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As part of a series looking into the under-discussed side of founding a company, I speak with The Student Room founder Charles Delingpole about building a business whilst still at university, his regret at not finding the right mentors and why biographies are the best business books. For more Founder Therapy, click here.
When Charles Delingpole was in his first week of university in Cambridge, the business that he founded, The Student Room, was making £2,000 per day.
“At that point it was just me running everything.”
While fellow freshers were presumably partying, Delingpole was juggling both books and business.
“It was first week of term so I had my first essay and then I also had to deal with your thousands of customers paying all this money.”
The website continued to grow, offering a place for prospective students to ask questions about applying for university and soon Delingpole had roped in fellow students and even his sister into helping run the site.
However things could have been done better. Despite early successes, Charles tells me that with the right guidance he could have done more.
“I tried to get people who could help me. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have help. I’d been working on the site for a long time up to that point. I didn’t have a coherent understanding of how to run a business.”
“And at that point, it was like 2002 and there were was hundreds of things you could have done with that, and the traffic and the money and you could have built going to build an amazing business. ”
Shortly after The Student Room’s first successes, Facebook spread like wildfire in the US from campus to campus. The platform went on to change the world we live in today.
“It was a good opportunity which I largely squandered.” Delingpole agrees. “We had the Kernel there for something great but I didn’t have anyone around me who could advise me or show me what to do.”
He tells me that unlike today, British universities weren’t the a good place for young entrepreneurs. Programs like Entrepreneur First didn’t exist, and there were very few business angels.
“One of the reasons why it helps like to have experienced angels on board is because they see the same mistake thousand times.”
One adviser who comes in for special mention is Balderton investor Tim Bunting who now gives guidance on Delingpole’s current company, MarketInvoice.
But what about the kid that doesn’t go to university or who cannot find a mentor?
Delingpole says he studies from biographies to learn about other founders. “I think the more biographies you can read, then you can learn about their history, their mentality, what drove them, what motivated them, and not only are they motivational, but also you learn lessons they learned. “”
Of course by comparison to Facebook, any business looks like a relative failure. The Student Room was and remains a commercial success with millions of visitors. It taught it’s young founder a lot, and hasn’t put him off investing. Still, you can’t help but wonder, what if?
The Founder Therapy series explores the under-discussed side of founding a company, with interviews from those who’ve seen it firsthand. For more, click here.
April 12, 2019 at 01:40PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs