Spam Email Attack

So this week’s business update here, and this time it’s got a valuable lesson attached. Recently, some of the mgrmusic.com website contact forms fell victim to a spam attack. This type of attack is a bot-based attack which doesn’t directly affect the website, but the bot uses the contact form as a proxy to send emails out to multiple recipients.

These types of attacks work based on the contact form replying to the submitter with an auto reply. For instance, if you typed in the body of the text “Win £100” and entered your email in the field, our system would generate an auto reply to you and a copy of the text you submitted. The bot had used out system to email spam to a substantial number of emails, as we pay per email it also incurred a quite significant bill. Indeed, it was a bit of a perfect storm that highlighted a security vulnerability in our systems that needed resolving.

So, what did we learn? I mentioned last time that I was working on some integration with ReCapcha and we have rebuilt our contact forms from the ground up to prevent this happening in future. I have also been keen to increase security across the business, adding in 2 factor authentication on all business email logins and will look to do the same with websites. I would recommend that you do the same as well for your start-up, after all the cost of getting it wrong can literally put you out of business – no matter what size your company is.

One aspect of this that I really want to share with you is that as business owners we abstract business problems away from clients – it is part of the service we provide by default. Certain things should never make it to the client view of the business as it’s not something they should ever have to worry about when using your service.

In my case, I don’t want my teachers to be concerned with web security or the websites running as planned, but due to this attack I had to take various websites offline for 24 hours to increase security measures which placed this issue in the view of my teachers. This broke that invisible shield that you as a business owner abstract away from the client, suddenly teachers wanted to know why their websites were down and what was the cause of the attack – in other words the client became concerned with a business issue.

A good example of this scenario is in recent years when KFC changed suppliers and various branches ran out of chicken due to a change in suppliers. This meant, instead of the customers arriving and just using the service they expect (ordering their bucket of chicken!), they were then aware of issues with the supply chain. Not a great look for the company, after all you just want your customers to be thinking “wow this is great chicken”.

It is these moments, often of very high stress that you see how your company can cope with a setback and then how you can improve your systems/processes by resolving it in such a way that it could never happen again. This is what I hope that we achieved this week.


Piano Lessons Nottingham

Here is a small business update to round this off, we’ve recently started working with the fantastic Chloe Leak who will be the teacher on our Piano Lessons Nottingham page. Chloe brings many years of experience along with her and we are very excited to have her on board.

Chloe obtained her music teaching diploma in 2017 and knew from the age of 10 she wanted a career in music. She was committee to playing piano from a young age and now wants to share that knowledge and experience with students in the city of Nottingham

Nottingham has a thriving music scene with lots of new bands and great venues all around so it’s wonderful to see a new generation of musicians coming through under Chloe’s guidance.

I look forward to seeing Chloe’s business grow and grow.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 24, 2019

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Scratch – Student StartUps Magazine

It was awesome to receive Volume 2 of “Scratch” the Student StartsUps Magazine, wonderfully produced Think Try Do at the University of Exeter. Packed full of interviews with current and form entrepreneurial students it is a must read for current students with an interest in creating their own business.

There were interviews with familiar faces for anyone who has read this blog – with articles on Alex Nechoroskovas, James Wild and Jacob Marsh. Yet, it was the article on Lyster Surf Craft that really caught my eye. Founded by Duncan Lyster the story of Lyster Surf Craft is the perfect example of a “hobby” that had the potential to grow into a business opportunity. Duncan had been making wooden surfboards for 4 years, with only the last two years seeing him create wooden surf boards a business proposition.

Not only are the boards much better for the environment but they are literally works of art. Duncan’s real challenge has been to create a board that is as light as a traditional polyurethane board without it being overly labour intensive to manufacture. After 18 months of developing he is now ready to start making his first sales – with such a strong product that is clearly anchored in Duncan’s own personal connection to surfing and passion for the idea it will be really exciting to see how it develops. It will be really interesting to see how he approaches the marketing of the product now that he is ready to make sales, as I think the brand and product itself is so strong. Hopefully this will be able to capture the interest of fellow surfers both here in the UK and abroad to enable the orders to start flowing in. You can see how he is getting on by visiting lystersurfcraft.co.uk.


Here at MGR Music Tuition the team has been working really hard on launching new music hubs across the UK. I know they are delighted to announce the launch of the Singing Lessons Bournemouth, Guitar Lessons Southampton and Piano Lessons Manchester music hubs during May, working with a range of professional music teachers to deliver these lessons. Enquiries across the teacher database are increasing month on month, with the team focused on ensuring that they are putting in the infrastructure to grow the business significantly over the next 24 months.

Alongside this the mgrmusic.com has started generating enquiries in the USA which is fantastic news, bringing an influx of 40 new teacher sign-ups from the USA during May alone. I know that the ultimate ambition for the platform is to be an internationally recognised platform for music students to find music teachers – so the team will continue to work on fulfilling this vision on step at a time. On of the big successes on this front was the launch of Drum Lessons Berlin, working with Barney Riley – a drum teacher that we used to work with in Leeds before he relocated to Germany. Having seen enquiries come in for Barney in Berlin, with students booking lessons with him I am confident that the team can apply what they have learned from Drum Lessons Berlin to other cities across Europe and beyond.

Posted under Scratch Magazine

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 11, 2019

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GDPR / Piano Lessons Bristol

GDPR – SME Panic Grows

Another week and more panic in the business world about GDPR. I think small and medium sized companies have been spooked by big companies trying to “re-consent” their users/newsletter lists. This has prompted SMEs to try and do the same, often resulting in less than 5% response from their newsletter listings. In other words, they have decimated their newsletter lists, now panic that a core sales route for their business can no longer be used and are extremely anxious about the effect of GDPR on business.

The EU is driven, in many ways, to facilitate greater trade between EU countries. What a travesty it would be if the introduction of an EU law, like the GDPR, has such significant implications that it caused a sudden drop in trade. Especially in the SME sector, where margins are often tight and livelihoods are always at stake. However, in recent days I have also seen several articles that say the “re-consenting” emails that keep appearing in our email inboxes, might be unnecessary (and in some cases illegal!).

For example, BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones investigated this subject further. He interviewed a data protection legal specialist who explained “90% of the emails are unnecessary – it doesn’t have to be re-consented unless you didn’t get consent in the first place” (GDPR: The great data privacy panic). Essentially good data practices before GDPR would be recognised after the 25th May 2018 – after all the law cannot be retrospective.

Another interesting read was a WordPress Guide to GDPR: (GDPR Compliance – Everything You Need to Know. Most interesting thing being the cost of non-compliance, that, according to the article, in most reasonable cases, starts with a Warning, then a Reprimand, then Suspension of data processing, the a Fine. Like most legal disputes I am sure it is in the interest of both parties to resolve an issue without having to go to court. This article suggests that businesses that act reasonably and react reasonably to complaints should be able to avoid more serious ends of that disciplinary process.

There is no doubt that the introduction of GDPR has caused a panic in the business world. Its impact might well be negative in regard to damaging reasonably run SMEs, fearful that they might be non-compliant simply stopping sales routes that actually are reasonable uses of data. Nonetheless, it is clear that reform around data was needed. What is most evident that SMEs need more support to understand what an introduction of a new EU law like this is to their specific business case.

Piano Lessons Bristol

Away from GDPR, this week has seen the launching of a new music hub in Bristol. Bristol is one of the most important cities for music in the UK. It has a thriving music scene with a very engaged population of Bristolians who enjoy supporting all arts. Indeed, Bristol was the second city I expanded into when I first created the business from my Lafrowda flat (something you can read more about in The Tab). Over the last few years this has been focused on guitar lessons, singing lessons and drum lessons. However, I am very excited to announce that the Piano Lessons Bristol music hub has been launched this week.

Dan Somers, who is a mobile piano teacher in Bristol, is a fantastic tutor to take on piano students in the city. With his many years teaching experience, combined with his Music Performance and Production degree from the London Centre of Contemporary Music, Dan is already one of the leading piano teachers in the city. His ability to provide students with lessons in the comfort of their own homes makes his lessons accessible to many more students across the city – including those that face mobility and transport challenges.

Like many of the music teachers I know across the UK, Dan is an active musicians. Alongside his piano lessons her regularly performs in a swing band called Ruby & Her Howlin’ Boys. It is so important as a music teacher to have a creative and performance outlet, alongside working as a music teacher. After all, if the only time you play the instrument is during beginner music lessons with students you quickly loose your own enjoyment of playing. All musicians have to continue to push themselves to continue to develop, learn new styles of music and broaden their musical horizons. I am really excited to see how we can develop this music hub in Bristol, having launched it earlier this week.

Posted under GDPR, MGR Music, Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 25, 2018

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GDPR / Guitar Lessons Leeds

Continuing my weekly updates on what it is like to run a small online business, you can check out below what I have been working on this week (7th – 12th May 2018):

GDPR

The upcoming introduction of GDPR was the main focus of this week. I was contacted by many of the music teachers I work with about what the introduction of GDPR meant for them, as well as communicating with entrepreneurs that I know to assess how best to approach GDPR compliance. Like most of us during the last few weeks I have been inundated with emails from larger corporations explaining how GDPR would impact the way I received communications from them.

This has sharpen the minds of many smaller businesses to assess what they need to do to be GDPR compliant by the 25th May 2018. Adapting to new legislation as a small business is certainly nothing new, all entrepreneurs at some stage will face this challenge. Often the real challenge is understanding what the legislation means and how it specifically relates to your business/industry. A significant portion of my week was assessing the GDPR’s impact within the music education industry, drawing together my thoughts for other music teachers to read: GDPR Guide for Music Teachers.

Having spoken with many different entrepreneurs over the last week about the GDPR their processes have been similar to mine. Assessing what they currently have in place in regard to securing the data they collect. Examining how and why they are collecting this data. Researching and seeking professional advice to ensure that they will comply by the 25th May. A good article to get you started on what you need to know as a small business about the GDPR can be found here: What is GDPR for Small Business (SimplyBusiness.co.uk)

Guitar Lessons Leeds

I was delighted to launch the second “music hub” this week in Leeds, UK. Based in Leeds the music school will be run by Kieran Gunter, an experienced professional guitar teacher in Leeds. This marks an important stage in the expansion process for 2018, with Kieran being an ideal guitar teacher to bring onboard to support this. I have been so impressed by his enthusiasm for all forms of guitar music, from classical guitar right through to modern genres.

His holistic approach to teaching, ensuring that students learn the many different aspects of how to play the guitar; from helping students understand the rhythmic aspects of music to teaching them exercises that build finger strength. With Kieran as Head Guitar Teacher at this local music hub I am really excited to see how it develops as a local music school with our support.

This week also saw the start of a potentially interesting relationship with the Trinity College exam board, in relation to their Rock & Pop exams. As our music teaching community are are mainly focused on teaching “contemporary” music styles, due to the high student interest in modern genres, there might be some really exciting opportunities to explore with Trinity College.

Posted under Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 12, 2018

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MGR Music Progress Update & Guitar Lessons Manchester

Progress Update – Introduction

It has been over six-months since I wrote my last progress update on the development of the national music teacher database. As we are edging towards the summer again I thought I would write a group of mini-blog updates on how everything is develop in real time. This will give entrepreneurial students a real insight into how businesses develop day by day, week by week. I have found from first hand experience that while progress can feel slow on any one day, by making multiple good business decision overtime that progress is multiplied dramatically. Conversely, the consequences of a poor decision can significantly impact speed of growth, especially when the pace of growth increases.

In this mini-series of blog posts I will take you inside each of the key decisions made each week, providing insight into why these conclusions have been reached and analysing the results of these decisions. By doing this I hope to take you with me in my entrepreneurial journey. Enjoy!

Think, Try, Do – News

One exciting development away from the business is that I will be working with Emily, Katie and David of the Think, Try, Do team on a new project that will be released later this year. The project will focus on interviewing 50 current and former University of Exeter student entrepreneurs. It will not only explore their “success stories” but also examine the motivations behind their entrepreneurialism. Asking some of the more philosophical questions behind what really makes a successful entrepreneur and how can we help develop other students with this mind set. There will be more on this to follow in due course, with the first interview of Matt Morley, of Savvy, having been the first to be interviewed for the project.

MGR Music – Six Months of Development

In my last post (August 2017), I talked a lot about trying to get the national music teacher database off the ground. Comparing it to a plane taxiing along the runway, not fully knowing if when the plane stopped and the throttle was applied the plane would take off. I also talked a lot about my determination to make the platform into an online community of music, using it as almost a “Facebook for music teachers”.

Nearly six months on it is really interesting to reflect on this (part of the reason why I write this blog!). Firstly, I am pleased to say that platform has taken off, developing as a place where students can find highly-qualified music teachers in their location. Interestingly, having trialed the platform during early 2018 as a “social media” platform for music teachers, I ended moving away from that idea completely.

Two reasons became self-evident; firstly, put simply music teachers didn’t use it (or want to use it) as a social media platform. While we have forums on mgrmusic.com that are active, music teachers continue to prefer to post questions and seek advice in our Music Teacher’s Group on Facebook. As much as I wanted our music teacher community to engage with the platform as a the location to create the community upon the true was Facebook provides a better frame work to do that. A realisation therefore was we should concentrate on developing the Facebook group since that is the place where music teachers feel comfortable to engage with one another.

Secondly, being a small team we cannot compete with multi-million pound online social platforms. It sounds obvious when you say it, but when you are developing something that you really want people to use you can convince yourself that people will use it. However, compare it to a platform like Facebook and you can see the limitations of our platform. Matt Morley summed this up perfectly to me – “users expect the speed of Google and the user friendly app feel of Uber”. The platform we made was good, nonetheless, it isn’t our core business to provide a social media platform for music teachers. It is obvious to those music teachers that the platform, while being full functional, isn’t as good as Facebook…and why should it be, considering the cost investment of the two platforms.

Two months ago I have such a clear thought. It was a true moment of realisation; “as a small business we should only concentrate on our core business”. With such a small team we don’t have the luxury to input a lot of time into projects that are not absolutely central to the business. Reflecting on this I would say that over the last two years I have developed a lot of different ideas, with an array of success, however very few of these ideas where absolutely central to the core business. Once I realised this it became obvious for me what I needed to do; sandbox projects that did not contribute to the core business and re-focus on making the core business awesome.

MGR Music – Guitar Lessons Manchester

Refocusing on the core business was the significant change of business strategy that has taken place during 2018. Specifically, this has meant the planned creation and launch of local music hubs. Each music hub will have a high-qualified and experienced music teacher, offering lessons to students in that area. I am very proud to say at the start of May 2018 we officially launched our first music hub, Guitar Lessons Manchester.

This was a huge step up from what we had previously offered, which was essentially a database of music teachers. This left the student to find a suitable teacher for themselves, rather than creating the infrastructure for great music teachers to provide professional tuition to students. Although some areas had consistent steams of enquiries, including for drum lessons in Leicester and guitar lessons in Manchester – as mentioned in my last post in August 2017 – I felt we could do so much more in locations where high numbers of music students were getting in touch. Therefore, in early May we appointed Dan Hall as Head Guitar Teacher at Guitar Lessons Manchester, creating our first music hub.

Dan is an extremely experienced guitar teacher, having taught the guitar for over 10 years both privately and in local schools. He is a qualified guitar teacher, having gained a FD Pop Music and Performance University of Salford. His impressive experience and knowledge as a guitar teacher is backed up by a fantastic approach to the lessons. Adopting a “no pressure” style of teaching Dan works hard to ensure are inspired to learn, rather than forced to. This approach to teaching, that draws a lot upon what the guitar student wants to learn, really resonated with me as a guitar teacher. The music hub will be based in the Stretford area of Manchester, with great transport links from across the city. Dan and I will work extremely closely together to provide the highest-quality guitar tuition that Manchester has to offer. This focus and investment in these music hubs will provide opportunities for guitarists of all abilities to rapidly progress in an environment that is ideal for guitar lessons.

It was fantastic announcement to launch Guitar Lessons Manchester with Dan this month. I have plans to launch a small number of dedicated music hubs across the UK over the next 6 months and I will keep you up to date with this progress. After nearly 6 months of development of the platform it is wonderful to feel that I am taking the next steps in my entrepreneurial journey and look forward to sharing this experience with you.

