Engineers and technologists are well placed to become successful entrepreneurs. We talk to two young businessmen about how they turned their ideas into profitable businesses…
Ian Hogarth, Songkick
Ian Hogarth completed an engineering MEng specialising in machine learning and also spent time studying Mandarin in China. He is now the ceo and co-founder of Songkick.com, a website where you can track your favorite bands.
“Songkick is the easiest way to get notified when your favourite bands come to town. You plug us into your iTunes, Last.fm or Facebook account and we'll keep track of the music you listen to and tell you when tickets go on sale,” he explains. “My co-founders Michelle You, Pete Smith and I are all huge live music fans. We knew how much work it takes to keep track of all the concerts going on and find the ones relevant to you. We wanted to make it easier, so that more people would find out about great gigs in time.”
Hogarth found that the toughest part of going it alone is convincing people to buy into what you’re making.
“Probably the hardest and most important thing is making something that people really want. Once you've got a prototype in the market that users are really excited about a lot of other things get easier (recruiting, fundraising etc). Getting to that point is hard - you have to convince other people to join you in a highly uncertain venture and stay incredibly focused on producing a solution to a real problem.
“Another challenge for UK-based start-ups is being based in the UK when the largest market for your product is in the US. Most UK start-ups that have been successful in the US market have spent a lot of time on the road and in planes to make sure they compete effectively with local companies. I've spent months on the road since we started this company speaking with press, partners and investors.
“We've been fortunate to attract an amazing community of music fans, and as a result our traffic has grown over 8X in the past year to the point where we're now the second largest live music site in the world after Ticketmaster,” he rightly enthuses. “We've raised capital from some of the best investors in the world including Y Combinator and Index Ventures and have partnered with huge household names like YouTube, Yahoo!, Nokia and the BBC.”
Hogarth gives his advice to budding entrepreneurs.
“When we first started a lot of experienced entrepreneurs we met would describe the experience of starting a company as a rollercoaster. Initially I didn't get that, but now I do. One minute you think you company is on track to be something amazing, the next you're faced with a problem that seems like it's going to wipe you out overnight. It's hard to stay balanced across the ups and downs and I'd advise people to do it only if they have a burning desire to solve a particular problem or start a company.
“Founding a company isn't the only way to play a critical part in a start-up though. I'd highly recommend working at a start-up before starting one. I wish I had - it's a fantastic way to get more responsibility than you'd ever get at a big company.”
Matt Wilson, Crosby Communications
Wilson’s tale is one of rags to riches – at 16 years old he had no job and £100 in his pocket – but now 32, he is an IET Fellow and chief executive of his own highly successful voice, data and video business: Crosby Communications.
“No money, no prospects and unemployed, I transformed my life with Crosby Communications,” he says. “I’m proud because I’ve taken it from being a company worth £1 when it first started, to now being worth an awful lot more. This pride comes from putting the time in and seeing that all the stress and hassle was worth it in the end. I built this ‘little empire’ from the ground up and it’s nice to see it flourish.”
After finishing school Wilson took an apprenticeship in electrical engineering, but at the same time started the company that would become Crosby Communications. He’d had a keen interest in electronics from an early age; the budding entrepreneur in him hunting out and fixing old TVs and radios and selling them in the local newspaper, and so the apprenticeship seemed like the next logical, and safe, step.
He gave up his free time to DJ, the money from which he saved in order to fund the new company.
“I started the business whilst I was doing the apprenticeship, but I didn't start trading officially until I was 18. I got into comms work and I was building the business up part-time. Whilst I was on my apprenticeship I was doing odd jobs such as fitting telephone systems into offices, going to college during the day to learn the theory or on work placements with various companies learning how to install electrical systems. Then in the evenings I’d work on the business or as a mobile DJ, as I was funding all of this by doing discos. It was a very busy time and pretty crazy.”
The toughest challenge was pulling together the money to get the business properly started.
“The money in the business originated from people’s weddings, 21st and 65th birthday parties!,” he laughs. “It all adds up and that’s what drove the business. Getting the capital I needed was the hardest thing to do.”
Be sure to return to Students and early career tomorrow for two more entrepreneurial success stories…