The Mentoring Business

Ex Goldman Sachs Wealth Manager, Jonathan Pfahl, is founder and Managing Director of the Rockstar Mentoring Group which offers entrepreneur mentoring and business funding.

What is ‘REAL‘ Mentoring? And how can it be part of an entrepreneur’s quest for investment when funds are particularly tight?

REAL Mentoring is when you are seeking guidance from an entrepreneur who has GENUINELY been there and done it. REAL mentors can be used to help you get your business funded or purely through helping one achieve financial goals in their business. The average Rockstar Mentor has started, grown and sold at least one company for £18m! In nearly every sector in the UK. Having one of those mentors, from your sector as part of your team in the business plan and then having them sit next to you helping you do the pitch is why the Rockstar Funding Model works so well.

What makes a mentor?

The word “mentor” comes from the Latin word “Mentore” which means “to emulate” or “to be like”. Therefore what makes a very successful businessman or woman that other business people want to learn from to help them achieve the same level of success.

How did the experience of setting up your own business help to shape or inform the service you provide? Was it the inspiration?

Yes it was. Setting up my own successful business was done through the assistance of having a REAL mentor show me how to do it. I then, in my spare time, began mentoring other businesses years later, enjoyed it and thus created Rockstar to scale up what I was doing and give more people the opportunity to be mentored.

What was the biggest hurdle to overcome in setting up?

Getting the brand and reputation out to the number of people we needed for it to work. Unlike a lot of startups, we had a large marketing spend but learnt very quickly that even that will not work if you are not investing in the right measurable marketing strategies for the right type of audience. What we do now to market ourselves is almost completely opposite to what we used to do… This has come from trial and error with a big budget and, in hindsight, I would have done things differently in relation to our marketing than when we started 5 years ago… But hindsight is a wonderful thing! – as they say.

Do you have one tip for people looking to fund their business idea?

YES – prove you have a market! That does not include Googling surveys and statistics online. Go out there and speak to your potential customers, explain what you would like to offer them and ask them if they would buy it from you. Better still, actually make some sales before pitching. If you have not at least sold what you do to a good number of people and can prove that you have people who are willing to buy your product, then focus everything on making that happen first before asking someone else to take all the risk!

And finally, is this Generation Startup?

YES. One of the key positives that the recession caused was to drive up the number of people who are now serious and motivated to start their own business. In the 5 years we’ve been mentoring businesses in the UK, it is clear that a lot more people are wanting to become entrepreneurs.

For more on Rockstar Mentoring follow Jonathan and the team on twitter or check out their website.

Follow the crowdfunding


Ben Saffer is the founder of Saffer Productions. Having done a lot of commercial work, events based films, music videos and festival coverage, both in the UK and abroad, he used crowdfunding to finance the company’s current “passion project”, which will be shown it at a number of film festivals across the uk and beyond.

What did you use crowdfunding for?

We used it to raise around 40% of the funding for a short film which we shot in March. The film is now very nearly reaching completion and it premiers next week. After that, it will be submitted to film festivals, possibly using another round of crowdfunding to raise the money for festival submissions.

Why did you choose crowdfunding?

Necessity really. With the time and resources available to us we didn’t really have any other way to raise the amount of money required. Also, it was an interesting first dip of the toes into crowdfunding, something which I’ve been interested in for a while.

How did you choose the platform?

We chose to use Sponsume because a few other filmmakers I know had used it in the same timeframe with some success. Also, it was preferable to other platforms such as IndieGoGo and Kickstarter because we knew most people would be UK based and being able to set the prices in £s was a big thing. Having a small UK based company to work with made things easier in terms of support and help.

How much were you looking to raise?

We were looking for £500, we raised just over £650 in the end. The other option was to look for local companies to sponsor the film. This was the first option we looked into, but crowdfunding required less time and effort to raise the money, allowed us to retain full independence and also allowed us to cultivate a community around the film and raise its profile on social media. Raising money from corporate sponsors can be good, however given the current climate this is becoming very difficult and generally requires a strong existing link with a company to be successful. The historical source of funding for these sorts of projects, UK Film Council and RDAs has all but disappeared and crowdfunding is going some way to plug this gap.

Were you pleased with the result?

We were very pleased with how the funding went. To be honest, we expected around 80% of the money to come from people who we were “pretty sure” would support us before we started, but the crowdfunding site gave an easy, fast conduit to get these funds from people over a wide geographical spread. I think crowdfunding is good if you have a decent network of family, friends and clients who you will support you, or at a higher level a large fanbase who will support your projects (see Vincent Moon‘s Colombian music documentary last year). I would recommend it to anyone who understands how it works: the mistake a lot of people make is thinking that there is a magical “pool” of people out there who will suddenly discover your film on a crowdfunding site and give you a bunch of cash – that’s not how it works; if you don’t know who these people are in the “real world” then they don’t know who you are online.