 

Posted under MGR Music, Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 5, 2018

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Music Teacher Database – Progress Update

Six months on from launching the national database of music teachers, known as mgrmusic.com, I thought I would be a good time to give a progress update on the development of the platform, both from a business and design point of view.

It has been an exciting first half a year of fast paced development: the teaching community has grown rapidly, with 208 music teachers, across a wide range of different instruments, joining the website during those first six months. We have had student enquiries coming through as well, the first ones coming in as early as the 26th March, with consistent enquiries coming through for drum lessons and guitar lessons, far more than I could have hoped for in what remains an incredibly early stage of development.

The website too is able to interact with users from social media in a way that is entirely new for me, both as it is able to service users located anywhere in the UK, as well as music teachers wanting to use their profile pages to promote themselves via their own social media streams. This inadvertently helps to promote the websites as a whole, generating more enquiries for the wider teacher community every time a profile or article is shared. The mgrmusic.com blog has been a real creative outlet for myself, enabling me to promote some of the more interested items of news that pass across my desk to the teacher community – from competitions at Marshall Amps HQ in Milton Keynes to local festivals, music teacher job opportunities and educational resources.

Nonetheless, there have been setbacks too – from decisions to sandbox other projects like HomeGyms.co.uk and WeddingBand.co.uk to focus on this project, as I believe it has real potential – one greater than those previous two ideas, to implementing upgrades on the website that are not supported on legacy browsers (alienating some of the teacher’s with older PCs who are unable to access the website – something that will be resolved in the next few months). I always feel launching a new project is a little like being at an airport, you wait around for ages for your flight, constantly checking your passport and tickets, finally board the plane and slowly start taxiing on the runway, the plane then stops, with the engines gearing up for full throttle before you start a very bumpy acceleration down the runway – we are certainly at this stage now, accelerating down the runway and believe me it is bumpy and uncomfortable, yet filled with the hope that we will get up into the air and the project will take off.

As soon as I feel that we have left ground, continuing the metaphor(!), I am incredibly keen to develop a teacher community area on the website similar to the one that have developed and cultivated on the MGR Music Tuition platform with 150 teachers I work with directly. This community area could be ten times bigger, and therefore ten times more useful, for the teachers within the community – providing peer support, ideas around best practise as well as a space to network and engage with one another in what can be quite an isolating job. This would see the database become somewhat of a dedicated social network for music teachers, where they can interact both with students and other teachers on a national level. My plan over the next six months is to take it to a place were the website has a micro-community of engaged active teachers using the platform, with around 500 teachers in the broader community. I will keep you updated how it goes!

Posted under Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 3, 2017

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Progress Update: Tandem

I had the pleasure of catching up with Mark Milton this evening, talking about his new app concept Tandem. The premise of this app is to connect like minded individuals together through a “Tinder” type concept – however, there is a slight twist; individuals will be able to search a local area of potential friends that speak their native language. This is a fantastic idea for any individual that has ever ventured to a completely new country (with little linguistic experience) and wanted to meet a few native speakers to help them with their travels. Indeed, as someone that has recently spent a few months in Russia I can’t tell you how useful it would have been if, when I arrived on day one, I could have connected with a few English speakers before I acclimatised into the local culture.

Tandem - find your locals abroad!

Tandem – find your locals abroad!

Yet, the app has the potential to go even further than this, helping people to make connections with non-native speakers who share a particular linguistic interested – for example a French language student seeking a conversational partner, or a publisher who is interested in having their text translated. The app caters for all these by enabling the user to search the database of uses for the languages that they can communicate within.

In the next few months Mark is set to launch a beta platform for his app, that is likely to be renamed from Tandem, and I warmly invite you to try it out as well. For more information and to sing up check out Tandem’s Facebook page. I will keep you updated with Mark’s progress but I was really impressed with the possible uses for this app within the expat community, as well as the adventurous backpackers who stray beyond the English speaking countries of Australia and the USA!

On the business front we have an exciting announcement to make! Likened to Mark’s app idea MGR Music Tuition is also about to launch within the language market – following a similar model to the current music tuition one, where students are referred to local singing, drum, guitar and piano teachers, we will now provide language lessons across a range of languages and locations. Starting in London we have recently launched a French Lessons London website – something that if it proves successful we will look to expand into other areas of the UK. With French lessons being the most popular language to study in the capitol, according to our market research, I thought it would be a great place to start (though don’t mention that I only got a C in my French GCSEs!). Alongside this website I have recently bought many other language lessons websites across the UK in preparation for a potential expansion into this new linguistic market.

On the music tuition front the speed of growth has continued taking on new teachers for the Singing Lessons Preston website, as well as in Loughborough (were I was lucky enough to hire a former Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist for a singing website!). The business now has over 10,000 students on the books and continuing to expand into new locations each month. The biggest challenge at the moment is getting the right structures in place to enable people other than myself to come in and take on roles within the business – there are plenty of opportunities to work at MGR Music Tuition LTD at the moment so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like a flexible 1/4 time job!

Posted under Progress Update, Tandem

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 24, 2015

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Progress Update: 40FATHOMS

For the next in our series of progress updates I am pleased to announce a launch of a new business from a repeat University of Exeter entrepreneur Tom Frew. Having built on the success of Instabear, an automated Instagram printing business – with the photos being delivered directly to your door, Tom has been at it again! 40 Fathoms is a new business that looks to print heavy weight design posters both for the artists that produce them as well as the clients who want to purchase them. The posters, boasting some of the highest paper quality available on the market, are then expertly shipped to your door – a great business model that I am sure is bound to be a success (especially considering the experienced team behind it).

However, as someone from a website background I wanted to draw attention to the beautifully designed website that fits perfectly to the businesses professional branding. Indeed, it is certainly worth taking a look through the website to get a feel for how well made it is. This is something that all online entrepreneurs should look to aim to: building a website that fulfils its functional purpose as well as portraying its brand in the correct light. Interestingly the team went for a new domain ending, with the website domain being 40fatho.ms which is a clever branding decision (though we have to wait to see how it will impact the website in searches). I can’t wait to see how the business develops over the next year or so; all in all a well put together online business, with a tight brand and website that should stand for other Exeter students as a bench mark to presenting a professional business online.

40 Fathoms

40 Fathoms – A beautifully designed & branded website

In terms of business I have had the pleasure to have had Sina Shakiba, a University of Reading student, undertake his work experience with me for two weeks – he has helped immensely in the launch and creation of Singing Lessons Milton Keynes and the Drum Lessons Leeds websites, as well as getting involved with the customer relation side of the business. It is the first time I have had someone undertake work experience within MGR Music Tuition and I have to say that I felt as if I learned as much as Sina did. Specifically, how it was possible to “outsource” some of the repetitive tasks within the business giving myself more time to concentrate on “business critical” tasks that only I could complete (for example hiring new teachers). This experience gives me confidence to bring onboard other members of staff to help aid me in growing the business longer term – I would thoroughly recommend taking on a student on work experience if you are a startup business thinking about hiring someone, this will give you the ability to test if you really do need to hire someone, how you could structure a group of tasks for that person as well learn about your own managerial style – all of which valuable business experience.

Posted under 40 Fathoms, Instabear

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 9, 2014

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Progress Update: Whike

For the thirteenth in our series of progress updates on University of Exeter students who have started business whist studying at the university I had the pleasure of meeting up with an old friend, Ned Aufenast. Ned is the founder and director of Whike UK, a subsidiary of Whike which is a Dutch company that, with the help of Ned, has designed a sail assisted reclined tricycle that enables it riders to utilise the power of the wind as they cycle.

The story starts with Ned’s A-level project, in which Ned designed his own sail assisted tricycle, prompting him to make contact with the Dutch based Whike company. Impressed by his enthusiasm for the conceptual product, this first contact developed into a long-term business relationship that soon saw Ned become the UK distributer of the first road-legal wind-assited bike in the UK by the age of 18. I would like to add this was all before he started his degree in Mechanical Engineering here at Exeter University.

Whike - like no other bike

Whike – an incredibly striking tricycle, that can go up to 40mph!

