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New Project - Matthew Rusk

Can you make a new business during the pandemic?

The impact of lockdown on our daily lives, dramatically shifted the way so many of us live our lives. Whether it is the changes to the way we travel, how socialise or new interests we acquired during the strange times where we were mandated to remain at home. For me, the lockdown sparked a new interest that lead to a business idea. Namely, during the lockdown by chance I ended up watching some YouTube videos about Whisky from a New Zealand YouTuber called First Phil Whisky. I had never really been that interested or know much about the subject, but it interesting to learn more about it – and since we were all stuck at home, experience tasting different whiskies that could be delivered and enjoyed at home.

This lead onto a business idea – could there be other beginner whisky enthusiasts interested in receiving a monthly whisky box to help them explore the world of whisky? Ultimately, the business idea was one of a subscription business – a model that has become increasingly popular in recent year, with beauty boxes, snacks and shaving equipment all posted through the door to paying subscribers. Lets explore some of the key concepts behind a subscription business model:

At its most basic, a subscription business model is a revenue model where a customer pays a recurring fee to access a product or service. It can be anything from Netflix, Spotify and more storage space with Apple to products delivered to your home on a re-occurring basis. Even Amazon has been moving into the subscription space with more of its products available for repeat order. Core aspects of a subscription business model are:

  • Customer acquisition: This can be done through various marketing channels with many successful subscription business leveraging social media for growth.
  • Customer onboarding: Once customers have been acquired, they must be onboarded and provided with access to the product or service. This process should be seamless and straightforward, with clear instructions and easy access to the product or service.
  • Recurring billing: The next step is to set up a recurring billing system, which automatically charges the customer’s credit card or other payment method on a regular basis. This system should be easy to manage and flexible, allowing for changes to be made if needed.
  • Customer retention: To keep customers, the business must provide a high-quality product or service that meets their needs and exceeds their expectations. This can be achieved through ongoing customer engagement and regular communication, as well as continuous product improvement and innovation.
  • Upsell and cross-sell: Subscription businesses can also generate additional revenue by upselling customers to higher-priced plans or cross-selling complementary products or services. This can be done through targeted marketing and personalisation, as well as through customer interactions and feedback.
  • Churn management: Churn, or the rate at which customers cancel their subscriptions, is a major challenge in subscription business models. To minimise churn, businesses must identify and address the root causes of customer dissatisfaction, as well as offer incentives to keep customers engaged and satisfied.
  • Data analysis: Finally, data analysis is critical in subscription business models, as it allows businesses to understand customer behaviour, preferences, and buying patterns. This information can be used to optimise marketing efforts, improve customer retention, and identify new revenue opportunities.

Another key area to note about subscription businesses is that they are a very giftable present. If you know a partner / friend / family member is interested in a hobby then a subscription box that meets that interest is a great way of getting something personal, that at the same time leaves all the specifics to the people that know about that hobby. So keep in mind that a good part of the target market might be individuals who are purchasing the subscription for someone else – this might be important in the way you phrase your content, ensuring it is understandable even to those with no interest in the area (who instead are trying to solve the problem of needing a present for someone!).

With this in mind I was keen to have a go at launching a Whisky Subscription business, alongside a Monthly Whiskey Club to see if either gain traction at the first bullet point above: customer acquisition. I will keep you updated with my progress, which so far has started with a Laphroaig 10 Review detailing my thoughts on one of the first whiskies I ever tried. Who knows where this journey will take me, but I am interested and excited to explore an alternative business model to the one I have created around a commission business.

Posted under New Project

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Matthew Rusk on January 30, 2023


Home Gyms

Working as the Student Entrepreneur in Residence I met many entrepreneurial students studying at the university, though I knew that these students were only the tip of the iceberg in the numbers of students at the university running successful business. Over the summer I was lucky enough to meet a former student at the University of Exeter, Jamie Brown, who never made it up to the Innovation Centre but had been running a remarkably successful online eCommerce website called Body Massage Shop, selling massage equipment to buyers throughout the EU.

After talking a lot about our respective businesses, where it was clear we shared many of the same challenges, gained similar but complimentary skill sets and both motivated to start new business ventures we agreed to explore the possibility of new projects. This experience re-inforced my view that connecting entrepreneurs, whether to share business growth issues or to engage in seed idea development, is an integrally worthwhile exercise.

