Universities are being considered amongst the best places to start one's entrepreneurial exploitation and that's exactly what james is doing, using the university platform as the perfect opportunity to pour his creative ideas, creating startups and making valuable contacts..as he said "The absolute worst case scenario is you loose some of your own cash on it, but guess what, your a student, your in debt anyway, what difference is another 200?
Hope you enjoy the interview.
Hey James, how are you doing today?
Hi Joseph, Im good thanks, busy as always but loving everything thats going on at the moment!
Super! It's great having you again on YHP, but it seem that you're running another company this time, which we will get into in a min, but tell us about your previous startup, what happened, why did you decide to park up shop?
Ahh the joys of Yoo-Discover! Well we did the unthinkable, we didn’t market the site enough when we launched, and we didn’t get the website completely finished by the launch! It was a cardinal sin as far as those sorts of businesses go, but hey it happened, I learnt from it and jumped back into the deep end just 1 week after ending it!
What were the key lessons learnt from that experience?
The main thing I took from YD was the importance of having a strong team around you when starting a business. Me and Sadie (YD Partner) found that we were spending all our time putting the site together and working on the back end sutff, and next to no time considering the business itself.
I beleive that its much more important to give a little out in return for help, as you get to actually consider the business you are running and make strategi decisions accordingly!
I mean a lot of people try to cover up failed businesses, but it seems that you've learnt your lesson and moved on fast, 7 weeks fast infact right?
Haha yes around that, before I even signed off on Yoo-Discover I had an idea of where I wanted to go next, I approached a good friend of mine and a couple of people I trusted in business and got their opinions, everyone thought it was brilliant so I just ran with it (with a strong team of course). We ended up going from a basic idea to selling our product in about 7 weeks.
People may argue that you might have taken more time out to reflect on the previous business, but it seems your pluging yourself straight into it again? why start the business now?
I think the main question as cliche as it sounds its 'why not?'. When you have a business fail sure you can sit around and feel sorry for yourself for 6 months, or you can accept why you messed up, you can analyse your mistakes and learn from them. The best time to jump back in is off the back of a faliure, you feel so incredibly driven to rectify your mistakes and create a true success!
I want us to go back a bit, What made you decide to go into business in the first place? what made you interested in starting your own business?
I used to be on a military grad scheme but left due to numerous issues, I found myself at a loose end so I joined the enterprise socciety at my uni called Fish on Toast. Instantly I knew that this was more for me, out were the military views of 'theres only one way to do this boy' and in with the whole idea of there being a billion things to do it and you can choose!
I found the freedom of decision incredibly refreshing so kept going along to the society. I made it my mission to go to as many events and competitions as possible in the first 4 months, I started to feel really passionate about promoting enterprise so that all students could experiance my 'enlightenment' that I ran for president and was fortunate enough to win the election! From there all I wanted to do was start-up, Sadie had an idea that I quite liked so we partnered up and never looked back, that didn't work out so here we are today!
Great stuff, Lets get into Student Hero, How did the idea come about?
Personally I hate the way that student discount cards that work on a large scale only cover big blanket chains and stores, like your standard 10% off at a high street clothing chain. I wanted real discounts, from privately owned venues like local clubs and bars.
Creating a succesful discount card in southampton has proved somewhat difficult in the past, with many people crashing and burning, instead of taking that as a bad thing I considered that this must mean theres a market, otherwise why would people keep trying it?
I saw it as a challenge, almost a dare, to see if I could succeed where so many before me had failed. So I took a different perspective, I got a team together and we reached out to loads of different people and asked them what they wanted, the feedback was positive and tended towards nights out and pizza, and then Student Hero was born.
What have been your biggest challenges since starting up the company?
The biggest challenge so far has been the January exams, a problem that is finally being overcome as we do this interview! We are launching student hero with 2000 pre sale cards that get the customer access to our exclusive multi event launch night. Projections for sales were on a geometric increase but the 3 week exam period was not considered.
Two main issues arose, 1) students were concentrating so much on their exams they wouldn't even consider an event going on after they had finished. 2) I am a student, my exams were ruling my life and making it impossible to overcome the first issue.
But alas the team rode the wave and are just coming out the other side, sales were slow so we are now putting on a massive marketing push to increase the sales at a larger rate than originally expected. I am confident this has now been resolved.
What is the business model?
We get deals from local clubs/bars/pubs/restaurants that are exclusive to Student Hero, companies give these discounts in return for us marketing the offers and as a result pushing more business their way. A student buys the card for £10 but can make a return on that in just one night out with out discounts! The card is valid for 12 months.
