6 Student-Owned Businesses that are Rocking It - Part I

To finish the cycle of teaching and learning in September, I felt there's no better way but to bring to your attention 6 incredible students (in two posts) who are also very successful business owners. Read their stories on how they started and made it.

🌟 James Yardley - Def Couture

1. What is your business about?

Def Couture is an online store specialising in hip-hop, urban and retro clothing and goods. I started off reselling retro and vintage hip-hop clothing on our Depop store and have expanded that into selling new goods on our dedicated website www.defcouture.co.uk. It’s been a pleasure to bring together some talented individuals who are creating great products to provide a diversified and vibrant offering for my customers. There’s still plenty of space to grow, as I plan to bring about a blog in the future too.

2. How did you decide to start a business while studying?

The idea came from my excessive vinyl collecting, when I decided to turn some damaged records into hand crafted vinyl bowls. I ran a pop-up shop during summer selling these and other related goods which went very well, which inspired me to launch a store on Depop so that I could dedicate hours to the project during university and not have to wait until summer to run more events. I wanted to do something creative to complement my more academic and rigorous Economics and Politics degree, but I’ve been considering running the company full-time once I graduate, so I’ll have to see how it goes in this final year.

3. What was the biggest challenge?

Actually finding time to sit down and dedicate hours to the project became more of a problem in second year when the workload increased and I decided to continue my part-time paid work on the side, too. I also felt a bit guilty whenever I did find time for Def Couture, as I always wondered if the time would be better spent on my degree work. In the end, it was a trade-off I was happy to make, and I’d say it’s definitely possible to strike a healthy balance between the two (and other responsibilities).

4. What was your first big milestone?

Like anyone selling online, I was delighted to see the first few sales come through. It’s very rewarding early on, as besides any profit made, it tells me that I’m doing something right on the marketing side! Transitioning to the website was also a big deal as it was a sign that I plan to invest serious time into the business, and I’m very happy with how the site is looking.

5. How did you go about promoting your business and growing your client base?

I’ve made use of social media quite heavily, as it’s an easily manageable and cost effective way to reach my target audience. Heeding advice from good marketers in online groups and on social media has been very useful along my journey, and I also learnt a lot from the very helpful entrepreneur office at my university. I’ve attended fairs and other events to sell directly, which gave me good first-hand insights into how people view my products.

Follow me on

FB: www.facebook.com/defcouture

TW: www.twitter.com/defcouture

IG: www.instagram.com/defcouture

🌟 Hannah Slack - Hannah's Lips UK

1. What is your business about?

I am a UK Independent Distributor of SheerSense, the UK equivalent of the fast-growing US company Senegence. I sell many different make-up, skincare and coming soon, hair care products. Our products are all long-lasting and animal cruelty free. I mainly focus on our premiere product, LipSense. I fell in love with it as soon as I tried it and that’s why I signed up to sell. It’s such an incredible product, lasting from 4 to 18 hours. It’s also vegan, gluten free, lead free, wax free and actually benefits our lips. It’s the best lip colour I’ve ever worn because it’s waterproof, smudge proof and of course, kiss proof. Who wouldn’t become quickly addicted?

2. How did you decide to start a business while studying?

I started my business almost a year after being first introduced to the company. That happened in December 2016 but unfortunately, I was told that it wasn't a possibility at the time. At that period I was at a crossroad. I was unsure what I wanted in life, I didn't know where my path was heading and I wasn't excited for the future anymore. Honestly, I was at a stage in my life where I had lost all passion for the course I was studying and I was finding it tremendously difficult to continue. I wanted to do something I was passionate about that didn't put me in too much risk and leave me in a tricky position. Fast forward 5 months, I reached out again and after asking millions just a few questions, I finally took the plunge and joined! I have so far loved every second and never looked back!

3. What was the biggest challenge?

There are a lot of different products that I sell and at the start especially, it was definitely a steep learning curve. I had to get to know each of the products and understand everything about them. I don’t like to sell something that I don’t believe in, so I really wanted to know what the product was, what was in it and why it was useful.