Once at the University of Exeter Ned continued to grow the Whike brand, exploring the extreme sports, sailing and cycle enthusiast markets and combining this with first class customer service. Indeed, as a business model Whike differs dramatically from 95% of all other businesses that I have encountered during my time as SEiR. Whereas the majority of students I meet look to sell quantity, often at low prices (between £1 – £100), Whikes currently sell at over £2,000 a tricycle for the lower end products right up to £5,000+ for the top of the range models. This gives Ned a very different taste of business life compared to that of other student entrepreneurs, with months at a go passing without a sale before the summer season prompts a dramatic spike in interest. It is a role that therefore requires patients, ensure that marketing is done effectively to maximises the likelihood of these more infrequent sales and additional, more frequent revenue streams are found for the business.

One such additional revenue stream focuses on area that is crucial to business that is based around higher end products – customer service. Obviously in the primary sales stage this goes without saying, but it is the support mechanisms that Ned has put into place to enable Whike’s users to (i) maintenance their tricycles and (ii) form a community around their common interest post-sale that has help push the business forward so rapidly over the last two years. Indeed, it is a product that is so new that ensuring that the “first adopters” of the Whike have flawless experience at all stages of the sales process facilities the further growth of sales. Therefore, I think two key lessons can be learned from Ned’s example and I would be keen to put them to any entrepreneur at the university (i) what is stopping you from creating a business that is created around a higher end or luxury product and (ii) no mater what your business is how can you improve the customer’s experience within the pre & post sale stages.

During his second year studying at the University of Exeter Ned applied for a grant awarded by the Innovation Centre to entrepreneurial students. Pitching for equipment to help enhance Whike’s presence at trade events, as well as his ability to deliver the business critical customer service, he was successful in gaining a Student Start Up Award, provided by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF). Ned, citing the equipment as “vital”, was pleased to confirm that it has certainly made a difference to his business – facilitating him to deliver products and maintenance nationwide via a grant funded trailer for Whikes, as well as making Whikes presences noticeable at trade events thanks to a grant funded gazebo.

However, Ned was also keen to highlight some of the other non-grant related benefits that the Innovation Centre offers to business minded students. Primarily, Ned’s decision to move his “office” from his bedroom to a hot-desk space within the Innovation Centre enabled him to create a better work-life balance, as well as increasing productivity – something that is available for all entrepreneurially minded students, subject to the approval of the Innovation Centre Directors, for reasonable rates.

After a successful second year at the University of Exeter spring 2014 marked an adventure of a lifetime for Ned, one that would rival any University of Exeter students – seriously if you know any other adventure stories like this please let me know as I would love to write about them! The challenge was to ride a Whike across Atacama Desert in Chile, covering 1,500 miles in 23 days. Ned tackled this alongside Dave Cornthwaite and Jamie Fulbrook, the former being well known adventurer and author who has a passion for raising money along the way. Ned recounted the beauty of the scenery, the nightmare of vital equipment getting lost during air transit before being tracked down at the last minute by Air France (good customer service!), the fact there was barely any wind to push the Whikes along and the overall success of the mission. Most amazingly Ned said that each Whike had recorded climbs and descents during the entire journey that equaled climbing Everest three times!

Whike traveling across the Atacama Desert in Chile!

Whike traveling across the Atacama Desert in Chile!

A down to earth student that is a role model for all entrepreneurs currently studying at the University of Exeter, Ned has an extremely bright future ahead of him & I hope that he will remain deeply involved in helping to develop other entrepreneurs at our university for many years to come.

Here at MGR Music Tuition this week I have been working on launching Singing Lessons Sunderland, doubling up on the number of instruments in the city after the launch of a guitar tuition website in the city during 2013, as well as Singing Lessons Glasgow and Guitar Lessons Colchester websites. In the next week we will be continuing to hire new teachers as well as aiming to bring a few more new websites online as I continue to drive towards my ambition of facilitating quality music lessons, for all abilities, across the UK.

Posted under Progress Update, Whike

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 6, 2014

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Progress Update: Zooqie

For the twelfth instalment of our University of Exeter student business updates I met up with Tom Shopland, a final year student who runs an online store for hand-picked independent clothing brands named Zooqie. The initial idea came to Tom in the summer of first year when he wanted to setup, as many uni students do, a clothing brand – however, he quickly noticed that there was a gap in the market to create the a platform for very best of independent clothing brands. Essentially a space between the brands own websites and the massive clothing marketplace platforms like Asos, Not on the High Street and The Lost Lanes, where individual hand-picked brands could interact with new customers who were drawn to the marketplace.

Zooqie - a marketplace platform for the best that independent clothing brands have to offer!

Zooqie – a marketplace platform for the best that independent clothing brands have to offer!

Zooqie first launched in September 2013, selling over £2,500 worth of apparel within its first month as well as gaining a huge social following. However, disaster quickly struck as another company filed a complaint that Zooqie had infringed on their trademark within the same category. Tom points out that is is absolutely critical for students to check whether another business has trademarked their business name of choice before launching their company – a one minute search on the government’s Intellectual Property Office website will give the answer, as well as the ability to apply for your own trademark for around £175 pounds. Nonetheless, Tom, after a great expense of time and money, managed to come to suitable settlement with that company enabling him to continue using Zooqie brand which will see the website relaunch on the 5 July 2014!

Discover Independent Clothing

Discover Independent Clothing

With the help of an Innovation Centre grant the Zooqie website will undergo a complete revamp before re-launch and we can’t wait to see how everything develops once it is back online! With the likes of Young Ones Apparel and Tight Treads already onboard as brands we have a strong Exeter presences but there is always room for more amazing clothing brands so apply here if you believe your clothing company can add something to the marketplace. Zooqie are also keen to move into providing a platform for art, extreme sports products as well as many other exciting products over the next few months, with Tom hitting festivals across the UK this summer to promote his marketplace.

Tom was also keen to highlight the how useful it was taking them ‘Could You Be an Entrepreneur?‘ module within the business school, ran by course leader Professor Gordon Murray. Noting that it “really opened people’s eyes” about the possibly of starting a business Tom thoroughly enjoyed the core part of the module where students are encouraged to develop their own business ideas – something that helped him to further develop the idea of Zooqie as an online marketplace. He also noted the support given by the Innovation Centre in terms of IP advice while trying to resolve the trademark dispute – we are certainly here to help address student’s business problems of all types so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us here at the Innovation Centre. To get in touch simply email .

Here at MGR Music Tuition it has been another packed week, continuing to grow the teaching team with new websites launching including, including Piano Lessons Bradford (doubling up on the Singing Lessons Bradford website also launched earlier in 2013) as we try to supply the national demand for music lessons! I am also looking forward to getting some time over the next week to develop my fictional Mulberry Silk Pillowcase “eCommerce website on a shoe string” WordPress website (current cost having been £14.48) with the aim to create a fully functioning eCommerce website for under £75 as an example to Exeter Uni Students that launching a clothing business doesn’t need to cost you the earth website wise!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Intellectual Property Office, Progress Update, Zooqie

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 17, 2014

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Progress Update: Webwise Media

For the eleventh progress update I managed to catch up with Dan Wiseman, founder of Webwise Media, a website design business aimed at creating affordable websites for small and medium businesses. Dan, who studied drama at Exeter 2009-2012, focused his degree on arts management. Extensively exploring how the creative industry works and is managed on a financial level, he was prompted to start designing websites as source of income while at university. However, his skills for designing websites, as well as his honest and customer focused approach to web design, saw his business start to flourish in its own right during his second year at university. It was this organic growth in the business, where one website design would lead to three further enquiries that ensured that business thrived without spending too much on advertising.

Webwise Media

Webwise Media – not all businesses need to be born from a single eureka moment, many like Dan’s were created from a journey that became increasingly more entrepreneurial as time when on

Dan took a part-time job in the University of Exeter’s IT department, working over the summer to continue to learn and develop his abilities. It also proved a source of inspiration and motivation to continue to drive his business forward. By 2011, after wining some notable contracts, the idea that Webwise Media could become a post-graduation job started to materialise in Dan’s mind. That summer he took the steps to formalise the company, continuing push forward the organic growth of his business which had seen ever more interest from clients throughout the South West. By summer 2012 Webwise Media had started rent hot-desk space at the Innovation Centre, something that is available for all student businesses, subject to the approval of the Innovation Centre staff and had started to develop a number of exciting new software based projects like Screenfish.

