Tue, 1 December 2009
Richard Burton founded hoodeasy.com when he was 19 while studying Politics at the University of Edinburgh. hoodeasy sells leavers hoodies and customised clothing to groups of students in the UK. In its first year, hoodeasy.com turned over £145,000. Richard won 2nd prize in the SIE New Ventures Competition in 2008 and left University to grow the business full-time. The following interview was conducted in 2009 and printed in SIE’s magazine, Ignite.
How did you first come up with the idea of hoodeasy.com?
I came up with the idea after selling lots of hoodies to local schools when I was involved in a Young Enterprise at school. After school, I experimented with selling clothes in different ways whilst on my gap year, like working closely with a supplier to understand the full process.
Then during the summer of 2008, I realised that the whole process could be a lot easier for our clients if we had an online system that accepted all the payments and order-details, and removed the need for one individual to do all that.
So now, for example, a fencing society at Strathclyde University comes to us, gets a quote for the hoodies, and then we set up an online shop at hoodeasy.com/Strathclyde so that all members of that society can order their gear.
I like the personalised URLs, a nice touch! So at what point did you realise that this could become a real business and a full-time work option?
I realised around March 2009 when we made our first £2000/day that it had some real potential. I thought the concept was good but I knew that I had to really focus on this properly around that time
And what was it that made you decide to pursue self-employment over other options, such as graduate recruitment?
I guess I’ve never thought of it as pursuing self-employment so much as enjoying what I’m doing. One thing I do love about working for myself is that I can work when it suits me. I love kite boarding and you have to go when it’s windy, not when it’s convenient. So if it’s looking like a good day, I’ll go and have a great session then clear the emails that night.
This might be a hard one to answer, but what would you say it is about yourself that aids towards running your own business, and gives you the characteristics of a successful “entrepreneur”?
I think I’m pretty good at motivating myself which I’d say is essential. When you’ve got a foothigh pile of incorrect invoices stacking up, a disgruntled customer on the phone and a sales person not making any sales you don’t feel like an “entrepreneur”. You don’t feel there’s any glamour to what you’re doing which is why the term “entrepreneur” is one that I sometimes don’t identify with.
I think it’s more about being a “do-er” It’s about taking one of the many ideas that have been thought of before and trying to turn it into a business that sells, that manages cash flow, that can afford to pay accountants, that can afford to pay for public liability insurance. It’s about taking that idea and forming it into a functioning business.
You say you don’t associate yourself with the term “entrepreneur”; what is it that you feel is a misrepresentation of the way it really is day-to-day for you?
I think that I associate that term with people in businesses who’ve built something that scales and has real impact. And a business that doesn’t need them.
For instance, one of my mentors has started a business that supplies news to the oil industry and he has built it so that it doesn’t need him any more. I would class myself as the owner of a tiny start-up.
“Tiny” is maybe an over exaggeration!
Small then, but growing! But I’ve got a three-year plan for hoodeasy, and if it all goes well then I’d be more than happy being classed an “entrepreneur”.
That is interesting, as part of SIE’s campaign is to dispel the perception that being an “entrepreneur” is only for the established business people, which does seem a world away from being a student a lot of the time.
Let’s not put that in then! I guess people shouldn’t see themselves as “becoming” anything when they start a business.
There are just two things you need if you want to be a student entrepreneur: a willingness to work really, really hard; and an idea that can generate cash, and profit, quickly. Well, that is if you want to be in business quickly, such as an any e-commerce, consulting or sales-led business.
However, it’s also important to remember that some of the best businesses came out of years of research and seriously hard work. Google, for example, was the product of literally thousands of hours of seriously hard graft.
So there really isn’t one formula for being an “entrepreneur”.
What are your next steps for both hoodeasy and yourself as an “entrepreneur” (bear with me on that one!)
The big goal for hoodeasy is to allow our customers to organise group-orders themselves online. Soon people will be able to go to the site, set up an order themselves and have all the hoodies delivered two weeks after every individual group has paid for their order.
Personally, I would like to grow hoodeasy to the size I think it should be whilst starting to work on a couple of my other ideas.
Serial entrepreneurship at its best!
Any parting words of wisdom for aspiring student entrepreneurs?
I think that starting alone isn’t such a good idea, and being cagey or secretive about your idea isn’t necessarily the best thing to do unless it can be defended by a patent.
So, try to get a business mentor early by emailing anyone you respect, know of, meet at conferences and asking them if you can catch up every month or so.
And also try to get your idea out there. I’ve never heard of a ‘copycat’ happening in any serious way, and as soon as you start making money, others will copy anyway. What counts is being the best, and the only way you’d do that is if you get lots of feedback from others on how you can improve.