Who is James Holden? (Who are you? What you study? What you do in your spare time? To what are you involved?)
I am a 20 years young business student at Plymouth University. Alongside my studies I am President of Igniting Enterprise (Plymouth’s Entrepreneurs Society) and manage the designer children’s shoe company I purchased in 2013. I’m a paid intern at an Entrepreneurship Research Centre and also participate in numerous policy boards and consultations, including that of the government.
Recently you were one of the guest speakers in the Student Enterprise Conference organised by NACUE? Tell us about that experience.
I was invited to speak at the Student Enterprise Conference to discuss how enterprise educators and student societies can engage creative students in entrepreneurship. It was awesome to be speaking alongside the likes of Head of Santander UK and Co-Founder of Halo! I almost felt unworthy to be there, but once I started speaking and people starting writing down what I was saying I quickly realised that actually I do know a thing or two.
When did you set up your first business? What kind of business was it?
I started my first business when I was just 15 while working for an estate agent posting their leaflets through letterboxes. I really enjoyed the work but the £4 per hour wage was lousy. After a bit of online research I realised I could earn up to £10 per hour if I worked for myself. Spending less than £5 to purchase envelopes and stamps, I sent introduction letters to local businesses where I got my first client. 2 years later and my leaflet distribution service had grown into a leading advertising agency with 10 employees, a partnership with the UK’s leading printer, and large contracts with the likes of LA Fitness. I sold the business age 17.
What motivated you towards becoming an entrepreneur?
I have always enjoyed creating and working on challenging projects to keep myself from becoming bored. From owning a successful teen magazine, to launching a new energy drink brand, building something from nothing and seeing an idea become reality is so rewarding to me. I enjoy watching things grow, knowing that I have been directly responsible for its success. I like to push boundaries, take risks, and make things happen. Being an entrepreneur just seems like the logical career move for my mind set.
What is BêJaKs? (Can you tell us a bit about your company?)
BêJaKs is a designer children’s shoe brand which merges innovation with traditional design. With patent pending easy fit and width-adjustment technology, this company really does have potential to revolutionise the footwear industry. Currently in retail outlets across the United Kingdom, the company has plans to be in leading department stores and have a strong international presence, especially in the European markets.
Today we see the majority of start-ups to target the mobile app industry. What made you buy a company in the children’s shoes industry? What was the logic behind your decision?
There is a lot of hype with young people surrounding tech start-ups, but who can blame them when the likes of Facebook and Google keep buying small companies at inconceivable valuations? I’ve never really been drawn in; I like to see real money being generated from businesses, not just large amounts of equity finance being offered for large user bases. My logic around buying a product based company is almost for that exact reason; I think there is a lot of understated value in a traditional business like mine which sells stock you can touch.
At what phase is your business now? What are the next moves for you?
The products are currently stocked in a handful of independent baby boutiques across the United Kingdom, but this is quickly increasing with a lot of PR, paid advertising, telesales, brochure mail-outs, trade-shows etc. BêJaKs is also working with UKTI to break into the German market before exporting to the whole of Europe.
What lessons have you learnt as a student entrepreneur?
I have learnt so much from being a student entrepreneur, but the main thing I have learnt isn’t so much about entrepreneurship or business, but more the fact that there is always enough time. I’ve learnt the skill of being productive. People always use the excuse “I don’t have enough time” but in a week there are 168 hours. 56 of those will be spent sleeping, 40 hours working/studying, 35 hours eating, showering, and traveling etc, which leaves a massive 37 hours to pursue your dream.
What are the negatives to being a student entrepreneur?
I can’t see my friends or party as much as I’d like to, and I actually have less money now running a business than I would if I had a part-time job, but these are relatively small sacrifices to make for the satisfaction I get from seeing myself move my business forward. Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.
What has been the biggest mistake of your career and how would you do it differently?
Before purchasing BêJaKs I owned a social enterprise which sold personal alarms and anti-drink spiking products in both the UK and East African markets. Early on in the business I was approached by a friend with a telemarketing background who wanted to partner with me. I made the naive decision that I didn’t need him and could do it all by myself. I did okay on my own but had I brought him on-board then the company could have been so much more successful. I let my pride get in the way of recognising where my strengths and weaknesses lie; I should have allowed someone to help me with sales because I’m much more experienced and confident in other areas such as operations and strategy.
If you could give tips to our readers who might also be entrepreneurs, what would they be?
Jim Rohn said “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” He’s completely right – if you want to be successful, surround yourself with successful people. With BêJaKs I have built myself a team including a millionaire investor in the footwear industry, my mentor exited from his extremely successful business in the baby industry last year, plus I regularly consult an experienced international trade advisor. Your team is the key. Talk to people who have already been there and done it. Constantly ask questions and learn from the world’s business leaders. Leaders do not only do the right things, they do things right.