Jacob Marsh

The product

Jacob Marsh's company ModMyPi

Enterprise success stories

Jacob Marsh 

What did you study at the University of Exeter?

MEng Civil Engineering, 2012

What is your business all about?

Manufacture and Distribution of Plastic and Electronic components for micro-development boards, namely the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi is a low-cost credit card sized micro-computer developed as an educational platform, which has been embraced by the Maker community as a one-size-fits-all component for a range of uses including home automation, video and musical media and industrial applications.

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

We ship components globally, and have a fast and efficient distribution chain across Europe. We actively engage with the community by creating tutorials and learning content. We also manufacture and develop a range of our own products to fulfil our customer’s demands. Advertising is via social media, Facebook, twitter YouTube, forums etc.

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

The idea developed in my final year Masters year at University. The popularity of the Pi was revealed when demand overloaded two of the largest global electronic component distributor’s websites. At that time, no casing was available for the unit – experience from my studies meant that I was able to design, manufacture and effectively market a plastic case. Exeter’s links with SetSquared at the Innovation Centre, CALM (Centre for Additive Layer Manufacturing) and MAS (Manufacturing Advisory Service), resulted in a streamlined access to the market, and the business exploded from there.

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, looked like for you?

An average day consisted of getting up around 6am and working through until 10pm. At the time, we were all deep in Masters Dissertation so there wasn’t much socialising occurring at the time anyway! It was a simply case of juggling both pieces of work effectively. The innovation centre gave me some office space for a reasonable price, which enabled me to compartmentalise the University work from the business.

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?

Joe Pearce from the Innovation Centre was instrumental in getting the business off the ground. His mentoring, support and links within the industry were key to getting the business off the ground.

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

Mentoring, office space, grant funding for future product development.

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

Enjoying it and treating it as a hobby as well as a job. Asking for help and guidance; but not blindly following what others say – it’s always very useful to have an outside unbiased opinion from a mentor.

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?

I’ve made plenty of mistakes, and I’m still making news ones (and learning every day); under-ordering parts, being hit with credit card fraud, having to work through tax liability with accountants after not keeping proper track of finances at the beginning. I probably wouldn’t change anything, as the mistakes are part of the learning process, but most of them were expensive!

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

We’ve got a new product due for release this year, and have seen steady growth through the last two years. Plan is to continue growth into the new micro-board Maker market and take on more staff in 2014/2015.

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

The business is now on a 6 year growth plan; so I plan to be right here!

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

Just go for it, at no other time in your life will you have an interval like this available to start a business. The main reason I decided to try it was that I wasn’t getting anywhere with finding a job and I felt like I was wasting my time. That time was much better spent, and much more rewarding, put into ModMyPi. 90% of running a business is the amount of effort you’re prepared to put into it. At the end of the day, if it all goes wrong, it’s a fun experience. However, with the knowledge available at Exeter, and with the right idea, there’s no reason it won’t work.