Alex Adams

Enterprise success stories

Alex Adams

What did you study at the University of Exeter?

BA Classical Studies (2005); MA Classics and Ancient History (2006)

 

What is your business all about?

I am involved with two start-ups which were both established in 2012: Nifty Drives (Nifty), for which I am the General Counsel and Head of Media and Communications, and The Late Night Cocktail Club (LNCC), for which I am Managing Director.

Nifty launched the Nifty MiniDrive, a microSD card adapter for MacBooks, in 2012 and makes hardware – namely data storage devices – for Apple products.

LNCC is an events company aimed at young professionals in London.  Originally established specifically for law, business and finance students, with a view to providing them with a new kind of social-networking experience before they started work in the City, the company now predominantly focuses on social events at luxury nightclubs and private members clubs.

 

What is your business’s unique selling point (USP)? What is your main form of advertising? Who are your main competitors?

Nifty: While normal SD cards stick out about an inch, the Nifty MiniDrive sits flush with the body of a MacBook thus preserving the integrity of the design and becoming a semi-permanent part of the computer. Our aim is to make things that fill the tech-spaced holes in people’s lives. After a lot of effort, we now have distributors spread across five continents that are responsible for marketing our products to their customers and are in the process of ramping up our own in-house promotional efforts (mainly it is website and database advertising at the moment). Our main competitors are other hardware manufacturers, many of which have huge resources. We have also had some issues with smaller copycat producers infringing our intellectual property.

LNCC: Our USP is the exclusive nature of the venues we use, the value for money we offer and the fact that the events are tailored specifically towards young professionals. Other than our own website/database, we advertise through large third parties that promote our events and take a commission. Our main competitors are companies like Bacanal and Last Tuesday Society, which are much bigger and better established, though their offering is slightly different from ours.

 

Where did your idea come from? What is the start-up story behind your business?

Nifty: This was the CEO’s idea. He ran out of storage on his MacBook and couldn’t find the convenient, aesthetically pleasing solution he wanted – so he designed it himself! Originally, this was going to be a small side project but things changed when Nifty raised $384,319 in 28 days on Kickstarter from nearly 10,000 backers. 

LNCC: I ran a lot of events while at Exeter and then made a fairly successful business of it while at law school. I had to give this business up when I started working in the City but then came back to it when I decided to leave. The CEO of Nifty was studying at law school in London at the time and so this bit of luck presented a good opportunity to set up something similar with him.

 

If you started your business whilst at University, juggling your academic studies with your new business as well as still having a social life must have been a challenge. How did you accommodate the three and what did an average day, if you had one, look like for you? 

My extra-curricular activities at university were of great importance to me and I tried to do lots of different things, including running a small wine business. The fact that these pursuits were generally of a social nature meant I managed to maintain a pretty good work/life balance, though there were always lots of balls to juggle at once and not much consistency in terms of an “average day”. Prioritising appropriately was the key.

 

What things helped you learn how to run a new business? Has there been anything or anyone in particular that has helped you along the way?

Having a general curiosity and acting upon ideas has led to experiences that have been particularly informative for me. Of course, the more you try, the more you learn. Understanding what it is that you are good at and – importantly – what motivates you is essential if you are going to try and establish something on your own. My three year long (short?) career in the City has also been very helpful.

 

What support have you received from the University? Were there any particular curricular or extra-curricular activities that were instrumental in your business development?

I was actively involved with a lot of societies and sports clubs at Exeter. Such experience has been truly instrumental in getting me to this current stage. I learnt a lot about what I am passionate about, how to work within and lead a team. I had to do things I was uncomfortable doing and gained a lot of confidence thereby. Such experience enabled me to gain further experience (with employers, for example). I cannot recommend getting involved in as much as possible highly enough. Choose what you are interested in though, not what you think you ought to be interested in.

 

What do you think has been your key to success so far?

Curiosity, passion and pro-activity.

 

Have you made any mistakes along the way? Is so, what have you learnt from these? And further, if you could go back in time, are there any things that you would change or would do differently?

Mistakes are, of course, inevitable in whatever you do. The most difficult part is not giving up in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances and not letting your confidence be so damaged that you cannot recover from such mistakes. Perspective is incredibly important at such times. I try to ask myself: will this glitch matter in a year from now? Usually it will not. The best lesson I have learnt is to be thorough – tediously thorough. So many mistakes can be avoided by being organised, focused and paying proper attention to detail.

 

What can we look forward to in terms of your business? Have you got any future plans for it?

Nifty: we have a lot of exciting plans for the not too distant future but I am afraid I cannot mention them now. Please just watch this space!

LNCC: events are hugely labour-intensive and are hard to scale without significant upfront investment and risk. Our new website is launching soon and we have dreamed up a new platform which would enable us to scale and automate some of the business if it is successful; we hope to launch this within the year. Ultimately, I want us to diversify and create the most outrageous parties the UK has ever seen!

 

How about yourself? Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?

At Nifty we are working towards a three year exit with our venture capital investors, meaning that the company will be listed and our personal involvement will potentially cease. Having moved from a terribly conscripted working environment into a fast-paced, high-risk and uncertain future I am rather enjoying not planning my personal life too far ahead. It is easier to enjoy the ride knowing that every hour you are putting in is for yourself and not for someone else.

 

What advice do you have for University of Exeter students who are looking to start their own business?

Ask lots of people for help and advice and try to get a business mentor.

Get as much prior experience as you can; it is not necessarily a good idea to rush setting up a business just because you have an idea for one now.

Join clubs for young entrepreneurs, attend lots of relevant events and meet-ups – in short, learn as much as possible.