and them keeping in touch helps us maintain the quality of the data we have.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
We are completely relationship driven and spend time with our members and our client partners so we know what they want and how we can help them.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
All businesses develop over time. We started with London and we’re now covering the whole of UK.
You raised £300k last year - how was the whole fund raising process and what are some of the key things that you took away from that experience?
Raising money for your business can be time consuming, however it really makes think about what you’re doing, what resources you need and what you want to achieved. Our investors are superb – they are completely bought into our mission, have great experience and give us some fantastic connections.
What tips can you give upcoming entrepreneurs looking to raise money to grow their startups?
The key bit of advice is that investors back people more often than ideas. It’s common knowledge that an investor would rather invest in a ‘A-team’ with a ‘B-grade idea’ than vice versa. So if you’ve got a great track record of delivery to show potential investors what you’re capable of achieving when you put your mind to it, that will take you a long way.
Also, spend money on great people – sometimes they come with a high price tag, which may feel difficult when you’ve got limited financial resources, but ultimately having a great team in place means you’ll have a product and a client base that shows you are worth investing in.
What can we be expecting from your company in 2012?
Big things! We’ve just launched our new site, the culmination of a 14-month project… we expect to work with even more top-notch clients and attract more bright people on to the network. We’re also planning a huge careers festival (our Bright Festival) this September… watch this space.
What has been your most memorable moment so far?
Launching our new site! It was great to see the months and months of planning and hard work by the development team pay off. It was a big project with some challenging moments, but we got there.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Manage your risk profile. All entrepreneurs have to take risk – i.e. going into ventures where they don’t know the outcome. However the good entrepreneurs always make sure that is things don’t work out as planned and hoped for, they survive. My motto is ‘never bet what you can’t afford to lose’. Take risks, but make sure you can live to fight another day if it doesn’t work out.
2. Get going! The best way to learn about a market is to get started. Sometimes bright graduates can be too analytical and delay for too long. Once you start trading you get a whole load of new information about your business (e.g. what do customers really like).
3. Hire great people. Trust your gut but don’t rush into things and be slow to hire and quick to fire if things don’t work out. Your business is only as good as the people who are working in it.