By summer 2013 Webwise Media had moved into permanent offices in the Innovation Centre, partnered with an SEO company and continued to grow their client base – taking on new projects from across the South West. This hard work enabled Dan to take on two University of Exeter student interns in early 2014, as well as winning the prestigious 2014 “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” at the Exeter Business Awards that was a fantastic achievement. Moving forward Webwise Media will continue to grow their client base organically, pivoting slightly by looking to develop further into systems development and eCommerce website creation. Dan also plays an integral role at the Innovation Centre in terms of helping to develop the current entrepreneurial students, offering web advice as well as holding regular seminars through the career zone on multiple aspects of developing an online business. He is also always interested in talking on talented University of Exeter students to work at Webwise Media as interns, you can get in touch with him via the Webwise Media website. We are excited to see how Dan’s business continues grow and develop over the next twelve months and hope he represents the first of a new wave of entrepreneurial Exeter students who will choose to grow their businesses in the South West!

Posted under Progress Update, Student Interns, Student Jobs, Webwise Media, Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 10, 2014

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Progress Update: Just Winston

For the tenth article in our progress updates I sat down with Chris Rea, co-founder of a custom onesie clothing company called Young Ones, to talk about his growing involvement with another University of Exeter clothing brand now known as Just Winston. Dubbed “the ultimate dinner shirt” Just Winston combines extremely high quality shirts with exciting fabric designs, enabling the wearer to be both perfectly formal as well as having that distinct edge as the party livens up!

Founded by Nathan Ball and Ollie Sills as Winston Shirtchill, Chris and Young Ones co-founder Tom Carson decided to approach the pair in early 2014 as they were interested in helping drive the business forward. The four quickly came to an agreement that saw Chris and Tom come into the business as co-directors. The brand quickly developed, seeing the change in name, improvement of product quality and crowd sourced business funding from Kickstarter. Originally targeting £2,500 Just Winston rapidly exceeded expectations gaining 146 backers and over £5,764 to date. For those who know the passion of these four founders in delivering quality clothing products to market, as well as the potential for this project in particular this success is well founded. Indeed, Just Winston’s dinner shirts represented the University of Exeter at SETsquared’s Uni PopShop held in Spitalfields Market in summer 2013 as our product of choice – something I was luck enough to participate in as a team member.

From the interaction, interest and overall passion the general public had for this brand during the event within London is clear that on a conceptual level the business is completely there – now with the added help of Chris and Tom to develop the brand, business and operational models I really think we will see Just Winston develop into one of the more successful clothing brands to come out of the University of Exeter. The four are set to relaunch Just Winston in September 2014, something that we are all looking forward to! I will keep you updated with their progress!

Just Winston - the ultimate dinner shirt

Just Winston – the ultimate dinner shirt!

Here at MGR Music it has been another positive week, having taken on another new guitar teacher based here in Exeter for the Guitar Lessons Exeter website, as well as a second singing teacher on the Singing Lessons Brighton – both really exciting news!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Just Winston, Kickstarter, Progress Update, Young Ones

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 3, 2014

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Progress Update: Mammal Swag

For the ninth in our progress update stories I met up with Jon Mills, the founder of Mammal Swag a clothing business that features Jon’s cartoon animals that have alter ego characters! Be it the Art Deco Gecko, the Hipster Dog or the Shellsuit Stag the designs are nothing short of eye catching. I first wrote about Mammal Swag in February 2013, this was a point in the business where Jon had been successful at selling his products in The Forum as well as online yet he was spending hours undertaking labour tasks (such as attaching labels to each t-shirt) rather than outsourcing this task to free himself up to drive the business forward. This proved to be a bit of crossroad for Jon, either take a step back to manage aspects of the business rather than single handedly performing each task within the business operation or accept that the strain on Jon’s time was the limiting factor that would prevent the business from further growth.

Mammal Swag

Mammal Swag – rebranding included introducing higher-quailty labels that also allowed Jon to step back from attaching labels to each item of clothing and spend more time growing the business!

Excitingly for us in summer 2013 Mammal Swag underwent a rebranding as Jon looked to establish a bit more quality in the brand; upgrading the t-shirts, introducing high-quality labels and most significantly seeing Jon step back from the production process to oversee the entire operation (he also employed his mum as part of the product dispatch team which is always a good idea!). This helped him to sell over 150 items of clothing in the run up to Christmas 2013, including sending products as far a field as Brazil and Saudi Arabia. Yet it was within selling face-to-face on market stalls that gained Jon the most satisfaction. This is where Mammal Swag due to their unforgettable designs really stood out from the crowd. Thriving at the “soft-sale” (where you allow customers to come to you, rather than badgering them to buy your goods) the instantly recognisable clothing company was able to distinguish itself from the extremely competitive t-shirt market.

Mammal Swag - The Zoo!

Mammal Swag – The Zoo displaying some of the animal characters Jon has created!

With the turn of the New Year and the increase in work load for Jon as a final year student had to put Mammal Swag on the back burner. However, with summer fast approaching and the end of exams almost in sight it will be interesting to see where Jon takes Mammal Swag over the summer 2014 and beyond. We will have to see!

In terms of the actually business of designing t-shirts I thought I would talk to Jon to provide some tips to students who are interested in following in his footsteps. Having worked as the Student Entrepreneur in Residence, listening to students pitch their various business ideas, I know that besides apps, online businesses and all things related to going on a night out, clothing business ideas are by far the most popular concept pitched to us here at the Innovation Centre. Yet, few are as successful as Mammal Swag, Young Ones or Tight Threads – why is this?

Well looking at the three clothing businesses, Young Ones and Tight Threads caught onto treads early (onesies and photographic print t-shirts respectively) producing superior products at a lower cost to the consumer, while Mammal Swag capitalised on Jon’s ability to design unique graphics to add to the clothes he was trying to sell. With so many clothing companies out there you really have to create something that customers will want to pay for. However, as Jon notes clothing companies are one of the best businesses to start at university (indeed, even I tried to start a clothing business when I first started at the University of Exeter!); with low start up costs, low overheads and your target market on your doorstep you can see why it appeals to so many entrepreneurial minded students. Utilising the power of the internet, something that perhaps our generation is more accustomed too, can also help to drive an early stage clothing business forward – Jon broke down his sale figures for me as 85% of sales taking place online to 15% offline. He sold through the likes of Asos Marketplace where 15% of his online sales took place and through his own Mammal Swag website (65% of online sales) that he got up and running for £10.

Mammal Swag - The Zoo!

Clothing businesses can have low start up costs, low overheads and with your target market on your doorstep you can sell straight to them, like Jon is here selling Mammal Swag products in the forum!

Yet, Jon will be the first to hold his hands up to making some business mistakes while growing his clothing company. Firstly a common problem for clothing businesses is trying to diversify the product range too early; for example, Jon created jumpers and iPhone cases that haven’t sold well as they have moved too far away from the core unique selling point of his business – creating fun, cool t-shirts. Secondly, custom orders can also prove a headache if they are for only tiny orders of 3 or less – in the case of the Mammal Swag jumpers to cover one items in all sizes, designs and colours Jon would have to have stocked 112 jumpers which would mean him putting significant capital into holding stock, never a good idea. Finally production lag times are always a source of major concern for clothing businesses, ensuring that these are as smooth and reliable as possible are crucial to running a successful clothing operation.

Nonetheless, the experience that Jon has had running a clothing business while at university is simply priceless, imagine being able to walk into a job interview and being able to talk about firsthand experience negotiating with suppliers, improving customer satisfaction and creating business solutions – failing that you could always continue to run the business that you founded during university and grow it into a nationwide clothing brand like Rampant Sporting ran by former University of Exeter student Richard Hurtley (and make lots of money along the way!).

