Asher Simpson

Enterprise success stories

Asher Simpson

Degree: BA (Hons) English Literature 2010, MA International Realtions 2013

What did you study at the University of Exeter?

English Literature for my BA (Hons) Undergraduate degree (2010) followed by International Relations for my Masters (2013).

What is your business all about?

I founded FLEX Newspaper Ltd, and in the first year I was the Chief Editor (one of two); it is one of only three privately owned yet student-led student newspapers in the country and its guarantee as a limited company is to promote student talent, teach the skills necessary to ensure employability and serve the students as a forum for discourse on student issues therefore empowering them.

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

It is a private publishing company and therefore in the eyes of the readers it retains a high level of journalistic integrity. It’s planning and management, as well as the content selection is all done by students.

The newspaper is advertised physically on the Penryn campus using newspaper stands, and it has both a strong presence on social media as well as on its website: www.flex-newspaper.com.

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

We were asked by the union president to form some sort of media publication on campus as there was a deficit. Originally he wanted to be involved with us, however we thought it best that he focus on his presidency whilst we founded the business, this eliminated any conflicts of interest whilst ensuring a seamless continuation after the first year meaning the chances of it stalling when the original staff handed over were reduced.

Originally we wanted to run the business in the same way as Exepose, however it became obvious very quickly that funding was much tighter as a result of the smaller size of Penryn and as a result of the recession, which was at its height.

As a result we launched an extensive study of business’ attitudes towards our proposal, we spent several months forging relationships with a wide range of small businesses and both Falmouth and Exeter universities spreading our client base wide rather than focusing on big businesses, in this way we ensured that should our funding get cut from one source we would relatively easily be able to sure up the finances.

From here we recruited more and more people, continued to develop the style as well as the marketing approach and very quickly took the business to the next level earning the respect of the students and the union and winning an award for excellence by the end of the first year.

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, looked like for you?

As well as juggling these three at times I also had two part time jobs, one at a bar and one at a cinema, so an average day could best be described as long.

University is unique however as it is the one time where you aren’t expected to also support yourself in full time work. As such there is huge potential and time for voluntary work and luckily a lot of students are keen to get involved with projects such as this. By delegating as much work as possible I could make the workload manageable whilst teaching others useful transferable skills as well.

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?

The most important thing to bear in mind with starting any new business is that there will be things you don’t know. The best thing to do to combat this is to ask as many questions as possible.

In order to fill the gaps in my knowledge I sought out members of both Falmouth and Exeter University who (obviously) would know more about the job than me. Our supporters included the Director of Media for Falmouth, Paul Inman, and the head of their Journalism course, Jason Whittacker, the FXU student guild, both the sabbs and their permanent staff, as well as two of the Marketing managers at Exeter. We were fortunate to be in an environment where people like this had an accessible and helpful attitude; it meant we could drive the business to success without having to worry too much whether would be penalised for getting some things wrong.

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

Determination.

As with any new venture there are things to learn and set-backs along the way, this is inevitable. The best way to ensure that you will succeed despite these set-backs is to be determined, to believe in what you are doing and to believe that it will work.

Have you made any mistakes along the way? If 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?

Many mnay mayn... Proof reading was a big problem in the first year, no matter how many times we edited it, re-edited it, and proofed it there were always errors. If I went back I would recruit ten or even twenty more people to read over every inch as I think this would be a relatively easy but profoundly important mistake to rectify.

Further to this I would have liked to approach the print process knowing what I know now, the hand-in to hand-out cycle could have been streamlined and would have reduced the need for me to have so many late nights!

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

Not really applicable as I have now passed it on to the next generation of students however I would hope they keep it going and keep improving, it already looks so much better than when we were running it and I can only imagine how it will look in five or ten years time.

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

After working for a year in the corporate sector I decided to come back to university and do a Masters in International Relations, with the skills I have in volunteer management and fundraising as well as my work raising money and managing key accounts in the media sector in London I would like to move into something which I can feel is really worthwhile. I would like to be working in the Charity sector, with social enterprise, or in International Development, somewhere where I can be helping people grow or develop.

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

Be inquisitive, be creative and above all reach higher, people are sometimes pessimistic and tell you that this or that can’t be done but if you have faith in your own ability then I’m sure everyone will be pleasantly surprised when you succeed. I firmly believe that with enough work you can achieve (almost) anything.