Rajeeb Dey is an award-winning entrepreneur and a 2012 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, whom I have the pleasure of knowing from our involvement with StartUp Britain, of which Rajeeb is co-founder. In this role, and as founder of Enternships – a platform which helps students and graduates find internships and jobs in startups and SMEs – Rajeeb’s passion has been to inspire and accelerate entrepreneurship in Britain.
We caught up with Rajeeb to hear about his early lessons in business:
What is your company all about?
My company Enternships is about connecting talent to internships and jobs within startups, SMEs, and innovative businesses. We work with 4000+ companies who want to attract dynamic talent but often lack the brand or HR departments to recruit directly themselves. We also create bespoke talent programmes for larger clients such as Santander Bank and Telefonica.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I was the President of the Student Entrepreneurs society at University – Oxford Entrepreneurs – and I found myself being contacted by startups wishing to advertise jobs to our members on a regular basis,so I set up a basic website which was only aimed at Oxford students.
It wasn't ever really my intention to set it up as a business, but upon graduating in 2008 it became clear to me that there was a gap which needed to be filled; we celebrate the 4.8m SMEs in the UK, but rarely do we ever see these types of businesses at university campuses. Whilst there is a clear path for aspiring bankers, lawyers and accountants, there didn’t seem to be any real training options for aspiring entrepreneurs.
That inspired me to create a new word – 'enternships,' to describe the kind of opportunities perfect for ambitious students and graduates looking to make a real difference in the companies they work for. I wanted to expose students to the vast array of businesses out there and harness the immense opportunities within them.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting your business and how did you overcome it?
I 'bootstrapped’ – i.e. self-funded – the business for quite some time. I worked from home to keep costs down and I was working alone. Not having a technical co-founder was my biggest hurdle as I wasted considerable amounts of time and resources outsourcing the development of the platform.
After a couple of botched attempts I decided it was time to focus on finding a developer who would work with me full-time on the venture and could build the site in-house. Taking this decision massively accelerated the development of the business, as it allowed me to focus on the aspects of business I was good at (sales, marketing, etc.) rather than agonise over the technical aspects, which were certainly not my forte!
That’s the only thing I would have done differently when building the business – I would have found a technical co-founder from the outset to avoid all the headaches I just mentioned!
What was your ‘Plan B’ if your business venture didn’t work out?
There was no Plan B. Right at the start I had job offers from a bank and a management consultancy firm, and the consultancy firm even offered to defer my job offer for two years to allow me to pursue Enternships as a project, but still have something to fall back on.
However, I knew that I would be better off without a safety net – I needed that sense of urgency to make sure I was doing everything I could – so I let them know I wasn’t interested. I think it’s important to commit fully to your venture to give it the best chance in succeeding; whilst I don't quite know what I'd do if I wasn’t at Enternships, I suspect I’d end up working on another venture!
What key business advice would you give to entrepreneurs or start-up businesses?
It’s really important you work on developing a strong network early on in setting up your business. When we first started, most of our business was generated through word-of-mouth and referrals and even today 70% of our new business is through referrals.
Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with others and ask for advice; often people can be afraid about 'giving away their idea' in case it is 'stolen', but in reality you’ll find most people are too busy working on their own ventures to worry about stealing yours. When meeting new people, make sure you follow up – it's not about amassing business cards, it’s about forming a meaningful connection.
What technology could your business not live without?
We use a whole array of tools, ranging from the basics of laptops and mobile phones, to specific software and tools to facilitate remote working and collaboration such as Google+ and Skype. Our industry is all about providing connections and communication, so anything that helps us in that mission quickly becomes invaluable to us.
What’s the best perk of being your own boss?
You are effectively the master of your own destiny and have the ability to make a real difference in society. Whilst there is no concept of 'work-life balance' as an entrepreneur, I can technically choose how much or how little I work. At a time with record levels of youth unemployment, it is immensely rewarding to hear from students and graduates who have secured work through Enternships or been inspired to start their own business, as well as happy clients who have found great talent – that's what makes it all worthwhile.