As so often is the way one of the reasons Jamie never made it up to the Innovation Centre was as he was so busy running his business he didn’t have time to take out to explore the opportunities that the Innovation Centre / University of Exeter as a whole had to offer to early stage entrepreneurs. This paradox is something that we are certainly looking to address and if you have a business please do get in touch with the Invocation Centre to network with other business minded students.

From our early stage talks, followed by extensive research Jamie and myself decided to start a new business selling home gym equipment, from free weights to treadmills. The new business, called, will be developed during late 2016 and launched in early 2017. I am hopeful that with our combined experience of running successful online businesses, and the skills the we have developed during our time operating these startups, that we can create new business model that can grow into something major. I will keep you updated! is a new project started with Jamie Brown a former University of Exeter student.

Home Gyms is a new project started with Jamie Brown a former University of Exeter student.

As for an update on the new Wedding Band project I have started receiving a few enquiries starting to come through the website, though I have to say overall I have been slight underwhelmed with the level of traffic coming to the website. It will mean I will have to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate the data I have to explore whether the project as a whole is a viable one. Though we are still in the early stages of the project I had expected a greater flow of traffic to be coming to the website, similar to that of the music tuition websites, however, the data sets are really quiet different in terms of click through rate. So still work to be done on this project I think!

As for MGR Music Tuition the business is still continuing to grow rapidly, with recent months seeing new websites like Piano Lessons Belfast, Singing Lessons Rotherham and Singing Lessons York all being launched, or under development. With over 130 teachers both in the UK and Ireland the business has grown significantly during 2016 and with strong growth prospects for 2017 as well – though issues around Brexit, Scottish Independence and economic prospects on account of these do add to a more uncertain picture moving forward.

Posted under Home Gyms, New Project

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Matthew Rusk on October 26, 2016

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National Business Awards & Wedding Band

There has been a lot happening since my last post in August 2015! Firstly, I was very privileged to be able to join the University of Exeter at the National Business Awards in November, where the university had been nominate for the Duke of York Award for University Entrepreneurship. Despite Exeter missing out on the award to the University of Leeds I think our invitation and nomination was testament to the progress that the University of Exeter had made in recent years in terms of entrepreneurial support, with the likes of Joe Pearce and Tracey Costello needing to take a lot of credit for driving forward this programme. I was joined by other current or graduated students that had benefited from this investment, both financial but far more importantly in terms of an investment of time and skill development. While not all of the “student entrepreneurs” can continued to run their businesses post graduation everyone of them that I spoke to talked of the impact that it has had on their career being involved in creating a start up business.

The National Business Awards

The National Business Awards

That evening was also made very special by the keynotes speech given by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on The Moon. Buzz, spoke with passion about the “space race” and the ingenuity and invention needed to achieve dreams that no one had thought possible before, alongside the respect needed for those that had achieved feats of human endeavour (for example his respect for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space) as well as the often unseen consequences of achieving these feats. Clearly his experience on The Moon had deeply impacted him as he talked about the “magnificent desolation” of The Moon’s surface that was covered in a “soft grey talcum powder”, indeed, with something so profoundly different from any experience another human had had (apart from a small number of NASA astronauts) I was left wondering whether Buzz’s life thereafter had shown signs of undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder – a topic that I had studied at university in regard to WW2 soldiers.

Two things he spoke about will always stick with me – firstly a story from Buzz that upon hearing that the USSR had successfully got the first man into space in 1961 President Kennedy was determined that the USA should demonstrate their space capabilities…by sending their astronauts to Mars. Gathering his scientists together he sent them away for a weekend to plan it, only to have the news presented to him on the Monday that the scientists didn’t think it was possible and that the USA “should shoot for The Moon instead”. Kennedy was devastated (according to Buzz), but eventually came onboard with the new plan – one that Buzz Aldrin was able to execute alongside Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins.

Secondly, that Buzz was utterly convinced that the human race should be aiming to land astronauts on Mars, as well as set up a colony on Mars as soon as possible. Indeed, he had even written a book about it noting the benefits that such investment in space travel would bring in terms of technological advances, advances in communications, medicine and material designs. While he acknowledge it was not for his generation he made clear that the future of the human race depended on it – such passion for an idea that I am sure many of us would say is a bit barmy (though one that he & Kennedy might well be right about!) was interesting to listen to because the initial reaction is simply to dismiss it as “too crazy”. However, this really only goes to highlight our own barriers in terms of what we think is possible and of what we think the human race is capable of – strangely while many of us around the table agreed that “humans will one day live on Mars” none of us thought it should be our generation that took the risks to go and work out how to make it possible! Overall it was great night, with Buzz’s talk something I will take away with me for the rest of my life…after all it isn’t everyday you get to listen to someone that has stepped foot on The Moon!

