Exeter student Matthew Rusk talks about his experience of setting up a guitar teaching company

Matthew Rusk

Enterprise success stories

Matthew Rusk

What did you study at the University of Exeter? 

BA History

What is your business all about?

Guitar Lessons Exeter is a music tuition business established in Exeter in 2009. Starting with a single teacher and one student during term one, Guitar Lessons Exeter had grown organically by term three of first year to thirty-five students. Second year term one saw Guitar Lessons Exeter expand into Belfast and Bristol, encompassing four teachers and over one hundred students. Currently the business, renamed Guitar Lessons-UK, is looking to expand into fifty locations, over three instruments – guitar, singing and piano – totalling one-hundred and fifty teachers and over one thousand students.

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

The unique selling point of Guitar Lessons Exeter is that the website has reached number one in Google searches for “guitar lessons Exeter”, resulting in a flow of lesson enquires. These enquires are converted into students and the excellent teaching of lessons ensures that these pupils remain with us for the long term. Our main competitors during the early phase of expansion were local guitar teachers in Exeter, now Guitar Lessons-UK is competing against national websites and music tuition companies.

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

Having no money at University prompted me to look to create a business that generated enough to cover my rent and living costs. As I began teaching guitar in Leicester from 15 continuing to teach in Exeter seemed a logical extension, I bought the website www.guitarlessonsexeter.com, developed it and got my first student. Growing my business from my room in Lafrowda I saw a huge potential to implement my idea across the whole of the UK and looked to expand into Belfast, Bristol and other cities. Taking on four other teachers and diversifying the range of instruments taught by the business marked the beginning of moving the idea from the local to national.

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?

Time management was crucial teaching guitar 25 hours a week, I usually organised the business in the morning, taught guitar lessons afternoon to evening and then worked on my academic studies over night (not advised). An average day during second and third year; wake up 6.00am for business admin; mid-morning prepare guitar lessons and go to lectures; teach lessons 3.00-9.00pm; late-evening dinner and essays.

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 taught guitar from a young age I understood the first phase of the business as a self-employed single teacher – however, sub-contracting and managing multiple teachers was a learning curve during the second phase of the business plan. Reading all types of business books helped me immensely, with this second phase and I would recommend reading extensively for people interested creating a business. Joe Pearce of the Innovation Centre and Matthew Pocock have generously given their time, advice and comments to help build the business – I would like to thank them both.

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?

The Innovation Centre at the University has been amazing in their support and interest in my business. The Exeter Award events also came in really useful for networking, increasing my knowledge as to how to conduct an interview, and providing me with relevant business advice.

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

Central to the success of the business so far has been the use and understanding of the Internet, web design, social media and search engine optimisation on Google.

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 have learned a great deal from my experiences running of running a music tuition business during my time at the University of Exeter. I would not change anything if I could go back – the lessons I have learned when I have got it wrong are far to important. Most of all I have enjoyed every second of it so much I am only looking forward to the next challenge.

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

Expanding throughout the UK, into multiple cities and over several instruments before moving into the American market. We are also looking to work with the government to provide quality music lessons for school children and the elderly.

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

Certainly over the next year, until September 2013, I will be working on Guitar Lessons-UK expanding it throughout the United Kingdom. Follow me @matthew_rusk to see how we get on.

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

Go for it. Fail. Go for it again.