Rajeeb Dey was the longest serving President of Oxford
Entrepreneurs and graduated in June 2008 with First Class Honours
in Economics & Management from, Oxford University.
Raj is consistently involved in pushing entrepreneurship in the UK with a background in social enterprise and education. Amazingly, Raj founded the English Secondary Students Association (ESSA) at the age of 17. He is a Trustee of UnLtd - the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs, a Trustee of the Phoenix Education Trust, a Next Generation Network Advisory Board member for the UK-India Business Council and Commissioner on the Carnegie UK Trust's Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society.
He has received a number of prestigous accolades for his work, including the Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Award, YouthActionNet Global Fellowship, Waldzell Institute's Architect of the Future Award, Bank of England Windsor Fellowship and Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA).
He won the 02 X Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2009 and has been named "One to Watch" for 2010 by the Courvoisier The Future 500 Network.
Hi Raj. Great to get a few minutes of your time. You've had a fabulous response from launching Enternships nation/worldwide. How much time and planning went into getting everything running? Was it important to aim for a 'perfect launch'?
We 'soft-launched' the website in May 2009 but the development work into the site had begun many months before. The idea actually came about whilst I was studying at Oxford and running the Oxford Entrepreneurs society - one of the largest networks of student entrepreneurs in Europe. At the time it used to be a very basic listing website for jobs / roles in start-ups which were aimed at the members of Oxford Entrepreneurs. After graduating I decided to focus on launching it as a standalone platform to connect students and graduates to exciting work placements in these dynamic companies so focused between June 2008 - May 2009 on getting the new website ready.
With any type of website where you need two sides to use your service i.e. in our case - companies to list roles and students/graduates to apply its essential to get the word out to both audiences simultaneously. Therefore we were waiting until November 2009 and used Global Entrepreneurship Week as the platform to officially launch the company (by which point we had close to 1000 companies with profiles on the website).
It's hard to say whether you'll get a 'perfect' launch as there are so many variables and ways of measuring success and luck plays a big part. We happened to launch during the peak of the graduate jobs crisis and subsequently have been fortunate to have received widespread media coverage; you have to be aware about the timing of your launch and what else is happening at that time in the media/in the economy and find ways of making yourself relevant and interesting (if you are looking to receive good media coverage).
You graduated from Oxford University and have an amazing network of contacts in business and the media. What was the key to getting well connected? Did being an Oxford graduate give you an advantage that other students may not have?
I started developing my network from a very young age - even before joining Oxford. My first experience in the world of entrepreneurship was when I was 17 and launched a national organisation for school students - the English Secondary Students' Association (ESSA). This gave me the opportunity and experience of dealing with the media, politicians, and senior decision makers during my teens which has been great experience. It also made me realise the importance of having a strong network and making sure you meet as many people as possible and share your ideas and thoughts. You have to be proactive about creating your network and that means attending events using social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook but it is not just about amassing business cards. You have to add value to your network so always think when you meet someone, who else do you know who you can introduce them to so that they both benefit? In the process you strengthen your own network and if it's a valuable introduction you will reap the good karma ;-)
Being an Oxford graduate can have its benefits as there is a strong alumni within the world of business however it's what you make of it. Simply being from Oxford will not give you an advantage if you don't make use of the 'brand'. I was very conscious to use my time as President of Oxford Entrepreneurs to reach out to as many high profile entrepreneurs to invite them to speak - many of whom I am in touch with still today. I think its within every students ability to be proactive about making connections; join a society, take roles of responsibility and reach out to people you admire - you'll be surprised how in most cases they are willing to engage with you and support you in your endeavours.
You started Enternships with low running costs. How would you advise students or graduates to surround themselves with a team on little or no costs?
Talk to your friends about your idea- they may be interested in joining a start-up or doing something in the interim whilst looking for a full-time job. Given how tough the jobs market is right now there are lots of talented people looking for experience. Your peers can often be the perfect co-founders and can help you keep costs low.
And what should we be thinking about the concept of 'failure'? Should it even exist in our minds?
Some would say that failure should not be an option; if you stick at it long enough you will succeed. While this is true in some cases I think that you have to be realistic and balance what's in your heart with what is in your head. Sometimes entrepreneurs suffer from 'vanity' and live in a bubble that they are doing something which will change the world, whereas frankly it is likely to go nowhere. Knowing when to cut your losses is important. If however you truly believe in your proposition and you can afford to continue persevering - then go for it.
In general, failure is something which should be embraced. I think there is a lot of stigma associated to failure (especially in the UK), whereas in places such as the USA it is far more acceptable and in many cases celebrated. Failing often shows that you have tried hard and pushed yourself - it may be that the market is not ready for your product/service however it's what you do afterwards which is what counts. How have you used the learning in developing your next venture? Have you given up altogether? You shouldn't - a true test of an entrepreneur is how they pick themselves up after failure.
How important is to try and start low cost? I believe that many potential entrepreneurs do not start because they think it will cost too much to start and the risk of failure is too high.
It is essential to keep costs to a minimum ('bootstrapping' as it's called). In today's day and age it is possible to work from home, use free telecommunication tools such as Skype and launch a venture - especially in the internet arena - with very little money. We need to banish the UK of the 'fear of failure' which prevents many people from even having a go at being an entrepreneur. In my view you should give it a go and see - especially when you are young and have very low overheads, less responsibility (e.g. a family to support etc) and in reality you have very little to lose. You are not wasting time as no matter what happens you will be learning in the process and what is the most important thing is to ensure you are having fun in the process!
Do you think that the new economy and the new way that businesses work (cutting excessive financial waste, no real 'jobs for life' anymore, etc) demands that all of us become more entrepreneurial and not just a select few?
I think we will see an increase in the notion of 'portfolio' careers. Gone are the days of the 'job for life' and in fact it's not only about changing jobs numerous times in your career in some cases I think we will find people with a portfolio of roles and responsibilities simultaneously (which is certainly the case for me!) It is therefore extremely important to be entrepreneurial in nature - to spot new opportunities and grab them with both hands when they arise and not be afraid to try new things. We must constantly innovate and ultimately it is entrepreneurs who are the future wealth and job creators of the economy so we should do everything we can to support and nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs.
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