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on The Moon, in full speech about why we should go to Mars!

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on The Moon, in full speech about why we should go to Mars!

Here at MGR Music Tuition I have been working very hard over the last few months creating a centralised platform to enable the teachers I work with to complete the admin side of things; specifically reporting the lessons that they have taught and making payment for these lessons. I was really excited to launch this in February 2016 – the platform also enables teachers to engage with one another in an interactive forum, a space where they can share best practise and gain advice about the many challenges of being a private music teacher. The team of teachers I work with has now grown to over 125, likely to peak at 150 later in the year, when the business will reach its full potential in terms of music teachers within the UK. Once that is reached this will mark a different stage of the business, moving from a start up business, through a phase I have jokingly referred to as the “teenage years” (sometimes temperamental but certainly more mature than early on) to something that is more akin to mid-twenties individual (more independent, with characteristics of its own). The analogy of comparing the life of a business to a humans, with a “birth”, early stages where the business needs constant attention before it can slowly become more independent, is one that I have heard about from other entrepreneurs and I would certainly that this has been my experience as well. With the music tuition business become more settled I thought I would explore launching a “project on the side” to work on during 2016.

With many of the teachers that I work with being active local musicians, driving their musical careers forward alongside their teaching, I decided to explore whether I can help them develop this aspect of their careers. Knowing that many of them generate revenue from “function band” performances and having researched the area thoroughly I decided to launch, a website where local bands can list themselves, enabling clients to select them for their live wedding / reception music. Having spoken with a lot of the teachers that do wedding gigs that major complaint was that often the gigs where long distances away from where the band is actually based. Therefore creating more gigs in the specific area where the band resides would be an incredibly useful service for these musicians. The website is just at a prototype stage at the moment but I am excited to try and develop it over the next 12 months to see if I can get bands onboard and ultimately make their experience as musicians even better!

Wedding Band

Posted under Business Innovation, National Business Awards, New Project

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Matthew Rusk on March 28, 2016

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How to Make Money From Websites

It is a question that I often get ask, indeed, one that I often pose to myself. “How can you make money from websites?” Or the rather more general “How do I make money on the internet?” In todays world there are literally billions of people on the internet, just waiting to spend their hard earned cash on everything from everyday items to luxury gifts there must be certain categories of business model that cater for these. There is a market for everything on the internet – so how can you capitalise on it?

Well broadly from all my experience in running an online business for the past five years there are basically 10 ways to make money from running websites on the internet (and to date I have only be successful in one method, in a small niche market). Here is the low down on how to make money from a website;

1. Advertising – literally the answer to every question I ever asked to a student with a business idea when I asked “how are you going to monetise it?”. The truth it unless you are Google or Facebook you are not going to be able to generate a primary income, comparable to your best friends that have just secured corporate jobs in London, from having pay-per-click adversing on your website. Even websites with thousands of hits per day will struggle to make more than a few pounds from their blog – think of similarities in Spotify for musicians. Pay-per-click is great but won’t cut it.

2. Sell Advertising – the second most common answer when people understand the financials behind pay-per-click adversing. This is a tough sell, you will need to approach a company and ask them to redirect X% of their adversing budget to your buy advertising space on your website. My question is to you – have you got the stats to back up your claim that adversing on your website will increase their businesses sales by X% or is X% more efficient than their current adversing? Without the stats why would any company risk the investment in advertising on your website? Still once you have built a brand it can be a great source of income providing that you keep adding value to the paying business.

3. Email Marketing – also known as list building. I have several books on this at home but am yet to read them – the old style internet entrepreneurs swear by them, but for me personally I have little knowledge in creating massive mailing lists & how to monetise them. Therefore I would give this as a neutral idea as I am not qualified to comment on it – read more by Googling “how to create a list building website”.

