Joseph Black | Starting a business at university for university students
This week’s #selfstarterstory features Joseph Black, Founder of UniDosh.
Pick Yourself UK caught up with Joseph to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey…
What was your last job?: My previous job was working as a safari ranger/conservationist in South Africa down on the east coast.
What motivated you to start your own business?: In my first year at university and my partner, Oliver Jacobs’, second, we played witness to the struggles students succumb to on a daily basis mostly due to financial concerns. We devoted the last 2 years of our studies to finding a way to tackle the student financial crisis.
Due to the increase in tuition fees and living costs students are now questioning whether or not to attend University and the students who at present are studying, are simply struggling.
Oliver and I then set out on our mission to revolutionise the way in which students both earn and save money throughout their time at University, as such providing students with the freedom to enjoy these vital few years the way they should, the way they could! After months of deeper research into the problem we had our light- bulb moment. The solution was clear. An all-in-one platform for buying and selling services.
Offer students the opportunity to... Choose their own job, choose their own hours, and choose their own wage, as a result providing discounted services to local members of the public and local businesses, who are simply looking to save money on everyday chores and services.
The opportunities were truly endless. Neither Oliver, or myself had any previous experience in app development, nor did we know the best practices to go about getting this started. All we had was an idea and the drive to make it a reality.
What was the most challenging part of starting a business?: My partner, Oliver Jacobs, and I have taken on many challenges throughout our journey. The first big challenge was convincing our family and friends to support us on our mission and help fund the early stages, predominately market research and product development.
We were very lucky to be in a position whereby our friends and family could afford to help us and we are extremely grateful to everyone who has helped us reach the point we are at now. We then had to look into the best way to get the product developed, having no development experience ourselves, we decided to sub-contract the production of our beta version.
Before we knew it we had our MVP (minimum viable product). UniDosh version 1 was no longer a sketch on a piece of paper but a reality. Following this we hit our next major challenge. How are we going to market this product and engage students?
We decided that in order for UniDosh to stand its best chance of success, that we would soft launch our beta platform as a student-only marketplace, we anticipated that sales would be slow to begin with however we wanted to make sure students felt comfortable operating the platform and that the desire to sell services was truly there. 5,500 registered students later, and having hit the 1,000 booking mark UniDosh was ready for phase 2.
Time management has been very important as I’m sure Joe would agree. Setting clear targets and goals has kept us motivated and moving forward. Oliver and I have a good friendship, therefore when times are hard we often take a step back, regroup our thoughts and find a way to tackle the issue together. Sometimes your hit a road block, but that doesn’t mean turn your engine off. Make a U-turn and find another way!
What is your favourite business book and why?: The Lean Startup - Eric Ries. This book has a fantastic insight into startup strategies to help minimise risk when starting out.
How do you market your business?: UniDosh was launched last year as a student-only platform. In order to first attract student users we conducted a mixture of online and physical marketing activities.
Our online activities included targeted paid social campaigns and PR outreach. In order to generate a presence within the student community we built a team of influential student brand ambassadors who have been conducting a mixture of on-the-ground roles such as: flyering, postering and targeting societies.
In order to really attract a student user base we needed to appear young and trendy. We accomplished this by collaborating with various nightlife event agencies as well as offering student-specific services on the app, such as: DJ’s, after party cleaners, speaker rentals and more.
Due to all the above we have successfully registered 5000 verified students in Manchester, England (5% of the total Manchester student population).
Through our early adopters we have learnt what services students are able to provide at a high level, and have created user-specific algorithms to best match buyer and seller. We aim to adapt and replicate this strategy amongst the public through a mix of online and on the ground marketing activities.
How did you get your first paying customers?: Having showcased the app at the University of Manchester fresher fair last year, we gained some great interest from students seeking flexible part-time work.
Are first booking was conducted by a 21 year old marketing student who enrolled herself as a hair stylist on the app. She has since received many new bookings!
How did you get your first traffic to your website?: Oliver and I have gained significant traffic to our website through winning start up competitions such as:
TOG100 - Held by ‘The Office Group’
EY / The Tab ‘Founders 30’
Nottingham Trent ‘The Hive’
1/200 top EU start ups/ scale ups by Webit Festival
What would you say to someone who is toying with the idea to start a business but haven't yet?: Starting a business is no easy feat! Planning is imperative. Break down the process into targeted activities, such as building an effective plan, ensuring legal and regulatory issues are met, acquiring resources, customer research and developing a marketing plan, with fixed deadlines to complete each task. The timeline is crucial so ensure you track your progress along the way.
Having said that, personal experience has taught us that it’s equally important to enjoy the journey and its ups and downs, rather than focusing purely on the outcome. And when things don’t go to plan, don’t waste time dwelling on the past; there are many ways to get up the mountain, you just have to find another way. Passion and belief in your goal are also imperative.
Enthusiasm and a great idea go a long way, but it’s your commitment and dedication to see a project through that really matters.
Why would you like to win Pick Yourself UK's Small Business Entrepreneur of the year 2019?: I would like to win to help bring further attention towards our cause and the issue we are tackling - The Student Financial Crisis.