Here at MGR Music Tuition this week I spent some time in London, working alongside Gael (the Guitar Lessons London lead teacher) to continue to develop our product presentation to London based music stores with the aim of getting 3 to 5 music storers to advertise on the Guitar Lessons London website. We are still waiting on a reply from the first store that we have approached but fingers crossed we will hear from them shortly! We also hired new teachers for the Guitar Lessons Blackpool and Guitar Lessons Newcastle websites, while releasing news sites in Worcester and Bradford – good progress as ever in terms of the national expansion. I was also asked by some Exeter students earlier in the week about the process of creating websites – there is quite a good article on the Career Enterprise Zone website that deals with that (also check out my blog post last week about setting up a fictional clothing business on a shoe string budget) as well as other FAQs students have (including company formation etc.) that I thought might be useful!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Mammal Swag, Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 27, 2014

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Progress Update: CampusBoard

For the eighth of our progress updates I sat down with Seva Baskin, founder of CampusBoard – a platform for students to buy and sell anything at their university. Seva first came up with the idea in spring 2012 during his foundation year studying Computer Science & Economics at the University of Exeter. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that Seva decided to move forward with the concept having gained some coding and programming knowledge, as well as selecting this project as the most viable business model from a range of ideas he had had during his foundation year.

CampusBoard

CampusBoard – a university centred trading platform!

The broad concept of the website came to Seva when he spotted an opportunity to create an online platform that modelled the likes of eBay and Gumtree but was tailored to smaller community of users. In this case, CampusBoard’s customers would be drawn together by their similar location and the fact that they were all university students, replacing the inadequate Facebook groups that were already been used widely by Exeter university student to trade items. Seva’s aim was to contrast his website to these Facebook groups, well known for their horrid search capabilities, unusual and changing orders of the item’s posted and the fact that it is impossible to know if an item had already been sold, by creating a clean and simple website that could be easily used by customers. After 7 months of coding CampusBoard was ready to be launched, being released in March 2014 through a soft launch to friends – a great way to test a website and see if it can generate interest.

CampusBoard

“Getting the user experience right is critical. A clean, clear website was a must”

The website user-base quickly grew organically as CampusBoard was shared between students and now boasts over 300 active University of Exeter users, 700 product listings and over a 10% sale rate. It is a website that really understands its users, with listings being anonymous and emails not being shared until both parties are ready (unlike Facebook), a price being agreed upon by both parties and the goods/money being exchanged on campus with no website fees (unlike eBay & Gumtree) – something that Seva cites as central to the success of CampusBoard so far! Boasting everything from second hand textbooks, printers and cardboard spacemen CampusBoard has really become the trading platform of choice for Exeter university students. Moving forward Seva would like to expand to other universities across the UK, building up a larger and more active user-base as well as beginning to build a model that can be monetised. For now, however, I would suggest that CampusBoard is one of the most exciting online start-up business we currently have at the University of Exeter.

Here at MGR Music Tuition this week it was a poignant moment as Matt Pocock, one of the first music teachers who I hired way back in early 2012 as the Singing Lessons Exeter teacher stepped down from his role to undertake a masters in vocal training in Guildford. Taking on his role will be another University of Exeter drama graduate Chris Harknett who will take over the Singing Lessons Exeter website! Within London I am pleased to say we took on a new guitar teacher, Nora Bite, for the Guitar Lessons Hackney page on the Guitar Lessons London website as well as additional teachers for Guitar Lessons Bolton and Guitar Lessons Solihull. We are still in the process of sorting out an advertising deal with a guitar store in London for the Guitar Lessons London website but hopefully this will come through soon!

Having met plenty of students that wanted to spend hundreds of pounds on their first website I was thoroughly impressed when Jon Mills of Mammal Swag told me he already set one up for £20 and started selling. This is a screenshot of that basic, yet fully functioning eCommerce website.

Inspired by some of our entrepreneurial students like Seva I thought I would try my hand at creating my first eCommerce website as I had some free time over the weekend! Here I am going to talk through the process of setting up a website, something that can be done relatively cheaply and easily – even on shoe-string student business startup. While website designs can cost thousands of pounds each actually in the initial stages of testing a product and the market that product will work within a functioning website can be created for less than £75 all in. Jon Mill’s first Mammal Swag website is testament to this costing him the grand total of £20 to setup and start selling his t-shirts from. This meant he spent more time and money developing his product rather than diverting these resources to the creation of a website, before he knew how well his product would sell. Of course once you can start to gauge your sales and income then you can plough some of that money back into to improve on of the major routes to market which is your own website (my question to any student setting up a clothing company would be can you really justify spending £300+ on a website design before you have actually sold any products).

So how is a shoe-string initial website created? Well firstly pick your product/market, for my dive into the world of eCommerce I settled on silk pillowcases as my product of choice after a lengthy conversation with my sister into luxury clothing products. The next task was to think of a domain name (like www.exeter.ac.uk) and register that name, if it is available, with a domain register. Popular domain registers include 123-reg.co.uk, GoDaddy.com and my personal favourite DomainMonster.com where you can purchase .com domains for as little as £11.99 and .co.uk domains £6.70. Domain names work like leases, so you essentially you rent a name for a set time period before renewing it or losing ownership over it. For my weekend project I settled on www.mulberrysilkpillowcase.com for my fictional business. Next you need to host the website – if the domain name is the name of your radio station, then the hosting is the radio tower that sends your radio show/website around the world. Often the domain registers will also sell hosting, like 123-reg.co.uk which basic hosting packages can start from as little as £2.49 a month for a single website. So far the total cost of the creation of this website has reached the dizzying heights of £14.48 for month one and £2.49 each month thereafter.

Free WordPress e-commerce themes

Basic but effective – an example of a free WordPress eCommmerce theme! Click on the image to bring you to a list of the 10 best WordPress eCommerce themes according to DesignsCrazed

Next on the list is to link up the domain name and the hosting, like connecting your radio mic via the soundboard to the radio tower. To do this you need to find the name-servers of your hosting (the name of your radio tower) and enter their details in the domain setting provided by your domain register. Following this you must create the template for the website, by far the most famous template system is WordPress, though Shopify is also popular with clothing companies. Since WordPress is free, whereas Shopify has a monthly charge we will stick with WordPress for our shoe-string setup – the first task is to complete their “Famous 5 Minute Install” where you download the WordPress package to your computer. Edit the “wp-config-sample.php” file, don’t panic it is easier than you think – simply locate the file and fill in the blanks with your database name, user and password that you have set up on your hosting cPanel via the MySQL Databases tab. Renamed this file “wp-config.php” and upload the entire WordPress package to your hosting via an FTP account (best one to use is Fire FTP, a plugin for the FireFox browser that can both be downloaded for free). Once that is all uploaded go to your domain name and it should help you to install the final part of WordPress there – then you are into the backend of the website where you can start to edit the website as you please! This is where the exciting part comes, now you can select your own theme for the website via the “Appearance – Themes” page, selecting from thousands of pre-made free designs (many for eCommerce websites) on WordPress as well as tens of thousands more from across the web. Into these WordPress themes you can add in the various eCommerce plugins that will make your website feel like your very own storefront!

While the free WordPress themes work well, for as little as £50 you can buy yourself a beautifully designed and less WordPress looking template that will enable your clothing business to distinguish itself more as well as injecting more of your own brand into the website. Next month I will purchase a template design that I like for the “Silk Pillowcase” website and continue to build it into a fictional clothing business with a great looking website that was setup on a shoe string as an example for other startup clothing businesses at the uni – current cost after month one is £14.48.

Posted under CampusBoard, eCommerce Website On A Shoe String, Guitar Lessons London, Mammal Swag, Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 20, 2014

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Progress Update: The Student Bubble

For the seventh in our progress updates I thought I would catch up with Nick O’Ferrall and Elina Lulle, co-founders of the Student Bubble – a website that draws together and reviews some of the best pubs, clubs and restaurants a university city has to offer to its students! The idea came to Nick in January 2014 when he saw an opportunity to share all those local gems that Exeter has to offer that new students, as well as current student, unaware of the likes of The Hour Glass, Double Locks and The Real Food Store (rather than The Ram, Imperial and Costa Coffee!). Combining open reviews with carefully selected “local gems”, days out and the ultimate University of Exeter Bucket List the Student Bubble has quickly grown in popularity amongst the student population.

Student Bubble

Want things to do in Exeter? Student Bubble has it covered!

After Nick’s initial idea he managed to get Elina onboard to help with the website design, an example of a great bit of entrepreneurial pragmatism: if you are starting an online business rather than paying thousands of pounds for website design inspire a computer science to get involved in the project and form a business, utilising both of your unique skill sets, with them. With Elina onboard the website went live in March 2014, using the forum to talk to students directly and gain feedback for the businesses on the website. Moving forward the pair are looking to expand their website to cover other universities across the nation as well as starting to monetise it. In terms of the former they are starting to look for student brand managers at each university as well beginning research local businesses within the cities that they are looking to expand into. It will be a make or break 12 months for the Student Bubble to see if they can take a good idea and turn it into a something that (i) can be duplicated for other cities around the UK and (ii) monetise it – if anyone can do it then it will be these two!