4. Create a paid board – job websites are a great example of this. Essentially people pay to be connected, whether it is employers paying to access employers (or visa-versa), plumbers and house owners or any other connecting of people. If you generate a good niche website that performs better than any other within that area of the market you can generate a great income – indeed, here at the Innovation Centre Environment Job is an example of this model.

5. Affiliate Marketing – the idea that if an individual goes onto a buy a product advertised on your website, having clicked on that link, then you receive a % of the sale price. Again a great source of passive income, but painfully low in terms of money coming in. Indeed, you are at the mercy of the product being so good people want to buy it. Possible but again a hard sell.

6. Sell Your Own Product – this tends to be the most profitable way of making money on the internet. Having a great product in the first place and using the internet as a marketplace for that product. The website therefore is only the shop, rather that purpose of the entire business. I have known students at the University of Exeter to make a decent secondary income – and at times primary income – from selling great products from their websites (Young Ones, Mammal Swag, Jollie’s Goods).

7. Sell a service – if you don’t have a product then selling a service, yours or someone else’s, will fulfil the same goal. In my instance I originally sold the service of “guitar lessons” before graduating to sell the service of “guitar students” to other teachers across the UK. Done correctly it can be a really lucrative form of income.

8. Paid Content – I have known of a few businesses at UOE that have created a website/app model around people paying for content. Indeed, there was a very interesting medical business that wished to gain students as subscribers for their exam-revision tools that looked promising. If you can explore a niche where (i) quality information is needed promptly and (ii) few other sources provide it for free it can work well. However, I would look at the examples of newspapers that have gone to a paid content model – The Sun for example – that must find it hard to compete against the many media outlets that can generate the same stories and place them online free.

9. Sell the website design – if you have designed the website yourself then sell the design to other people. This is great way of making money and you can continue to run your own website as it normally is, while advertising at the same time that people can buy the template you have designed should they like it!

10. Sell the website – literally the design, domain and content. I have heard of websites being sold for £100,000, if they boast great traffic in a field that a new company wants to get into – essentially they snap up the pre-existing website than take months to build up their own one. Having tried models 6, 7 and 9 I thought I would give model 10 a go this summer! Therefore I have created a website that goes after one thing…website traffic. I have no idea if anyone will ever want to buy it, but with over 44,000 searches per month in a low competition are of the market hopefully with a solid domain name I can get 20,000 hits per month on the website. Imagine being one of the definitive sources of information in this area of the market – I am sure that will be of interest to a company somewhere. However, trying to avoid the “if I build it, they will come” attitude I will try and monetise it in secondary ways with a collection of all the above methods. From this I will be able to feedback over the next three, six and twelve months – what really is the best way to make money from a website.

Posted under Innovation Centre, New Project, Student Businesses

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Matthew Rusk on June 27, 2015


Silk Pillowcases: Creating An eCommerce Website on a Shoe String

Here it is, a progress update on my “eCommerce Website on a Shoe String” project. Just to recap, the motivation for this project came from observing many students at the university who were trying to set up retail businesses, with a substantial amount of their initial capitol been put into the creation on a eCommerce website – we are talking hundreds of pounds here, often thousands. We would be approached often at the Innovation Centre by clothing businesses, who claimed “we have a great product and a fantastic business model but we just need £1,000+ to build our website to market our product from – will you fund it?”. The answer was inevitably no.

Why? At the genesis of every business capital is tight; therefore an entrepreneurs ability to utilise this capital to its maximum effect on the business’s development is a sign of whether that business is going to be successful. The balance sheet of these students would often see hundreds of pounds spent on product development, tens of pounds on market research yet they wanted to spend thousands of pounds on a website! In some cases that is over 50% of a students entire investment into their business would be on their website, for the majority of retail businesses created at university this is an unnecessary and costly mistake. No imagine if 45% of that budget could be reallocated to (i) further product development (ii) additional market research – with the website/online sales platform accounting only for 5-10% of the businesses start up costs. Therefore, my challenge here is to create a eCommerce website on a shoe string budget – that is to make a fully functioning eCommerce website for just £75!

My last post on the project (20th April – Progress Update: CampusBoard) had seen me select name and product for my fictional eCommerce business – Mulberry Silk Pillowcase – then purchase the domain name ( from a domain registers for £11.99. Then I moved to buy hosting for £2.49 per month – giving the start up costs so far as £14.48. The final step in my last update was to install WordPress, which is free, using their “Famous 5 Minute Install” – setting up a basic home page, with a little bit of content on it about my business.

