The Ember Club

Enterprise success stories

Tom Charman 

 

What do you study at the University of Exeter?

BA Economics and Politics with German (2012 – 2016)

What is your business all about?

I’m currently a co-founder of 3 businesses, and there’s a potential to increase this to 4 within the next few months. These are The Ember Club, George Edwards, Shoutbox and potentiallyApparel, which started as a university project.

 

The Ember Club is an online network that I created with two other university students Ed Noel and Nathan Dundovic because we all saw a common problem surrounding collaboration and networking between young start-ups. We created The Ember Club to solve this problem, and allow young founders to come together and share their issues, working together to create solutions and collaborate with business advisors and mentors through the online network. We have started to create affiliate partnerships with companies on a regional and national level to give exclusive benefits to our members, as well as advise them on funding routes and skills required in business. We have already received an award from UnLTD and are working on further investment with them, as well as being shortlisted for the Santander Business Plan competition, Shell LiveWIRE and Fund 101 by Enterprise Nation and PayPal. We are also working closely with Exeter Innovation Centre and won a competition with Crowdcube at the start of our journey.

 

George Edwards is a British made clothing label, focusing on creating the ‘Best of British’. I started this on my own by designing socks and polo shirts, before beginning to design chinos and custom blazers. This is still in its incubation phase as I aim to launch this in the next year and focus on creating high quality garments at a more affordable price. I was fortunate enough to meet some influential people within UKFTA such as Paul Alger, as well as members within the UKTI, which has allowed me to create initial interest in Mexico and Japan. This label aims to really help people connect with British made products, and part of the label focuses on donating a proportion of profits to charities that are based in the UK. We’re starting by aiming to help reduce homelessness, as this is something I am strongly aligned with. I ran the London Marathon in 2011 for Shelter, raising £1600 towards helping tackle this issue. I have also created networks in a number of fashion magazines and fashion start-ups to work together to make a positive impact.

 

Shoutbox is an audio based social media app, which aims to ‘revolutionize the way we use social media’. We want to create an online platform that is based largely on smartphones, allowing our users to create ‘soundbites’ and portray the raw emotion of voice. There’s been a lot of talk surrounding voice in social media by magazines including Tech Crunch and Mashable and we realised the potential market we could reach. We came up with the idea at one of the universities events as part of the Microsoft Imagine Cup, and we were selected as one of 12 teams to be part of the National Finals, which allowed us to get some great coverage. We’re now working on creating a strong network in both London and California, and are working on creating a feasible pitch ready to present to Venture Capitalists from a number of different companies. We want the app to be available on The App Store as well as Google’s Playstore within the next 6 months after launching this summer. We believe that Shoutbox could be a game changer in the social media space, due to its USP and the team behind the company.

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

What distinguishes The Ember Club from its competitors is both the service we provide and the experience that our members face in comparison to other networks. We create the online aspect of the network but will also be holding physical events. By working with business mentors and advisors we can give a unique service where young entrepreneurs can gain from advice given by both their peers and experienced people in business. Competitors we face include Founders Card and Virgin Media Pioneers however we act to share problems and advice over a network while providing affiliate partnerships to our members, as opposed to creating a platform for advertising. Our main advertising comes from social media, but also through creating backlinks with our affiliates and the businesses that are part of our network, and entrepreneur societies at universities based in the UK.

 

George Edwards has a few main competitors including GANT, Jack Wills and Joules, but what makes us different is the fact that all our products are made in the UK, along with the social awareness that we portray through the products. Lots of young entrepreneurs get involved with the clothing industry, however what differentiates us to most is the quality of the garments that we are creating. With George Edwards, we aim to create a positive social impact as well as involve ourselves in regeneration projects when we achieve greater sales, and promote British manufacturing on a global scale. While most would argue the higher costs of production give reason to produce abroad, we truly believe in the importance of producing British due to the quality and the job creation involved. Most of our advertising comes through social media at the moment, however we aim to also generate advertising revenue through our distributors and partners in the future.