In terms of my week here at MGR Music I was really excited to take on two new teachers for the Singing Lessons Swansea and Singing Lessons Hull websites, as well as creating Piano Lessons Newcastle as new build website. I am still certainly in the process of expanding as rapidly as I can across the UK, however, this inevitably causes certain growing pains – including (i) not being able to take on teachers fast enough to fulfil all enquiries and (ii) as things ramp up increasingly my time & energy is put into managing the admin for the current business rather than driving it forward. Getting the right balance is crucial to avoid taking two steps forward and one step back each month, but driving a business forward is certainly the most fun thing I have ever done!

Posted under Progress Update, Student Businesses, The Student Bubble

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 18, 2014

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Progress Update: Guitar Lessons London

I thought exactly one year to the day when I launched Guitar Lessons London I thought I would write a short personal update on its development, a story of pivoting, entering the most competitive music tuition market in the UK and constant development to appeal to an audience that is like nowhere else in the UK. Originally rather than a Guitar Lessons London website the site was targeted at the entirety of the UK, under a “Guitar Lessons UK” branding with subpages for different teachers within locations – yet it quickly proved inefficient in generating the number of enquiries needed to support multiple guitar teachers across the nation.

Guitar Lessons London - originally launched under the a 'Guitar Lessons UK' branding

Guitar Lessons London – originally launched under the a ‘Guitar Lessons UK’ branding

Therefore, when the opportunity arose to move into the London guitar tuition market – a dream of mine since launching my music tuition business in first year of university – I pounce upon it, purchasing the www.guitarlessonslondon.com domain name and rebranding the website to “Guitar Lessons London”.

However, this quickly struck a problem as with a UK map potential students only had the very smallest of areas to click on to locate their teachers, so with the help of Andy from 1010 Media we decided to include a borough by borough map of London as the focus of the websites homepage. Whenever you design a website you have to be really clear about the customers journey through that website, once a potential client is on your website how are you going to get the from A (the first page they view) to B (a purchase, enquiry, content viewing, email subscription page depending on your aims for the website). For the music tuition websites the aim is to get them to enquiry via a contact form so having a clear customer journey for this new look Guitar Lessons London website was key: (i) landing page (ii) click on borough on map (iii) select teacher (iv) read about teacher (v) contact.

Guitar Lessons London - second design, with London borough map

Guitar Lessons London – second design, with London borough map

Yet, after this update was launched the truth was it simply didn’t work! How could this be? Well, the truth was this had disturbed a central theme that had helped the success of all of the other music tuition website; primarily that each website was designed for one teacher, creating a personalised experience for a potential student that didn’t give them more choices to make about which teacher they wanted. I found that providing potential students with a multitude of teachers actually decreased enquiry rates as a client simply wanted one teacher that looked professional, friendly and able to teach them the music that they wanted to learn. There was a second cold point that we quickly learned – that even 5 clicks from landing page to enquiry was too many to ask of the majority of web users who went through this thought process: (i) enter a website, does it look good? (ii) looks good, read a little info (iii) sounds good, I will enquire – making it a three step process. And a final third point was that by presenting a multitude of teachers the website gave the impression that it was a music agency rather than a personalised website ran by a great guitar teacher – a quick search for “Guitar Lessons London” on Google would show that my direct competitors all presented in the same manor: a music agency with teachers, rather than individual teachers running their own website. This meant that my website simply didn’t stand out from the rest – no wonder the enquiries were so low despite the best of intentions when we launched the second design update!

So despite all the hard work, as well in investment in this second design, in February 2014 I decided to develop a new model where the website replicated the normal locational website templates with a “lead teacher” who could deliver lessons to students within their own homes across London to see if I could increase enquiry numbers. Implementing this template would make the website much more personal, hopefully improving enquiry numbers through a model that had already been proven across the UK. Another huge time investment this third updated came into place and I quickly saw a rapid increase in the number of enquiries coming through the website – yet it was still way off what I would expect for the number of searches made per month in London for guitar lessons.

Guitar Lessons London - third design, personalised to a single 'lead teacher'

Guitar Lessons London – third design, personalised to a single ‘lead teacher’

Clue another step back and analysis of the analytics of the websites – turns out the Londoners spend even less time on the websites that in other cities across the UK, meaning basically even if they liked the website that they didn’t have the time/motivation/patients to get to the final “Contact Me” page. Ever heard of “London service” – turns out the same is true on the internet! (Why wouldn’t it be?!) So to combat this I decided to additionally put a contact form on every one of the pages that I want a client to work through when they land on the website, everything from the “About Me” page to the “Prices” page. This again dramatically increased the number of enquiries coming through the website – yet is it finished, certainly not! There is still plenty to develop on the website over the next year or so to help to increase the conversion numbers of the people entering the website to completing the target action desired by the webmaster. I have found that nothing ever stands still on the internet, it is an ever evolving field where a inconveniently placed link or one click too many will half the number of conversions you will make – but what am I complaining, I would do just the same on your website and so would you!

Posted under 1010 Media, Guitar Lessons London, MGR Music, Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 17, 2014

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Progress Update: Young Ones

For the sixth of our progress updates I caught up with Chris Rea, co-founder of Young Ones a youth focused clothing company that Chris launched while studying at the University of Exeter. I last wrote about Young Ones in February 2013 and the business has really moved forward in leaps and bounds since then.

Young Ones was launched by Chris when he was a first year student in 2011, at the height of the onesie craze. He spotted some premium, but highly expensive onesies and thought he could produce a product of similar quality but at a lower price. Chris linked up with a factory in to begin making prototypes. His first onesie was produced in summer 2011, when Tom Carson, Chris’s business partner became involved. They started running Young Ones as an ecommerce site out of Chris’ bedroom. Having sold their stock of 200 onesies in under two months the pair knew that they were onto something. The popularity of the brand continued to grow throughout Chris’ second and third years at Exeter, with university students nationwide becoming “YoungOnes” and “keeping cozy during the cold winter months” in their personalised onesies. Chris and Tom even received an order from America’s iconic university Harvard to supply students with onesies there!

Young Ones - street wear clothing

Young Ones – from onesies to a university brand!

In September 2013 perhaps came Young Ones’ biggest achievement so far, managing to secure a £75,000 investment from Dragons Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne within the Den. Chris noted that it was a massive “confidence boost” for the pair and “confirmed that we were on the right track with the business”, encouraging them to undertake a nationwide university tour in autumn 2013. Young Ones were also diversify their products, offering bright boat shoes, wooden sunglasses as well as their ever famous custom onesies that started appearing ever more frequently across the University campus by early 2014.

Young Ones - street wear clothing

Young Ones – 2013 saw the product range expand into boat shoes, wooden sunglasses & other street wear clothing items!

On a business front Chris cited the significance of changing supplier to reduce lead times, building up a core group of brand managers across the nation’s universities and continued focus on building the brand as the three most significant developments within Young Ones over the last twelve months. The later of three has seen Young Ones take on new graphic and fashion designers helping the company prepare for the release of their new summer range for 2014 which will be out shortly. Indeed, Chris and Tom are still looking to build their team and are especially interested in creating an internship programme, if you are interested in talking to them about this simply email . In terms of moving forward the pair cite their next major challenge will be getting Young Ones into retail stores, solidifying the company as the up and coming brand of choice for thousands of universities students throughout the UK. I am sure there is plenty more to come from Young Ones and I will keep you updated with their progress over the next few years!

In terms of my week here at MGR Music we had great success on the hiring front, taking on new teachers in Belfast, Plymouth and Coventry and well as launching the Piano Lessons Southampton and Singing Lessons Coventry websites! With over 75 teachers onboard now things are really starting to grow with speed, averaging over 30 new student enquiries each day to pass onto these teachers located throughout the UK. We are also coming up the one year birthday of the Guitar Lessons London website launch so there will be a small celebration for that next week!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Progress Update, Young Ones

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 5, 2014

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Progress Update: Macaw Designs

Today I caught up with Ali Gillum for the fifth in our series of University of Exeter student business updates. Ali is the founder of a fantastic social enterprise called Macaw Designs, which creates beautiful bespoke iPhone, iPad, laptop and glasses cases. I last time wrote about Macaw Designs in March 2013 the foundations of the business were just being set-up; by Easter 2013 Ali had started designing the Macaw Designs website as well as locating a factory in England to produce her designs.

