James Eder is the co-founder of The Beans Group (of student discount website Student Beans) and Causr, his latest venture, which aims to help professionals build valuable relationships with those nearby.
Simpleweb has recently teamed up with James to work on Causr. We caught up with James to find out more about his journey…
Blue Peter, dogs and directories
James was a creative kid with a love of the arts and a knack for coming up with ideas. He grew up in an entrepreneurial family, with his grandparents running a hat shop in Malta. He attributes his keen work ethic to his grandparents, his Barrister father (who worked long hours and never took a day off), and his mother, a self-employed homeopath.
“It was a really powerful experience.”
James’s entrepreneurial side was sparked at a young age when his family hosted a Blue Peter Bring and Buy Sales when James was around 8 or 9. He carried on trying new ventures throughout his teens, later starting a photography business with his brother, where they took photos of dogs in the park and sold them to the neighbours.
When he was 17, James created a directory website called needanumber.co.uk as part of his school’s Young Enterprise programme. “I was going into shops and convincing them to sign up and give us £5 or £10 or £20 to be on our website. The idea was you list your deal or your opening times and closing times, your phone number etc… We signed up about 200 businesses and we made a few thousand pounds, which we gave to charity. It was a really powerful experience.”
Can you learn business skills at university?
“Every day I made about 250 calls got told no a lot.”
After school, James studied business at the University of Birmingham, working part time as a telesales operator for GalaBingo to supplement his studies, a job he describes as an “amazing learning experience just being around and not being afraid of rejection.” When I point out what an incredibly optimistic attitude that is, James admits that the work was by no means amazing. “Every day I made about 250 calls got told no a lot. Around 10% signed up and [I got] about 700 ‘no’s a day, because we had to get them to say no 3 times.”
During his first month at University, James recalls being uncertain about his decision to study, when he’d rather be running his own business. On the advice on his cousin, started to get involved in extracurriculars, including an international student organisation that supported him through a conference in Sweden followed by 9 weeks in the Philippines, Colombia and South-America. It’s these extracurricular activities that James feels gave him the best opportunities at university: “actually, it was all of things I did outside of my degree that complimented what I was doing that gave me a real, rounded experience.”
Founding Student Beans
By the time James left University, he already had the idea for Student Beans. “I love deals” he says, so much so that when he told his friends about his idea, many described it as, “you in a business”.
“It’s surreal that we founded this business together and now there is a team of people working full time as a result.”
James co-founded Student Beans with his brother, who would always joke that James’s ideas were rubbish, but this time he was fully invested. “It is amazing” says James, “and it’s surreal that we founded this business together and now there is a team of people working full time as a result.”
Student Beans launched in 2005 and grew to over 30 full time employees by the time James left left day to day in October 2015.
During his time with Student Beans, James made some valuable connections with strangers that would spark ideas for what would later become Causr…
“A few years ago I was sitting on the underground and a guy came to sit next to me with a CV in his hand. I turned to him and asked if he was looking for a job, and he said yes… I said well look it’s a bit random, but I am the founder [of Student Beans] and I am getting off at the next stop, but if you want to give me your CV, if there’s an opportunity I will give you a call. So he gives me his CV and it’s one of the best CV’s I’ve seen…”
James’s co-founder, Michael, interviewed the guy and they gave him a job.
James is full of stories like this, where he meets random people and makes fantastic connections. This is something he attributes to his own confidence, and finding the right situation to talk to a stranger…
Permission and confidence
Permission and confidence are the 2 pillars James talks about in connecting strangers, and these pillars are the foundation for his latest venture, Causr…
“If you go to an event, or you’re part of a group, in theory, you have got the permission to talk to everyone… but a lot of people still won’t speak or say something because they don’t have the confidence to do it.”
“I deeply believe in the opportunity that Causr will bring in terms of facilitating and breaking the ice and making these kind of connections easy.”
To validate his idea, and get feedback, James has been giving himself permission to talk to strangers and so far, he hasn’t had a bad result… In fact on the train, on his way to the Simpleweb office on the day that I speak to him, James had plucked up the courage to speak to the person sitting next to him…
“I wasn’t spying…” says James, “but I saw a bit of code on his screen and I thought he must be someone interesting to talk to.” Afraid that it might be awkward to strike up a conversation and fall flat, and still have to sit next to the man for the entire journey, James waited until there was only around 10 minutes left of the journey before asking the man what he was up to.
“He told me he was a developer and I told him I’m doing a startup and I am going to Bristol to meet [Simpleweb]. Then he just opened up and started telling me about his business ideas and gave me his card. He’s been in touch already and signed up for the app.”
So if James can create these conversations himself, why Causr? “I’m challenging myself at the moment to have those types of conversations, but I still find it difficult. People are often surprised when I say that, because I am this confident and outgoing person. But if I feel like that, I know lots of other people feel the same. That’s one of the reasons why I deeply believe in the opportunity that Causr will bring in terms of facilitating and breaking the ice and making these kind of connections easy.”
As someone who’s already founded one successful startup, and who’s not struggling for investor interest with his new venture, I asked James what he thinks it takes to be a successful entrepreneur…
“I believe in karma, business karma, when you put things out, they do come back”
“There was a great video by Vishen Lakhiani Founder of Mindvalley. He said you’ve got ‘means goals’ and ‘end goals’. The means goals are the things like ‘I want this amount of salary’ or ‘I want this house’, ‘I want this car’ etc. They’re very tangible things. Then there are the end goals and things that you want to achieve in your life, like the experiences that you want to have what you want to contribute. Research has shown that it is actually the experiences you have and what you want to contribute, trump those tangible things you want.” You can watch the talk for yourself at mindvalley.com.
“I don’t believe in luck” says James. “I believe in the harder you work the luckier you get… I believe in karma, business karma, when you put things out, they do come back.”
You can sign up for the Causr beta at causr.co and watch this space to find out about new releases.