For example, another film in Leeds put a crowdfunding page up asking for £1600 in about 3 weeks. They had a small crew (much smaller than ours) and most of these already had other projects on crowdfunding sites so could only reasonably leverage their family and/or friends once in the timeframe. The crowdfunding page only raised around £160 which had the knock on effect of making the filmmakers look like they didn’t know what they were doing and made it more difficult for them to get crew, locations, equipment on a beg, borrow or steal. Conversely, we spent time before setting up a crowdfunding page on working out who would likely support us and to what level, setting our target accordingly. Through meetings and exceeding our target we showed that we knew what we were doing, created a positive feeling around the project and in the days after the crowdfunding page finished, were able to secure some great deals on crew and equipment off the back of this positivity.

What would you advise people thinking about using crowdfunding for their projects?

- Know your audience and/or potential funders
- Estimate how much you can raise
- Be realistic with your target and set it accordingly. Anything over and above this is a bonus
- Don’t fall into the trap of raising funding again and again: your “core” network of supporters will only give what they can and this will happen on the first round
- Create a community around your backers – this will help in many ways in the future
- Ensure you create positivity around your project off the back of a successful round of crowd funding (shout it from the rooftops when you reach your target!)

Ocqur: Smart Enterprising

by Caz Parra

Joseph Stashko is one of the co-founders of Ocqur. He won the Guardian Student Media Digital Journalist of the Year Award in 2011. You can find him on Twitter here.

Ocqur is an upcoming platform for live-blogging events with the potential to change the face of online live reporting. It is sleek looking, super fast and able to work with a range of other platforms such as Twitter, Youtube or Flickr. Ocqur’s main feature is that it automatically displays new updates, without the need to refresh the page. Earlier last month we spoke with Joseph Stashko, who along with Andrew Fairbairn and Jonathan Frost, is responsible for Ocqur.

“The idea came about because we looked at the market of live blogging and we saw that what was out there already wasn’t affordable or was just terribly designed,” says Joseph, who also thinks that there’s no reason why design and functionality can’t work together.

In true 21st-century entrepreneurial style Ocqur was developed in parallel to Joseph, Jon and Andrew’s university studies. Ten weeks of hard work over evenings and weekends resulted in ‘Ocqur 0.1’, the first version of the service, which is currently in its testing stage. “We have over 100 testers. Getting feedback is amazing, we didn’t want to build what we thought was best [version of the product] and then find out that it’s not. We rather give it to people as early as possible so they can help build the service. We’ve given the raw ideas, now you fill in the blanks”. This is, potentially, what will guarantee the success of Ocqur. Through the testing stage and the feedback process the team are determined to build the service users want.

But can a side-project be considered a startup? “It’s hard to define yourself, I would say yes from my personal standpoint,” says Joseph. For him, being a startup is an attitude more than a business label: “It’s a mentality, it’s looking to disrupt what’s already available. We’re not trying to make a product that is a little improvement to what already exists, we are trying to rethink how something works and come up with a better way to do it”.

We can’t let Joseph go without asking our already infamous question: is this generation start up? Joseph believes it could be, as long as “people see things through and actually try to realise them”. Speaking from his experience developing Ocqur he tells us that the quality of the idea is as important as having “one or two other people who have the same one”. What do you think?

Twitter Robot – Nurph said


Neil Cauldwell, 28, is the founder and director of Nurph.com, the real-time communication service that gives you a home for your Twitter followers and turns your Twitter account into a knowledge-learning assistant that you can teach to answer your follower’s @replies automatically. Follow Nurph on Twitter

When did you start your business and where did the idea come
from?

I was bitten by the web entrepreneurship bug in summer 2007 and have been working on the opportunity since then. The company was incorporated in 2009. The Nurph product has evolved over time, but the goal has always been a better online, real-time communication experience.

How can businesses use Nurph? What is the most useful
aspect?

Many businesses have signed up to Twitter to share news and communicate with potential customers on the service. Nurph adds value by providing destinations, called “Channels”, where a company’s Twitter followers can congregate for free-flowing conversations – and, most-significantly, a “knowledge-learning robot system” that enables a company to teach their Twitter account to answer questions automatically, instantly, and at any time of the day. This feature is getting lots of interest because it makes your Twitter account work for you.

Twitter accounts were leaked a couple of weeks ago, the documents say twitter is not doing well. What do you think they’re missing?