4. What was your first big milestone?

My first big milestone was probably my first sale. As silly as that sounds, I did a lot of work behind the scenes before launching the business so once I had everything in place, I launched and made my first sale a few days later!

At this very moment, I’m actually heading off to my first ever training conference. My first ever business trip. I am so unbelievably excited! I can only imagine that it will soon be my biggest milestone. I can’t wait to learn more about the company as a whole and how I can further improve my business. I am sure there will be some changes implemented soon.

5. How did you go about promoting your business and growing your client base?

I run my business mainly through social media. I think it’s really important to have consistent branding and make it recognisable. In a way, the simplest form of that is a business name. I wanted something that was easy to remember but was also available across every platform I wanted, which I checked before finalising.

Instagram is my favourite and there I post every morning. From the start I wanted to post reliably so I came up with a weekly schedule with a different topic for each day.

Having had my own personal blog for over 4 years, I knew that it was something I wanted to start for my business as well. I had thought of combining the two but with such a broad topic in both, I decided to separate them and start my business website www.hannahslipsuk.co.uk.

A twitter account is something I feel people can use to see quick snippets of information and I love how easy it is to follow someone and set up notifications. I like to share my blog posts there, along with exclusive information not found elsewhere. It’s where the more personal side of me is and where I share the big milestones I’ve reached in the business.

The advice from the company is to utilise Facebook to promote your business. I took this on board and made both a Facebook Group and Page.

One social media I don’t utilise enough is Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/hannahslipsuk) but I do pin all my blog posts and YouTube videos on my boards so I actually get a fair amount of traffic from there too despite not investing as much time.

🌟 Francesco Bellanca - Feral Horses

1. What is your business about?

Feral Horses is the London Art Stock Exchange. What we do is simple: we have created an online trading platform to acquire and sell shares of artworks for investment purposes. We aim at providing a very comprehensive service that brings both liquidity and transparency and facilitates access to the benefits of art in a responsible and sustainable way. So, it means that any European citizen with a debit card and an internet connection can become an art investor with a small change!

We also manage the physical artworks and rent them out to offices, hotels and property managers. Consequently, the rental fees are proportionally divided among the share owners of the artworks. This could be seen as a sort of “dividend”.

2. How did you decide to start a business while studying?

I met my cofounders at university back in 2013 and that’s when we came up with an idea that was worth exploring. The pure business development phase was very exciting because as business students we could apply our brand new academic knowledge to a real-life business case. That was incredibly empowering. After refining our idea a thousand times and analysing the art investment industry and the current market trends, we simply came to the conclusion that it was the right moment to launch the first London Art Stock Exchange. It was just impossible to put this project on hold because we were truly passionate about it and because we could have missed a great business opportunity by waiting for too long.

3. What was the biggest challenge?

One of the biggest challenges that we had to overcome when we started this project was very much linked to a sort of natural instinct to keep your idea secret at first. It’s a bit “mystical” but, when immature entrepreneurs come up with an idea, they are very scared about discussing their project and confronting their ideas with others. Managing to overcome the paranoiac thought that someone could “steal” your idea is very tough but absolutely necessary to move on from. We also came to the conclusion that, at an early stage, feedback is the most valuable resource that you can afford!

4. What was your first big milestone?

I would definitely say conducting our first market test. With the first collection of artworks that we have uploaded on the platform, we have managed to sell 17 artworks in 45 days for a total value of £120,000. It was very symbolic because it was a real turning point for us and it was also a moment where the team had to collaborate like never before and to start building and nurturing business relationships with our new partners. It was very intense and incredibly rewarding.

5. How did you go about promoting your business and growing your client base?

We heavily rely on social media. On our Instagram account we share quality art three times a day and on our Facebook page, we have just started a weekly interview format that explores the interesting ways in which data and art mingle with young art experts. We also have a blog where we mainly talk about contemporary art and alternative investments. We have the chance to have an international team of content creators that show different angles and always manage to be educative and entertaining!

To be continued...

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