The sales model is an interesting one, we want students to love Student Hero, from the discounts to the opportunities. We have an ambassador scheme in effect that allows any student in Southampton to register as a salesperson for the cards, they get given a batch of tickets/cards to sell and take a whopping 30% commission on everyone they sell.
Our top performer so far sold 50 cards in 1 day making themselves a tidy 150 quid. So we do turn a profit ourselves, but we also offer a brilliant product and a way for any budding salesperson to make themselves a small fortune without impacting their studies. This acheives all my personal aims of giving people what they want, making money and promoting student enterprise.
Who are your competitors?
Hmmmmm interesting question. I suppose our biggest competitor has to be the NUS Extra card, but I do not think it really clashes with the Hero card. As mentioned earlier we purposely differentiate ourselves from these blanket chain discounts so that we can cater for every single city! I guess companies such as 1eat are competitors in one aspect of the market, restaurants, but they are not our main focal point!
From your experience, what tips would you like to give to young entrepreneurs especially students looking to start a business?
I would say that there has never been a better time to start a business than right now, your a student at university and you are up to your eyeballs in debt. You have organisations like Shell LiveWire and UnLtd which offer grant funding to young enterprise.
So you may end up spending 3 months of your life working on something you feel passionate about, and piling someone else's money into it but at the end of the day if it fails, you have lost NOTHING. But you have GAINED a wealth of experiance, if you dont think business is for you you have made your CV absoloutely amazing to any graduate employer.
Or you still want to go into business and you have learnt a million and one things from your failed attempt, that kind of knowledge cannot be taught to you in a classroom you just have to take a punt and learn it the hard way!
The absolute worst case scenario is you loose some of your own cash on it, but guess what, your a student, your in debt anyway, what difference is another 200?
I know that sounds very risky but university is a brilliant environment to start your own career path and make your own decisions. You are surrounded by a network of talented individuals who can do everything from act (great for sales) to create websites (trust me this is invaluable). All you have to do at uni to get access to all of this is ask the right people!
In the current economic climate the world is turning to enterprise to help bring us all out of the recession, theres brilliant organisations like NACUE who act as a support unit for enterprising students, to them no question is too stupid, no person is unreachable and most importantly of all, nothing is impossible! If you want to be the next branson/sugar/paphitis/gates/bannatyne/jones etc etc then just do it, its as simple as that!
You're also the President of Fish on Toast Entrepreneurs Society at University of Southampton? How would you describe your experience so far?
One word, wow! Fish on Toast is brilliant, the opportunities are endless and its just like running your own business but in a risk free environment. So far this year I have raised about 5k in external sponsorship, and run a month long competition for 10 students where they stand a shot at winning a paid internship with BBC Dragon Doug Richard. As a whole society we have run countless speaker events and engaged thousands of people, tell me a sports club that’s that fun!
What opportunities would you say being the president has given you so far?
I would say the best thing would be the network, my business network is mental, ranging from no nonsense Doug Richard, past the likes of Claire Young and James McQuillan from the Apprentice and onto the high ropes and advernture guru Tristram Mayhew from Go Ape.
You maybe wondering why that’s such an awesome thing, but so much in business seems to be about who you know. You can never say you won’t find a certain person useful as a contact as you never truly know what your going to be doing in 10 years! Or at least that’s my view, I am yet to ‘make it’ so it’s all guesswork at the moment!
If you had to start over, what are some things you would do differently?
To be honest, nothing! I would make all the same mistakes again, I would annoy the same people, get just as frustrated and still throw my toys out the pram when I didn’t get my way. The reason being is that I learnt so much from all of those things, from how to treat people to how to market a website effectively. I still have an incredibly long way to go, but I am looking forward to the journey and embracing every step. I reckon I am on about step 2 of a billion in terms of what I could learn.
What do you do for fun?
Haha, I play golf, drink beer and relax with my friends! I do find all of this fun though, I still view my degree as the boring job, and Fish on Toast & Student Hero as my fun hobbies (with benefits)
What should we be expecting from you and student hero in the coming months?
Student Hero launch night is on the 10th February, from there we will be cementing our presence in Southampton before expanding around the UK. We are in talks with The Student Scene about a possible UK wide expansion to 49 cities over the Summer, complete with a tourbus!
As for myself, I want to continue to build Student Hero but also wish to work for NACUE and keep pushing student enterprise initiatives all around the country. Whatever happens, the coming months are going to be the most exciting and interesting of my life to date!
To get the best student discounts, don't forget to visit:http://www.studenthero.co.uk