 

Shoutbox is unique due to the fact that there are very few competitors currently out there. With the likes of Hubbub and Bubbly, the audio social media space is very new and predicted to be a fast growing industry. What makes us different are the features that we are building into the app, as well as the distribution process of the app to our market.  We are aiming to take a slice of the social media pie, and to do this we are working quickly to gain funding to grow at a rapid rate, and are aiming to create the initial critical mass required to help the app grow. Our main form of advertising at the moment comes through social media, as well as our partners, however we will be working towards our initial press release in July, and hope to be featured in mainstream magazines and newspapers along with digital media such as Tech Crunch.

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

We created The Ember Club for a number of reasons, but my largest reason for starting it was due to my experience as a young entrepreneur. I started my first business when I turned 16, and there was nothing out there to help me meet people like myself, or find help, funding or advice from people in a similar position combined with seasoned businesspeople. That’s why I created The Ember Club along with the team, to make it possible for people to work together and collaborate, as well as find individuals with a similar mind-set.

 

I created George Edwards due to my passion around clothing as well as British made products, and the high quality that could be achieved. Not only this but I’ve always been interested in creating my own label, and George Edwards allows me to do this. Naming it partially after myself, as well as in memory of my grandfather, George Edwards creates the British heritage image. The logo comes from both a play on British culture, but also from my family.

Shoutbox was created as part of the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition held in Exeter. Due to one of the The Ember Club members winning the competition last year, I decided 10 minutes prior the deadline to enter the competition. Over the weekend we all came to a similar conclusion that social media was still a growing and booming market, but we needed to create something innovative, and new to the scene. After a friend presented the problem of not being able to listen to a short audio stream, it hit us and we quickly started working towards an MVP for the pitching stage of the competition.

Juggling your academic studies with your new business as well as still having a social life must be a challenge. How do you accommodate the three and what does an average day, if you have one, look like for you?

No day is ever the same when it comes down to it. This is due to business meetings, academic studies and the running of a society that always requires me to stay on top of things but also requires me to adapt to quick change. At the start of the year it certainly wasn’t easy, and I did struggle with things, but after 2 months I quickly settled into what was expected of me. Business meetings across the UK and even abroad can come up quickly, and this combined with academic studies means that my social life does tend to be focused in and around business. However, as president of Exeter Entrepreneurs (2013 – 2014) as well as working closely with a number of organizations within the university, I have a close group of friends that are focused on business. I’ve got a lot of friends that I made during my time playing sport, which means that I’ve been able to enjoy social life as well as develop my business. I’m working hard on academic studies, however there are times where unexpected situations arise which can take a toll on my well being short term. Long term however, my businesses have helped me create a strong network both inside and outside the university.

 

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?

Due to my involvement in business from a young age, I’ve learned first hand how to start a business and what’s required of me. However, my family and friends have certainly helped me through the ups and downs of starting a business, and during my college life I was introduced to one teacher in particular who was vital to my achievements so far. While I’ve been at university the Innovation Centre and, in particular, Matthew Rusk (SEIR 2012 – 2013) have been a huge help, but a large amount of support has come from people like myself, who are going through a similar process, which is why I am so driven to connect young entrepreneurs together through The Ember Club. I think the biggest tip I can give to people starting a business is to make sure you can tell who can really help you, and who wants to help, because they believe in what you’re doing. Knowing who to ask for help can really allow you to progress much more quickly.

What support have you received from the University?

I’ve received support from the Innovation Centre, as well as the SEIR’s and IGNITE. They’ve helped me to refine ideas, as well as provide contacts that can help me progress my businesses. Joe from the Innovation Centre has been a huge help during my time so far at Exeter, and I really do believe that the Innovation Centre can provide a huge amount of support for businesses, even if its simply providing a different perspective on a particular route to market, or the fundamentals of an idea. IGNITE and the SEIR’s have made it possible for me to meet other entrepreneurs, as well as progress projects, and working alongside them with events such as TSSP has been great.

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

One of the key aspects to my success so far has been my ability to network and meet new people. Due to my involvement in a number of aspects of business, as well as different groups and organizations such as NACUE, I’ve been able to meet some highly influential people, including Lord Young at Downing Street. I’m a big believer in surrounding myself with people that inspire me, and I believe that this has allowed me to progress significantly. Finally, I believe that being part of the growing number of young entrepreneurs at Exeter has allowed me to succeed at promoting not only my own businesses but also the growing spirit of entrepreneurialism at Exeter in general.

