Friday Five Interview with Ali Lindsay and Chris Wickson
Noticing that there was a lack of information about placement experiences, and wishing they’d been able to hear feedback from past students before committing to their own years in industry, the idea for the firm’s flagship website was born.
Finishing highly in a university competition, and being advised by Peter Jones to go it alone, they were encouraged to quit their jobs and run the website full time. They launched in March 2007 and have been growing ever since.
1. What have been your key milestones and how have you celebrated them?
Initially RateMyPlacement.co.uk was a project for the three of us, and not a business, whilst we were at Loughborough University. We saw the potential for a placement advice website and so put in a hundred pounds each to bring a web developer on board to build it. We initially viewed the project as a fantastic addition to build our CVs during our final year and secured various graduate jobs after graduation.
Entering our business plan into the HSBC Unipreneurs competition and making the final was a brilliant catalyst for us. There must have been a few hundred applicants and the fact that we made it through to the last five made us realise how much potential our idea really had. This gave us the kick that we needed.
We were grilled by Peter Jones who said: “If you want to take this seriously, why don’t you give up your jobs and go full time?” At that point we were thankful to our parents for giving us the opportunity to live at home rent-free and handed in our notices!
It turned then from being a small project to something we were 100 per cent behind committing our lives and careers to. We didn’t pay ourselves a salary for quite a while after that while we were building the foundations of the business. I think the big milestone, when it first really became a business, was in 2010. We moved on from working from home and invested in our first office in Victoria.
2010 was definitely the breakthrough year; we moved into an office, recruited staff and took on some investment. It finally felt like a fully fledged business.
Our first client was a momentous milestone. It happened whilst we were still studying at university and was the first bit of money that a firm had invested into RateMyPlacement.co.uk.
The transition was an incredible experience, from one day spent revising for our finals to the next day finding ourselves preparing for meetings with PwC, 3M and Accenture, donning our suits!
All big, well-known companies in the graduate world. PwC became our first client and spent £750, which was a hugely positive achievement at the time; we couldn’t believe we were beginning to generate income out of our project.
Another [milestone] was expanding from our initial focus on student placements and launching other businesses; we now refer to ourselves as RMP Enterprise and have opened a range of businesses under its umbrella.
We’ve launched an on campus promotions service, which is the area I look after, On-Campus Promotions, as well as a company called Akkroo; a data capture app which is Chris’ main focus.
We now have 25 full-time employees, including the three of us. The team is made up of recent graduates and it’s a young, like-minded team.
Our very first employees are still with us too. They’ve seen us grow and are growing with us too.
2. Have you had any setbacks or disappointments along the way and what have you learnt from them?
If I’m honest, we’ve been fortunate to have no obvious challenges or setbacks. I suppose the biggest challenge was learning how to manage people.
We now have a growing team of young and ambitious people who need to be developed and looked after with regular appraisals and support; the dynamic’s changed since we were a small team just looking after ourselves.
I agree with that. We’re fortunate in that the three of us complement each other quite well. Ollie’s more sales-focused, I’m marketing, and Chris looks after everything else! We also have a fantastic web developer.
Surrounding ourselves with a fantastic team who are always keen to learn has helped us to avoid any setbacks. We also talk through and solve any problems that have arisen, so having all three together and on the ground is great. Touch wood, we’ve been fairly successful so far.
We’ve also benefitted from leveraging connections with people we have met along the way, at networking events for example. Our first investor, who took a small stake in the firm and invested three or four years ago has been a great source of support and guidance over the years.
3. Have you taken any chances or risks that you feel have really paid off?
We could have just kept RateMyPlacement.co.uk ticking away as a stand-alone product, but we’re an ambitious company. We wanted to build a bigger team and focus on growing. We always strive to diversify and do more, it’s not about staying still. As soon as one arm of the business looks level we’ll look to launch another idea.
We do push ourselves in terms of growing, but that’s definitely paid off. There have been some big decisions; getting that first investment and the first office in the early days were all chances we took and had never done before.
We were getting lots of conflicting advice, such as: “You should give away a stake in your company” or “You don’t need an office yet”. Fortunately, we’ve been very tactical and believe in all the decisions we’ve made. They have all had potential risks, as with any new launch. We’ve had a lot of expert council and each decision has benefited us so far.
4. Tell us about your work life balance?
It’s a lot better now. The first three years we were working every hour of the day, every evening and meeting up on Sundays. But, now the team’s got bigger, the balance is a lot better. Although we are still the first three in the office and the last to leave, but that’s the way it is.
We didn’t take salaries for about the first six months!
But that’s how committed we were to doing this.
There were a few nerve-wracking times when I’d be paying for something on my card and praying, “Please don’t get declined, please don’t get declined’. But things are going well now and we will continue to plough the money back into the business as we grow.
5. Where have you taken inspiration from?
It was really that we saw a problem and we went with it. At no point have we had a long term plan, it’s always been about spotting opportunities, and then having the confidence to go for them. And because we are quite sales-oriented, we’ve continued to make money and develop our offering.
What inspiration means for us is seeing what’s broken in the market and believing we can do that better and investing our efforts. I think we’ve constantly done that and will continue to do so.
When we started, TV shows like Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice were breaking through and that whole entrepreneurial spirit was high. It was exciting and you could see people who’d gone it alone and made money.
That was a definite factor in us coming up with the idea. I remember us sitting around at university thinking: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had our own office one day? We’d definitely get a basketball ring and a bar in there”.
And now we’ve got both – one of the best purchases we’ve ever made that Tiki Bar!
We love being in control of our own days, making our own business decisions, having freedom. People look up to us for direction and that’s inspiring.
It’s great that the work we put in, we can directly see the benefit of. I love that side of things, and as we grow as a business we need to make sure we don’t lose that. We want to keep that entrepreneurial feel – so far it’s all working.