From humble beginnings, buying and selling designer jeans at age 14, Jason has certainly come a long way. Currently part of the NEF cohort and co-founder of Compare The Uni, an innovative university comparison website aimed at helping prospective students make the right decision about where and what to study! Jason shares his story.
Hi Jason, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Hi Joseph, no problem! I am great thank you.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
My name is Jason Gibbs; I’m a law graduate and the Co-Founder of Compare The Uni (www.comparetheuni.com), an innovative university comparison website! I am also in the New Entrepreneurs Foundation Class of 2013 (http://www.newentrepreneursfoundation.co.uk)
Tell me, how did you initially get into business?
I have always been interested in business and enterprise! As an example whilst in school I used to sell designer jeans to other students. At the age of 14 I would travel to London from Milton Keynes, buy jeans in bulk at a discount and then make at least 100% profit on each item. Being a 14 year old, I didn't have a lot of money to buy the jeans or even travel to London, therefore I adopted the “just in time” strategy by obtaining both orders and money before I bought the jeans. This meant that I had no risk!
After I hung my jeans up in the designer jeans game (if you’ll pardon the pun) I was further inspired by Young Enterprise and their secondary school programme that gave students an insight into the world of business!
How did the idea for Compare The Uni come about?
The idea for Compare The Uni came from personal experiences of going through the university application process. My business partner and I realised that the process of comparing universities was not only time-consuming, but also difficult and that because of this, often students made the wrong decision.
Therefore, Compare The Uni was created to make the comparison process easier and less complicated by collating all of the information a prospective student would need into one easy to use comparison website!
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of setting up the business?
The hardest part when setting up the business was collating all of the information and presenting it to students in a clear and concise manner. When we first launched in 2011 we had a lot of data! However, we have now implemented technology that enables much of our data to be updated automatically!
What is Compare The Uni? And what are you trying to solve with it?
Compare The Uni is an innovative university comparison website aimed at helping prospective students make the right decision about where and what to study!
Whilst I was in 6th form a lot of students picked universities for the wrong reasons. Often because their friends were going, their siblings went or just because it was the closest institute. However, with the recent increase in tuition fees it is more important than ever for students to make the right choice before investing up to £9,000 per year.
Picking the wrong university or course is also one of the reasons students drop out of university. We can’t prevent every student from dropping out; however, we can aid the university research and comparison stage and ultimately reduce the number of students that drop out of university due to uninformed decisions.
Compare The Uni does this by providing students with access to:
• University profiles for every university in the UK- including reviews from current/past students, course lists and more.
• A course finder- whereby students can search and compare over 27,000 university courses.
• Official rankings.
• Profiles of people that have been to university. Including doctors, lawyers, bankers and accountants.
• Interview and application advice.
• A unique head to head system,
By using our head to head system a prospective student can compare universities and their respective courses side by side for:
o Tuition fees
o Average rent
o Employment rates
o Male-female ratios and much more!
How have you been able to fund it?
In 2011 we secured an angel investment that enabled us to start and launch Compare The Uni! Raising angel investment was a very important milestone for us and ultimately enabled us to progress at a quicker pace.
What sort of advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to raise money for their start-ups?
Firstly, it’s very important to write a solid business plan equipped with a financial forecast. A business plan is crucial when approaching potential investors, however, it is also great for any entrepreneur as it gives you a real opportunity to formulate your thoughts and ideas. Writing a business plan usually brings up talking points, problems and issues that may not have been identified otherwise! I would recommend checking out the British Library as they have great resources that can help anybody writing a business plan.
In addition, I would also recommend creating a minimum viable product (MVP). A minimum viable product is great as it helps an investor envision how the product may work whilst it also shows a level of commitment and passion from an entrepreneur.
There are currently many tax reliefs for angel investors including entrepreneur’s relief and SEIS, which inevitably makes investing more attractive to individuals now. I would recommend signing up to sites such as Angel Investment Network, which is an online platform that connects entrepreneurs with angel investors.
Lastly, it might sound cliché, but don’t give up! Not everybody will be willing to part with their hard earned cash to fund your idea regardless of how good you think it is!
How did you initially get traction?
Initially to get traction we used social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. In addition, we used Facebook advertising, which provides targeted advertising, which proved effective in reaching our target demographic. After this we were able to benefit from strategic partnerships and close relationships with schools and universities to increase traction. We now currently have hits in over 180 countries!
You’re also part of the NEF program this year, why did you decide this was the next step for you?
I decided to join NEF for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was a great opportunity to be surrounded by a cohort of 30 young and ambitious entrepreneurs, many of whom could be potential business partners in the future!
In addition, the exposure to leading entrepreneurs in the UK through the speaker events is unrivalled. We have heard from the likes of Charles Dunstone (co-founder of Carphone Warehouse), Brent Hobermann (founder of lastminute.com) and Lord Young to name a few.
Whilst lastly, the workshops and learning sessions we participate in are very relevant and helpful to the field of entrepreneurship. As an example we have completed a strategy workshop delivered by Mckinsey as well as undergoing a masters module on entrepereneruship at UCL. Ultimately everything I have learnt from my year on NEF will be applicable to my ventures in the future.
How have you been able to make time for the business whilst being in the programme?
I have been able to make time for Compare The Uni by building a team as well as sharing responsibilities with my business partner.
It’s also important for any business to have a strong team as this enables a broad range of skills to be brought to the table!
How has the programme been so far, and what has been the most memorable lesson?
The programme has been good! I have learnt a lot and have also gained some great friends and potential co-founders!
One of the most memorable lessons I have had whilst being on NEF was from Lord Young whilst I was at a speaker event. His lesson was that conventional is not always credible.
Years ago he had the opportunity to invest in two businesses, one was an online auction site and the other a site selling wine. The wine business was the most conventional, therefore he assumed it would be the most credible and invested in it. However, the wine website did not do very well, whilst the online auction site that he didn’t invest in… is Ebay! In conclusion, conventional is not always credible!
For anyone thinking about applying for the programme, what insight can you give them?
Being on the NEF programme is an opportunity to join a cohort of young, ambitious and intelligent entrepreneurs. Throughout the year you can build friendships and find potential co-founders, whilst also learning things that will inevitably help you on your entrepreneurial journey.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
One highlight of my entrepreneurial journey would be pitching at the BBC Hackney Dragons show and as a result securing a client! Furthermore, another highlight is seeing people from all around the world using our product!
What should we be expecting from yourself and the Compare The Uni team for 2013?
2013 will be a big year for Compare The Uni, our team is expanding and we have some very exciting things in the pipeline!
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer anyone thinking about starting a business?
1) Talk to potential customers/people that would use your product. Constructive criticism and feedback is integral to creating a good product!
2) Find good co-founders with skills that compliment yours. When you start a business a strong team will bring new
ideas to the table and help to share the workload!
3) Go for it! Some people spend their whole life aiming and never have a shot at it.
Personal Twitter: @Gibbspreneur