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 two mistakes since I started involving myself in the entrepreneurial world. My first mistake was promoting a product before it was ready for launch. I did this with George Edwards, and I wasn’t quite ready to launch which led to a negative impact on the business as the delays began to mean my potential customers disengaged. That’s one piece of advice I’d give to other entrepreneurs and people going into starting a business. Make sure that you’re product or service is really ready before you begin to push the engagement. If you engage consumers too early, then you’ll loose them due to the initial ‘hype’ surrounding the business dying off.

 

My second mistake involved developers. Developers can be difficult to find, and trusting one before you know them well enough can be a mistake. Shoutbox was forced to pull out of the Microsoft Imagine Cup final in London due to our developer letting us down and not being able to deliver the development of the app to us. This created a time lag and pushed us backwards, which is something that we really didn’t need, particularly within the technology industry. So my word of warning to others involved in business development is to make sure you really know your team before you commit because if something goes wrong it can be devastating.

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

There are some very exciting prospects going forward with my businesses, with lots of future plans for all of them. The Ember Club is looking at expanding to Australia and Germany next year, which will mean that we are able to help young entrepreneurs and start-ups on an international level, while continuing to develop in the UK by taking on brand ambassadors in the UK at up to 5 universities. We are also developing the network even further, to make it as easy as possible to use and generate a user base and try to reach the critical mass that we’re aiming for. We also aim to team up with a larger affiliate base, and work at creating partnerships with venture programs, incubators and accelerators, to help start-ups into their incubation phase as quickly and as easily as possible. We want to make it possible for young entrepreneurs to start, without the barriers to entry that currently exist.

 

For George Edwards, the aim is to look towards the launch of the business, and get featured in magazines including Vogue and GQ. We also aim to work with a few larger brands and department stores to stock the product in a number of exclusive stores across the UK and potentially Mexico and Japan, and really begin to increase the awareness of the brand. We want to begin to create partnerships with charities in the UK, and increase potential workshops for those involved with the charities. Finally, we hope that we will be able to launch George Edwards Smartwear, which is one of the lines that we will be producing for those that enjoy ‘peacocking’ in the office.

 

With Shoutbox, the aim is to really begin to create awareness for the app and gain both business angel and Stage A VC funding for the business. We are aiming to launch in a restrictive manner initially, to create the buzz around the social media app, and we want to begin being featured in media to grow the brand and the app. We want to be ready for our launch party that we aim to hold within the next 6 months.

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

In 10 years time I can see myself retired and enjoying the hard work that I have put in so far. On a serious note though, I can’t see myself ever giving up on business as I enjoy being a serial entrepreneur and can assume with confidence that this is what I will continue to do. No matter what project/business it is that I’m working on, I love everything about business and can see myself enjoying whatever business I am involved in at the time. I always want to work for myself; it’s something I realised when I started my first business. I would hope that The Ember Club is an internationally recognized brand for young enterprise, as well as a symbol for collaboration between business owners. I want to see George Edwards continuing to grow on an international level, creating jobs for people within the UK in factories as well as a limited number of stores in major cities to promote the modern Britain. I hope to be donating a significant amount of money to my charities that I believe in and support, ideally involving myself in a regeneration project thanks to the success of George Edwards. Finally, I hope that Shoutbox will have met the critical mass required to be growing at a rate similar to Snapchat and other fast growing social media networks. I hope that it will begin to change the way we use social media, and get people to use their phones in a more interactive way. The recent ‘Look Up’ campaign that became a viral success is something that has continued to make me focus on the potential of creating a social media platform that is beneficial towards creating conversation.

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

I think the most important thing for young entrepreneurs is ambition and drive. There are lots of ups and downs in business, and as a young entrepreneur, you have to be ready for them. Never give up, no matter how big the problem may seem and don’t be afraid to talk about the problems you’re facing and how you can fix them. Get connected, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Finally, make sure you join The Ember Club, and become part of a global movement for young entrepreneurs!