Alumni Insight – Starting an Entrepreneurial Venture

We close our series of #EdEnterprise17 blog posts this week, with some fantastic advice from University of Edinburgh alumnus, Andrew Needham, Digital Entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of HeadBox on starting an entrepreneurial venture.

My name is Andrew Needham, I’m a University of Edinburgh alumnus and a Digital Entrepreneur. As part of Edinburgh University’s “Focus on Enterprise” #EdEnterprise17 campaign, alongside Global Entrepreneur Week, I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about what it takes to make it as an innovator and how your time at University is a great place to start a new venture.

My Entrepreneur Journey

My entrepreneurial journey began whilst I was studying History and Politics at Edinburgh. Myself and three friends set up Student Pages: an A-Z yellow pages style telephone directory which included loads of discount coupons in the back. We set up Student Pages in every major student city, 25 in total, across the UK and garnered a readership of 1 million and a print run of 300,000 copies. I sold the business in 2000 to a subsidiary of the Daily Mail Group to start my next project…Pulsar, a 50 people strong research and social data analytics company that I sold to Cello Plc in 2012. I am now the founder and CEO of HeadBox, my latest venture. Our vision is to reinvent the global events industry through technology. HeadBox launched in London in 2015 and is the UK’s first SaaS enabled marketplace for inspiring meeting, off-site and event spaces and we have over five thousand unique and unusual spaces all over the UK on our platform. We’ve just had our second birthday and have gone from a team of four to a team of twenty-eight and whilst we’re still firmly in our ‘start-up’ phase, the future’s looking exciting!

So, if you’re looking to start an entrepreneurial venture of your own, here is my advice to you.

Understand your customer and the problem you’re trying to solve

Before executing your business idea be clear on who your potential customer is. Do as much as you possibly can to understand that customer. You don’t want to develop your concept for the wrong customer. As part of this, you want to understand their current pain points and how important they are to them so that you can focus as much energy on finding the best ways to solve them. In particular, understand how technology can help solve their problems.

The idea for HeadBox came about after I had tried to find and book a venue. I found myself so inundated with paperwork and post-it notes trying to keep track of all the venues who had fielded my enquiries that I thought surely there must be a more simple process. I was shocked to discover that there was no venue-booking system in place to address the inefficiency of traditional venue finding, so I set about to engineer a solution of my own.

Immerse yourself in technology

Immerse yourself in everything to do with technology, software and AI related trends. If you haven’t already read Andreessen Horowitz’s article “Software is eating the world” and David Kirkpatrick’s article “Now every company is a software company” then start now by reading them here and here. You need to understand how technology will affect the business you’re creating. From a product point of view learn about the agile and lean start-up philosophies as well as the current methodologies for managing tech product development such as Scrum and Kanban and if you can, learn the language of coding. From a marketing perspective learn about modern marketing skill sets, so learn about Google PPC, SEO and Google Analytics. Take Google’s exams in these areas if you can.

Draw on your connections

A key thing to remember during your time studying is that you and your peers are the future and this could not be more true when it comes to technology. You will be the future leaders, investors, business owners and innovators. So, make lasting connections now. You never know when you might be able to help one another out in the future. Find inspiring people and draw on each other’s expertise and skills.

If you’re not quite ready to start a venture of your own, why not learn from someone else?

Work at a start-up

Working at a start-up is a fantastic opportunity to see the inner workings of a young business and what it takes to be disruptive and succeed in an incredibly competitive field. You can experience the trials and tribulations of nurturing and building a business from the ground up: all valuable experience that will come in handy should you decide to pursue your own project.

Parting advice…

I’ll leave you with this. Make the most of each day of your studies. Work hard. Be curious. Meet people from different walks of life. Go outside and explore. Squeeze every bit of enjoyment you can out of your long holidays. Find your passion and then pursue it. Try new things. Join societies (I hear Edinburgh has a lively Quidditch society now!) and explore new interests. Stretch yourself. This period of your life is utterly unique, now is the time to try out new things!

 

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