Today we are going to look at how I developed this basic and standard WordPress theme into a fully functioning eCommerce website. The next step was to spend a little bit more of my £75.00 budget on purchasing a predesigned, WooCommerce compatible, WordPress theme. As mentioned before in this blog there are many free themes on WordPress that can be utilised to create your store, however, I think the price is reflected in the quality of the website designs and often customers can identify these websites as a WordPress template rather than your own store. This is a shame as for £30 – £50 you can get some outstanding templates that will look completely professional and standalone from the WordPress backend. After spending a good deal of time searching through different WordPress themes, all of which can be done by searching on Google, I decided that the Munditia Premium Coding Theme would most aptly reflect the general feel of the business. The cost price of this WooCommerce integrated theme was $60.00 or £36.89 – giving the total price spent on creating my eCommerce website as £51.37.

The process itself of purchasing a new theme and then uploading it to WordPress is quite simple. Firstly, pay for and download the theme of your choice onto your laptop then upload that to the WordPress Themes in your admin panel. You will then be able to select that theme as your theme of choice for your website. However, that really is the start of the process. Next, you will need to integrate all the compatible Plugins that the purchased theme specifies as necessary – primarily these Plugins will include WooCommerce, YITH WooCommerce Wishlist, WordPress SEO, Google XML Sitemaps, Contact Form 7, Broken Link Checker as well as others – that will facilitate the functionality of your website.

It is crucial to approach the downloaded theme as a paint-by-numbers canvas for you to build your website upon, so while the major structures of the website (number of partitions, element and widget location, website dynamics etc.) have been fixed for you there is still a great deal that you can edit to your own specifications. You don’t need to have a strong grasp of HTML to be able to achieve this, nor do you need to pay someone else to do it for you – read up, watch Youtube videos and ask for peoples advice in the multiple WordPress forums on the internet. To achieve the feel of the website that I wanted for my fictional product I started altering a number of the aspects of the original website – including changing theme colours from red to pink, altering the widget location and specification, removing aspects of the website I didn’t like (for example a pop up help box).

Of course all the changes thematically that you make on the website are intrinsically tied in to the customer journey that you wish to build for customers. Therefore, ascetic improvements must be in keeping with structural requirements that you have set out. For me, keeping a website simple is the key to success. The header menu denotes this sentiment, simply stating: Home, Shop, Benefits and About Us/Contact – with my customer journey always focused on ensuring that customers engage with shop, while being reassured by (i) the businesses credentials (About Us/Contact) and (ii) the benefit of the product (Home/Benefits).

The content, or copy as it is know, of your website is also an important factor in ensuring that your website and brand aline. You should both mirror your product and play to your target customer. I thought very carefully about the copy I wished to use on the website, knowing from my research that Silk Pillowcases tend to be bought by women as a luxury beauty product rather than an aid to more restful sleep. I hope that by reflecting and understanding the buyers motivation, communicated back to the customer through the content used on the website, will help improve potential sales. Moreover, to help gain these sales in the first place I would strongly suggest that every eCommerce website should run a blog as (i) it keeps your website looking fresh, updating regular clients to new developments (ii) helps increase traffic through the effect of the long search tail (Google it!) and (iii) makes you look like an authority in the field that you are selling within. Fulfilling this on the Silk Pillowcase website is the Silk Pillowcase Blog, in which I have already written three 300 – 800 word, original, quality posts (Types of Silk, Yuki Tsumugi Silk & Mulberry Silk) – that are the optimum types of post that you should be looking to upload.

Now that I have a fully functioning theme, with some good relevant content the next step will be to get the website there on a visual level – ensuring the all the images, page layouts and the dynamics of the website point towards my transaction goal. I would also need to begin to track the engagement new clients have on the website to understand how to continue to develop the website to best suit my target audience. I will explain how to do all of this in my next “eCommerce website on shoestring” post. Here at MGR Music Tuition this week has gone really well, launching Drum Lessons Bristol, Piano Lessons St Albans and Singing Lessons Aberdeen websites. It has been great to continue to expand the business both into new areas, such as St Albans, as well as tripling up in Bristol and Aberdeen with a third instrument on offer.

Posted under Clothing Companies, eCommerce Website On A Shoe String, New Project, SEiR

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Matthew Rusk on June 13, 2014

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