James Eder (BCom Commerce, 2005), founder of The Beans Group and new initiative 'Friendly Friday' shares some of his experiences and tips for entrepreneurial success with fellow alumni.
How did you come up with the idea for studentbeans.com?
I started Student Beans back in 2005 when I was 22 and just a few weeks after graduating from the University of Birmingham. I did a business plan as part of my degree where I actually came up with the idea for the business and after graduating it made sense to set it up. I co-founded the business alongside my business partner, and brother, Michael.
We knew that when students arrived in a new city, they would turn to the web for help. Being in unfamiliar surroundings and living on a limited budget is tough. But we knew that the Internet and a little entrepreneurialism on our part could solve these problems.
As you started studentbeans shortly after graduation and began your business plan while still studying; how did your time at Birmingham help in your career development?
My time at the University of Birmingham was hugely influential. Whilst my friends were partying and sleeping, I was able to get involved in a number of things during my time as a student that lay the stepping stones for starting up my own business. I always knew I wanted to do something different and at university I worked as a brand manager for Yellow Pages, did work placements in The Philippines and Colombia with student organisation AIESEC and organised events on campus.
What have been your biggest challenges and successes since starting The Beans Group?
There are lots of challenges when it comes to running a business. One of the hardest parts of the journey was at the beginning when we had no student users and just a landing page saying 'coming soon'. We now get millions of students visiting the Student Beans website every month, and have had the privilege of working with some of the biggest brands in the world. One of the key things that got us through was playing to our strengths. I have always been externally facing, driving awareness of the brand and sales, whereas Michael is focused on the systems and processes. Whilst both very different we add value in our own ways.
One of our biggest successes has been creating something that has genuine value and that people want to actually use. From day one we also focused on building a strong brand. We’ve grown to a team of over 40 people and have ambitious plans for the future.
What did you enjoy most about your time at the University of Birmingham?
The first year living in Mason Hall was an amazing experience, meeting people from all different walks of life. It’s amazing how your world expands at university; you meet people from all over the country and increasingly from all over the world. You get to try different things and explore; the time goes so quickly. The Birmingham campus and city has a unique mix that is very special - whilst it continues to develop and modernise there are some things that remain timeless when you see the Great Hall and Clock Tower, there’s a feeling that part of me is back home.
What is next for you?
Student Beans is continuing to expand and grow both in the UK and internationally, with a focus on SB iD - our student verification technology. We are very excited to have opened our first regional office in Birmingham this year at The Custard Factory. We are recruiting for a number of positions in the city and the new team will work closely with our London office to develop our products. We’re also recruiting in London too!
A couple of other things I’m working on include Kentish Cluster, a local initiative to get the Kentish Town community together with monthly events. It’s gathering great momentum and we had over 150 people who live and work in the area at our last event.
Early in 2014 I also launched a new initiative called FriendlyFriday. A movement to get the world talking and a not-for-profit that supports and invests back into young people. Expect to be hearing more about this. Feel free to connect with me on Linkedin or follow me on Twitter: @jameseder.
What one piece of advice would you give to fellow alumni and current students thinking of starting a business?
Don't take no for an answer. When you want something as a child if your parents say 'no' your natural instinct is to ask again and keep asking. As we get older we tend to forget how persistent we once were! Also be prepared to work. Success isn't just going to be delivered to you on a silver platter. Nothing worthwhile is easy. There have been times in the last nine years whilst building up Student Beans that have been incredibly trying, but you get through them. For us the knowledge that we have a website that is valued by students - and can make a bit of difference to their lives, really helps deal with the challenges.