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Monday, February 27, 2012

From bedroom to boardroom in 80 days

Owen Burek, the founder of the student money site SavetheStudent.org explains how he turned down graduate jobs for the thrill of running a social enterprise.

So you’ve graduated from university. What next? For many students the dream is landing a nicely paid job in the city with a high profile graduate employer. And for most, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s a great start for your career, providing security and first-hand experience in an industry you’ve worked your rear-end off to be in. After 20-odd years of education, it’s what you deserve.

I’ve been kindly invited to talk about another way – the way I chose to take. This involves the scary (foolish?) decision of going it alone in the big, bad world of business. Now before I start, I must emphasise that foregoing a full-time, well paid job is not for everyone, and it shouldn’t be. However if this alternative route I’ll briefly describe excites you, even just a smidgen, then there is no better time to take it. Think about the freedom of choice you have as a graduate. How many real responsibilities do you have right now? Well, that’s why lots of grads choose to take a gap year – because they can!

So why not instead take this exciting year out to try taking an idea into something real, a business which may not even earn you money but will be the vehicle which teaches you so much about virtually every aspect of the business world, and much about yourself. Take this opportunity to figure out what you’re good at and what you really want to do with the rest of your career. It can be well worth holding off jumping into the graduate job market. For me, as a 2010 graduate with a first class degree from the University of Manchester, I took the summer months to try and start a proper business running out of an office. Two years on and I have no intention of ever entering the job market. I’m having way too much fun!

The fun began in 2007, my first year at uni, when I started a website called Save the Student! The name came easy. There was so much to learn about life and living away from home, and no more so than this crazy thing called personal finance. With some experience in website design, I went ahead and starting sharing my experiences (well, mistakes) with other students on the internet. It wasn’t too long before I started engaging with many other students through the site which pushed me on. The money didn’t come until a year later when I was opened up to the world of advertising as companies saw an opportunity to reach my student readership. My first advertiser was MoneySupermarket.com. 

The kind of stuff I was writing about was the kind of really, really useful stuff that every student should know, but many don’t. I blame the school system. The ongoing and unfortunate symptom is thousands of vulnerable (slightly naive) students heading off to uni every year making the same mistakes and getting burnt by landlords, banks etc. With the tuition fees on the rise for 2012 entrants, unfortunately many students really do need saving!

This philosophy has been absolutely key to the (unexpected) growth of Save the Student. In turn, this has offered me a unique opportunity to develop a successful business within the student market once I left university myself. There is nothing more rewarding than creating something which not only pays for your living but helps others. That’s what I along with my fantastic team do every day.

5 Lessons to Share
There are so many factors which lead to where I am now, but none of them would have mattered if I had not made the life choice to just try starting a business after graduating. Having said that, I would offer a few nuggets of advice:
Keep learning – Graduating is not the end of education. I’m always reading books and keeping up with the latest news to equip me with the knowledge I need to keep moving forward. It can also save you a whole pile of money. I taught myself basic programming and graphic design as a teenager which has enabled me to build the websites myself.
Perseverance – It’s not an easy ride by any means, but just remember that, if nothing else, you are gaining so much experience which will be invaluable for any career path you eventually take. You become the best reference on your CV!
People & Networking – Firstly, it really does help to have a supportive team who have varied skill-sets. Secondly, make as many contacts as you can because it’s people who get you where you want to be.
Discipline – This is probably the most important point on this list. You won’t have anyone telling you what to do (one of the perks!) but that means you need the drive yourself to get up every morning and work hard all day. It helps to have a place to go and work outside of your bedroom!

If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it – You really have to love what you do, otherwise what’s the point?

I could go on for a lot longer, but I’m going to leave it there. Hopefully it’s given you some insight into the ‘alternative’ career route and has stimulated you to think about what you want to do for yourself.

See www.savethestudent.org for more. If you have any questions or want to get in touch, feel free to send me an email at owen[@]savethestudent.org and if you have Twitter, make sure you’re following @savethestudent

TARGETjobs offers the largest choice of graduate jobs, internships and placements. Independent reviews on top graduate employers and career planning tools and expert guidance. Become a TARGETjobs blogger by getting in touch with me at jackie.balchin2@targetjobs.co.uk