Overview of my quick talk at the University of Manchester

I was happy to be invited to speak to Computer Science students at the same university that I’d not-so-recently graduated from, regarding how I landed up running Desk&Co and some of the lessons I have learnt along the way. As some couldn’t make it, and asked for an overview, I decided to put it together in a blog post. If it’s too long, or you’re like some clarifications, please feel free to tweet me @inztinkt.

I started out by quickly introducing myself as a graduate from Kilburn and the founder of Desk&Co, which is working hard to give entrepreneurs all across Europe, the place and space to grow and succeed.

After telling the attendees that we launched just over 6 months ago and were already connecting 6 countries through 17 hosts (we’re up to 20 and climbing at time of typing this), I then introduced the first of the topics I was asked to come in and speak about…

How the #### did I get here?! 

In order to clarify how I got from graduate to running a multi-national project, I needed to take a quick run through my entrepreneurial history so far.

Not actually one of my creations. But similar, I think.
Not actually one of my creations. But similar, I think.

The Early days – I got into a lot of trouble for ‘selling bespoke mothers day cards’ to nursery school kids, using skills I’d learned in first grade. I don’t really understand why it was shunned, I was just raising capital to be able to pay the greenskeepers to buy me sweets… which I could then sell to kids in both my brothers’ nursery school and my primary school, obviously.

Discovering ‘the net’ – I quickly mentioned a pivotal moment in my life, when I launched my first live volunteer web project. Which was awful. So I moved swiftly on.

Big Geographical Move – I moved from South Africa to a little island called Cyprus when I was barely a teenager, and began doing freelance projects wherever I could.

Spotted a Market  – In April 2005 I launched OnThisIsland.com to explore the nightlife scene of the island, which until then was poorly represented online in English.

A New Way to Connect – In 2007 when Facebook opened up their platform to developers, I started building apps and launched a variety of online experiments including an online beauty competition in Cyprus, which went tremendously well.

Becoming a Student – Soon after completing my military service in Cyprus, I was accepted to attend the University of Manchester to study Computer Science with Business and Management.

work-uni
I worked really reallllyy reeeeeally hard. For a few weeks, before exams, each year.

Student Job – During Uni, I got a job as one of those annoying flyerers promoting an international student event. It wasn’t long before I was managing the promotion team and some of the events.

Consulting and Building – To handle the requests I was receiving for building apps and consulting marketing clients, I incorporated Ektagon Platforms. Primarily focused on the Cypriot market, but with ties and projects in a variety of EU jurisdictions.

And then…

Not actually one of my creations. But similar, I think.
The big Cypriot bank freeze, as reported around the world.

A Mind-numbing Collapse –  In March last year, the Cypriot banks froze. No withdrawals, no branches, no credit cards, no financial movement. It was horrible and many of our partners and clients in the region had to react rapidly.

As I was in Manchester at the time, exploring how I could expand Ektagon’s consulting business to the UK, I had to fly back to Cyprus to assist my clients wherever I could.

A Realisation – It was during this time where I realised that I could fulfil my lifelong dream to help aspiring entrepreneurs (which is a whole different blog post for another day) through the current economic situation in Cyprus and my existing network of friends, business partners and, unfortunately, rapidly-downsizing clients.

And so Desk&Co was born (originally as RentADeskCY.com).

So that’s how I got here, a bit of a rollercoaster in all honesty, but paved my way to be able to address the second topic I was asked to cover.

What did I learn along the way?

Note: Whilst these are my personal views, they may give you something to think about. I’ll try link each lesson to the piece of my story that taught it to me or reminded me of it (read: smacked me in the face like a rake). Some of these have been touched on in their own blog posts, some might still get the in-depth treatment, but here’s an overview.

Don’t Ignore Your Passions
Even though I got into trouble for the Mothers Day fiasco and my first website was so so sooo bad, if I had ignored my passion for connecting technology and business, I’d have gone to law school like the career advisors kept trying to persuade me to do.

Got a Skill? Try sell it!
From selling hand-drawn cards to incorporating a company to handle consultancies with advertising agencies- I learnt that there is no better way to learn how to run a business than actually going out and doing business.

Freelancing also teaches you how to deal with clients (and that there is such a thing as a bad client), how to handle scheduling, balancing life and how to market yourself. I highly recommend each and every student gives freelancing a shot before graduating.

Get used to all-nighters.
No matter what part of my journey I look back on, there is always a time or two I’d need to pull in an all-nighter. Although I don’t recommend it often, sometimes they really help break down problems and get products shipped (possibly why hackathons are so popular?).

Here's one of me learning about all-nighters during exam preparation in Kilburn.
Here’s one of me learning about all-nighters during exam preparation in Kilburn.

Adapt to your surroundings, ASAP!
The quicker you learn to adapt to what’s going on around you, the quicker you’ll be able to spot opportunities when others just see problems. From noticing that sweets were overpriced in first grade to setting up online magazines when others weren’t performing, it was a lesson I kept subconsciously learning. It finally became engrained in my brain with the freeze of the economy in Cyprus.

Learn to Network
I’m not necessarily talking about taking professional lessons, but taking the time to find out what events are happening around you in your sector, and how to meet people in an environment that makes you (and them) feel comfortable, is a very useful lesson to learn.

That way, it doesn’t matter which city you find yourself in, what conference you’re attending or who you meet and where, you’ll always be able to keep growing your personal network.

Experience. Experience. Experience.
Much like the three L’s of real-estate and retail sectors, this lesson is something I can’t shout out enough about.

Getting a great degree is awesome, but almost everyone you know also has a degree. What differentiates people is the amount of experience they’ve gone out and gotten. Go out and get experience, in as many sectors as you can whilst you still have the safety net of being a student.

Push fast and make things.
As the talk was in a computer science lecture theatre there was no excuse to not being able to start building ideas into executable prototypes. Be resourceful and find a way to get your idea into the hands of your potential customers, partners and potential team members. Release, get feedback, adapt and grow.

Execution can’t be ‘stolen’.
Talk to people about your ideas. Ask for help. Whilst many entrepreneurs are worried about people stealing their ideas, remember that a similar idea without your passion and execution is almost never going to be a serious competitor, if you get it right.

Do not over-engineer. Seriously. 
As computer scientists or business school graduates, you’re taught to study the theory, and evaluate all the eventual outcomes. Most times it’s better to just get something done, rather than have a notepad full of bullet-proof ideas.

Conclusion

So to conclude, it’s never been so affordable to start and run a business (*cough* check out the upcoming Desk&Co marketplace *cough*), there has never ever been so much support for entrepreneurs, and you’re in the right place to get out there and test your ideas through an interconnected society of students.

So… What’s your excuse?

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