The difficulty with Twitter, and the act of “tweeting”, has always been with articulating the benefits to end-users. Twitter has solved the problem of “getting the word out quickly”, but a lot of people and organisations are struggling to find their target audience on Twitter. So the solution is there but the audience isn’t. Once you look at how the Nurph product works, it’s easy to see how a business could leverage the Twitter platform in conjunction with Nurph to gain real business benefits – most notably faster customer support response times, easier knowledge-sharing, and better communication with customers. If you focus on solving problems that create value for people and make their lives easier, you’ll build a service that people will want to use.

When it comes to twitter followers – is it quantity or quality?

“Quality” and “engagement” are more important than quantity. Think about your Twitter followers in the same way that you would with your email newsletter subscribers and your Facebook friends. You want an audience that is interested and receptive to the things that you have to say.

Is this generation startup?

The web inherently makes it easier for people to get the ball rolling with a start-up and to discover other people doing the same thing. It certainly feels like we’re part of a young startup generation. But it’ll always take a certain type of person to be a passionate entrepreneur who will never quit no matter how hard the going gets. And there’s probably only a certain number of those people in every generation. It’s more about the people than the technology – the technology is just an enabler. You’re always going to need the passion and the determination to make a start-up a success.

Feature: Jobsonthego

Brighton based Shaun Cheesman didn’t have the best time at school, he tells me. ‘I knew I was different. I thought differently, I worked differently, I didn’t always fit in.’
After leaving school in 2001 Shaun started and built a successful print company, which he went on to sell. After a string of retail jobs he moved into recruitment and worked his way up various high street companies. He puts success in these companies largely down to personality. ‘I was being both resilient and kind in nature. I think that was really key to me winning contracts for the people I worked for… I was suddenly thriving while others struggled.’ During the recession, Shaun took voluntary redundancy and the decision to start something up on his own. It began with the name. ‘I was working freelance as a recruitment consultant when the name Jobsonthego came into my head.’ Building on knowledge from working in the industry, Shaun did some more research to shape his ideas. Determined ‘to find what other people weren’t doing, what could be different’ he collected data from 10,000 people, building contacts along the way.

When the results came back, his suspicion had been right – there was something missing. Shaun found these differences were not unrelated to his own experiences of the industry. While his previous success was reliant on an approachable personality, the recruitment sector is more and more digital. As well as enthusiasm for the recruitment sector, Shaun has a passion for everything online. He is driven by the potential of digital communications and technology. What is interesting is that Jobsonthego is born of a merge of these two passions. Combining an understanding of why such frustrations exist with an ambitious look to technology gave this business idea its unique approach.

Jobsonthego, once built, will be a mobile-based jobsite app – a kind of Broadbean for jobs. The service will be available on smartphones, tablets and social media platforms. ‘Through advertising alone the mobile app industry is worth 2.2 billion pounds and that’s just in the UK’. Simply a mobile company, its uniqueness doesn’t stop there. ‘We asked 10,000 people what is the biggest bug bare when applying for work and overwhelmingly recruitment agencies are the problem.’ Jobsonthego won’t allow agencies onto its app. Job hunters will apply directly to companies and can guarantee a response, ‘even if it’s a no thank-you.’ Advanced technology will create an ease of use that Shaun thinks is crucial: ‘applying for jobs will take seconds, not minutes or hours, and you will always know who you’re actually applying too.’

Another welcome aspect of the app may be its fresh approach to advertising, e-mails and e-marketing. ‘If a site does not have the jobs you’ve asked for, it’s simple – you won’t get a message.’ Shaun is clear. ‘Keep it relevant and no spam.’
And the employers? ‘UK companies are missing out on a different type of passive candidate that is looking for job application which is not just quick and simple but direct.’

Challenges so far? ‘Dyslexia is a challenge. I didn’t go to uni and my startup experience has been a different route but I am passionate about building a reliable brand and helping others succeed.’

The first steps have been in creating a social media presence; with over 11,800 followers on Twitter built solely through what Shaun calls ‘natural methods’. ‘I am really proud of this achievement, I only opened it a year ago.’ Jobsonthego is ahead of the leading online recruitment company by thousands of followers. Competitor Jobsite has just over 3500 followers.
As the first stage of their marketing strategy, it’s a pretty impressive feat and one that reflects what Jobsonthego is all about – industry understanding and digital technology meets a passionate drive to give candidates the service they want.

Does Shaun think this is this generation startup?
‘I’m not sure it matters. Saying that, the timing of my startup may be important – we are already seeing crucial signs of economic growth. I’m young, I don’t come from a privileged background but I’m determined – it has been great to meet others who share in seeing opportunity rather than hindrance.’