Bespoke iPhone cases

Macaw Designs – Bespoke iPhone, iPad, Glasses & Laptop Cases

By autumn 2013 Macaw Designs boasted four unique design collections and officially launched the entire brand in October 2013 in association with Her Campus. Since then Ali has been carefully building the brand by undertaking craft events as well as Popup Macaw events in Exeter and Durham. Sales have been building since launch, with Macaw Designs being selected by the University of Exeter to represent it at the SETsquared intra-university business competition held in Spitalfields Market in June. Ali will also take the brand to summer festivals like New Wine and Somersault, capitalising on the release of two new collections that are aimed at the male market. Post graduation Ali is looking to continue to grow her social enterprise, which has receive grant backing from the Innovation Centre and the UnLtd Fund, into a business that not only creates bespoke cases but also impacts local communities through running craft events. No doubt that next twelve months will be really exciting for Macaw Designs and I will keep you updated!

Macaw Designs

Macaw Designs – one of two new collections for men!

In terms of my week here at MGR Music we successfully managed to launch the Singing Lessons Reading, Piano Lessons Leicester and Guitar Lessons Winchester websites, with our most exciting news being that we are nearly almost there in signing an advertising deal with a London guitar store for the for the Guitar Lessons London website. This would be a massive achievement for us, generating a new stream of income that can be used to create more fantastic content. The week also saw us hire teachers in Aberdeen and Oxford which kept us on track for our two teachers per week expansion!

Posted under Macaw Designs, Progress Update, SetSquared, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 30, 2014

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Progress Update: Jollie Goods

For the forth of our progress updates I met up with Ed Vickers, founder of one of the University of Exeter’s most successful social enterprises Jollie Goods. I originally posted about Ed’s business, a “wear a pair, share a pair” social enterprise helping provide socks for homeless people, in March 2013 and boy has the business come on a long way since then!

In December 2012 Ed had just launched his social enterprises’s first product, “Jollie’s Socks”, making his first sales on a weekly market stall on campus in The Forum. Sales of the socks through the website quickly went through the roof, helping Ed to sell over 100 pairs of socks before Christmas 2012. By March 2013 Jollie’s Socks had been selected as the product of choice to represent the University of Exeter at a SETsquared intra-university business competition held in Spitalfields Market London, winning the UnLtd price for “Best Social Impact”. This provided Jollie Goods with the platform to start selling their products through multiple independent stores located throughout the south-west and London including Maker Maker and Good Golly Miss Molly in Exeter (two good stores to start with if you run a clothing business at the University and are interesting getting your goods into local stores).

Jollie's Socks on sale in the Forum

Ed selling Jollie’s Socks on campus in The Forum, December 2012!

By December 2013 the Jollie’s Socks range had expanded to three different coloured socks, with all the manufacturing being moved back to the UK. Yet, it was Jollie Goods success within the John Lewis’s PitchUp business competition that really highlighted the potential of the business – from the hundreds of entries made Jollie Goods was shortlisted with 11 other companies to pitch to John Lewis for the chance to be stocked in the retail giant’s stores. From this pitch Jollie Goods were successful and won the opportunity to be stocked in John Lewis – the only company to be selected that year! From Christmas 2012, were Ed had sold socks at the Forum, to Christmas 2013 where Jollie’s Socks were being sold in their hundreds through John Lewis’s Peter Jones, Oxford Circus and Online Stores.

Continuing to be sold through these three John Lewis stores, as well as an ever growing network of independent stores, Ed has big plans for Jollie Goods now that he has graduated from the University of Exeter (summer 2014). Looking towards December 2014 Jollie’s Socks will expand from three products to five, as well as moving into producing Jollie’s Hat and Scarves – both having similar “wear a pair, share a pair” concept providing the homeless with durable winter hats and scarves upon each purchase. Indeed, the social impact of Jollie Goods has been truly outstanding with over 2,000 fresh socks being given to homeless shelters to distribute, touch numerous lives across the UK. Ed’s ultimate goal is not only to continue to grow his social business but enable young people to get directly involved to help the homeless throughout the nation.

Jollie's Socks on sale at John Lewis

Jollie’s Socks selling in John Lewis, December 2013!

Perfect for quirky christmas gifts Jollie’s Socks has to be one of the best products to be created by a University of Exeter student and no doubt Jollie Goods has a great future in front of it! On the MGR Music Tuition business front this week we have had a really exciting development, with the launch of Piano Lessons Swindon that will be jointly run with the Guitar Lessons Swindon and Singing Lessons Swindon teachers. It is the start of a new business model that will enable teachers to create small music tuition businesses, rather than simply building up their own students numbers. Exciting times!

We are also in the final stages of negotiating a deal with a guitar store in London who are interested in advertising in the London Guitar Lessons Blog, this will be great news if it comes off as it will be able to fund content creation through hiring a sub-contracted blog editor and a teacher to produce further Youtube guitar lesson videos – all creating more traffic and then more revenue from advertising. On the website expansion front Singing Lessons Cambridge, Piano Lessons York and Singing Lessons Peterborough we all completed and launched this week, with teachers being hired in Belfast and Southampton. All in all a truly busy week!

Posted under Jollie Goods, Progress Update, SetSquared, Stocking Goods in John Lewis, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 25, 2014

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Progress Update: Tight Threads

For the second progress update on a University of Exeter student business I met up with Nathan Dundovic, founder of Tight Threads – a photographic clothing company. Nathan, now a third year student, came up with the idea in 2011 when he saw an opportunity to improve the quality of photograph prints on clothing, a style that had become popular and widely sold in shops like Topman, Republic and other high-street stores from 2010 onwards. He focused on creating high quality photographic prints, releasing his first range in 2012, which consisted of 15 t-shirts, 15 sweatshirts and several snapbacks.

Tight Threads

Tight Threads – cool t-shirts, sweatshirts and snapbacks!

Selling under his business name Tight Threads Nathan’s first range sold really well, shifting 75% of his stock and even getting a wholesale order from a shop owner located in Kent to supply this store with his snapbacks. Yet, it was the sales that he made through clothing marketplace websites like Asos Markekplace, TheLostLanes.com and the University of Exeter Guild Shop that drove his business forward. Nathan was keen to point out that these websites are great outlets for any students who are interested in selling their clothing products, with the physical location of the Guild Shop giving great exposure to the brand to the thousands of students on campus.

Nathan also really made the most of the Career Zone’s eXepert scheme, were entrepreneurial students are linked up with University of Exeter alumni that have experience in their field. In Nathan’s case he was fortunate enough to be introduced to a successful clothing businessman who had graduated from Exeter years before, this contact provided Nathan with invaluable industry advice and mentorship – something that he would strongly suggest that other Exeter students should make the most of if you run a business! With this in mind Nathan is now looking to continue to build Tight Threads by introducing a new range of cool t shirts and cool sweatshirts for the summer! You can keep an eye on Nathan’s progress by checking out the Tight Threads website or to find out more what it is like running a clothing company while you are at university get in touch with him via his nathandundovic.com website!

eXepert scheme

Career Zone eXepert scheme provided key support for Nathan

It has been an exciting week here at MGR Music Tuition as well, hiring teachers for the Guitar Lessons Bristol, Singing Lessons Swindon and Piano Lessons Oxford websites. We also had the exciting announcement that the Guitar Lessons London website is now starting to provide online guitar lessons – with our lead guitar teacher in London creating tuition videos to help guitar students across the world to learn guitar for free! I have also been working with local Exeter company 1010 Media to create an automated invoicing system for the business that will hopefully help consolidate a core operation of the company (invoicing all 75 teachers with their lessons taught for the month) which is currently all done via email. After several meetings this week we are at the stage to give the project the go-ahead which is simply great news!

Posted under Clothing Companies, Guitar Lessons London, Progress Update, Tight Threads

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 8, 2014

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