The moment I entered university I knew that I wanted to start a business. I had been inspired by “Anyone could do it: my story” by former Dragons Den dragon Duncan Bannatyne, plus I had my student loan as at least some capital to get my enterprise going (not that my mum was thrilled about me using that over say, buying food). However, the course was set – I was to launch a business the problem was I had no business idea.
The first two weeks I wandered around my university campus, as well as the city more broadly, making notes on what I saw as opportunities. Alas, buying a rundown pub or opening a shop just seemed too much of a step with no knowledge, no passion for that type of business and only my student loan to go on.
The question therefore had to be: what could I start that I had at least some knowledge, at least some passion for and could be started on a tight budget.? Reflecting on my skill set and previous experience teaching guitar to family friends, a guitar teaching business seemed a good place to start (after trying the customary student business of making t-shirts, that managed to earn me about £2.14 an hour all things accounted for).
So I set-up a website with the limited knowledge I could learn about coding from YouTube and managed to start generating some students through it. With each guitar student paying £25 per hour, it was a great way to get the ball rolling with my business idea – the start-up costs were small (just some hosting, a domain and the investment of time to learn enough code) and the on-going costs were also minimal.
Within a few months, a musical friend of mine asked me if I could do the same for him – build a website for him that generated him singing students. That sounded like a business opportunity, maybe I could expand my operations into providing music students to other music teachers – with a commission each time they taught them. So, learning a bit more code I got a second website set-up and worked hard on promoting the singing lessons he had to offer.
A few months went by, and a friend of my friend asked if I could make him a website to generate him guitar students in another UK city. Now we are talking, just the same way word of mouth was a great way of generating students for myself as a teacher, I could see that my ability to code websites that generated enquiries for other music teachers was being spread between teachers through word-of-mouth referrals. A few more YouTube videos to learn how to code and I managed to create even better-looking websites, that were more user friendly in each iteration.
Within a year, it had grown from a few teachers to around 25 music teachers in the UK. I had built a website for each teacher, and they paid a small commission each time they taught a student I provided to them. I had also honed my skills as a coder, learning about how to successfully manage and deploy new websites. Yet, during the next year over 100 teachers had joined but if I am honest, I was at breaking point. Managing all the individual websites became overly burdensome and complex – there had to be another way.
So, I decided to create a central platform to generate student enquiries for all the teachers I work with, across all the instruments they teach, across all the locations that they taught in the world. Essentially, I wanted to create an international teachers database – so with a few more YouTube videos I launched the first iteration of what would become MusicTeacher.com
As the business grew to several hundred teachers and tens of thousands of students, located across Europe, America and beyond, there we so many technical challenges I needed to solve. For example, a way for teachers to log the lessons that they had taught to the students I had sent them, so I could record the commission that they were required to pay. An invoicing and payment process to facilitate the payment by the teachers to the business for the commission element of the lesson fee. Yet more technical learning for me to figure out, over time my own teaching stopped and I focused myself entirely on coding solutions for the business I had created.
For years after university, I ran this business – from coffee shops, from rural locations and from home. Growing the platform, increasing student numbers and overtime solving as many of the technical solutions I could through code. As all entrepreneurs do, I had new ideas on the way too – like the time I set-up a Whisky Subscription business, launch an online yoga studio or tried to sell home gym equipment via an online store.
Having ran the business it for 10 years the natural rhythm of the business was quite set and most of the technical challenges had been solved to provide a well-rounded experience for both teachers and students alike.
I wanted a new challenge, the strangest part of it was I was no longer a guitar teacher – I had trained myself to be a software developer kind of by accident. I learned how to code because it was a business solution, yet I had really enjoyed the challenge of creating technical solutions.
In 2019, this led me to joining Deloitte as a software engineer – I had been to Deloitte years earlier to pitch my business as part of a student event, strange how the world works that I would return as an employee to the same location. Yet, the skills I developed as a student entrepreneur were ones that matched the corporate environment in a way I could never have imagined – the problem solving, the confidence to take on a challenge and back yourself to succeed (even if you must master new skills along the way) and working with technical solutions to improve user experience through multiple iterations.
I had no idea, that entrepreneurism was part of a skill set that firms like Deloitte would be interested in. Indeed, having studied History as my degree subject and taught myself to code from YouTube, I didn’t even see myself as a software engineer – more as someone who created technical solutions to fix specific business problems I faced.
In my opinion, it is the skills that you develop with a passion – sometimes around the degree you are studying – that can be the thing that makes you stand out in the job market. So aim to develop all aspects of your skillset, even if they seem unrelated at the time, as they can be joined together in ways that make you truly unique.
You can read more about my journey as a student entrepreneur here