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Rajeeb Dey, Founder of Enternships talks to TheEmployable…

I think if anyone can be called an ‘Entrepreneur’ it’s Rajeeb Dey. At just 25, Rajeeb is an inspiration
 to young Entrepreneurs. Taking a look at his accolades and achievements, it’s amazing to think he has been able to squeeze it all in!  

When Rajeeb was just 17 he Founded & became chair of the English Secondary Students’ Association, a student run organisation formed to empower secondary level students to have a voice on education issues.

Rajeeb graduated with First Class Honours in June 2008 from Jesus College, University of Oxford in Economics & Management. During his time at University he was the longest serving President of Oxford Entrepreneurs, the student society for entrepreneurs, and also President of the Oxford Majlis Asian Society.

Rajeeb is also, and it is a big also, the Founder/CEO of Enternships.com. Enternships provides ambitious and dynamic students and graduates with an opportunity to learn about business and enterprise through work placements in entrepreneurial and innovative environments, from start-ups to global venture funds around the world.

Rajeeb received the 02 X Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2009 for his work on Enternships and has also won accolades via Channel 4, Goldman Sachs, and other prestigious organisations. Rajeeb is a Trustee of UnLtd – the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs and an Advisor and Ambassador to a number of other high profile organisations in the UK.

Rajeeb has featured in a large number of national and international magazines and newspapers and he is often called upon for business opinion and quoted in the national media…..So its with real pleasure that we say; Hi Rajeeb, Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Wow, that’s some CV!

How do you fit it all in?

I am quite good with multitasking and time management; I love to keep myself busy and get involved with a whole range of activity. The most important this is that I love what I do so none of it feels like ‘work’ and thus there isn’t the concept of “work-life balance” in my case!

So, tell us about Enternships, whats it for and how does it work?
Enternships.com is a portal which connects students and graduates to internships and full-time work placements in start-ups and SMEs around the world. Businesses can set up a profile and start posting their vacancies and candidates can apply directly via our site (with an application management system built in for businesses to manage the recruitment system all in one place.)

What inspired you to start this business and how did you develop the idea in the first place?
Whilst at University I was the President of Oxford Entrepreneurs – the society for student entrepreneurs at the University of Oxford. The society is one of the largest networks of student entrepreneurs in Europe and I found myself being frequently asked to promote job roles to our members from start-ups and small businesses.

What I realised was that whilst the blue-chip corporations had the time, brand awareness and HR resources to come on to campus and recruit via the ‘milkround’ the startup and SME community was completely disconnected from campus talent. At the same time I thought to myself that whilst an aspiring banker, lawyer and accountant can do an internship – what can an aspiring entrepreneur do? The best way to learn about business other than setting one up yourself is to work in a startup/small company to learn the ropes. Thus I decided to create a new word – an ‘enternship’ to denote ‘entrepreneurial’ internships within small companies.

The site started off as a simple listing site for student at Oxford and it wasn’t my intention to necessarily work on it as a standalone business. However when I graduated in 2008 into the graduate unemployment crisis it became clear that there was a market gap and opportunity for Enternships to become the global jobs community for start-ups and SMEs and help bridge the gap between the universities and SMEs.

What made this business stand out and be different?

What makes us stand out? Well the brand and name Enternships is very important. Whilst we know of ‘internships’ I have created a new word – an Enternship to signify entrepreneurial work placements (“entrepreneurial internships”), a word which I hope over time will make its way into the dictionary!

At University, was it then that you decided being an Entrepreneur would be the career path you took or had you planned this for awhile?

Looking back I’ve never been one to accept the status quo and always like to look at alternative ways of tackling problems – something most entrepreneurs do. My parents tell me that I’ve always been a bit stubborn and like doing things my own way – again a classic entrepreneurial trait! The best thing about business and entrepreneurship is the freedom it gives you to shape your own path and satisfaction from seeing something which you have started benefit others.

My entrepreneurial endeavours started earlier than that. At the age of 17, I became the Founder & Chairman of the English Secondary Students’ Association (ESSA) – www.studentvoice.co.uk – the first national student run organisation empowering secondary school students, giving them a voice in education. At the time I didn’t realise I was being ‘entrepreneurial’ – I had spotted a need and decided to do something about it.  After my experiences of launching ESSA/Studentvoice, I realised that doing my own thing was far better than working for someone else. I got a real kick out of seeing my idea turn into a fully fledged organisation working with thousands of students across the country and employing full-time staff and there has been no turning back ever since!

How did you initially fund your business and what was the process like? Did you get any local government support through funding schemes?

I self-funded it using some savings and calling in favours. I kept costs to an absolute minimum; worked from home, and spent very little money to date. My main expenses were monthly hosting costs and travel into central London for meetings and so I definitely mastered the art of being frugal! I didn’t get any grants for Enternships (although I did get a grant from UnLtd – the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs when launching my first venture – ESSA).

Bit of an interview question, but, What challenges did you face on your journey in setting up Enternships and HOW did you overcome these challenges?

The main issue I faced was that I didn’t have a technical co-founder when I launched and thus the development work was all outsourced. This brought a number of challenges with it and delays to launching the site. It did however force me to focus on finding a talented developer and I’m pleased to say Mike Laming joined the team full-time in February this year who subsequently helped to redevelop the Enternships.com portal.

The other challenge we faced (and is an ongoing issue) is with SEO. As “enternships” is a made up word it’s
 not what users naturally search for. The vision long-term is for it to become a word in its own right however for the time being we need to invest in firstly developing awareness of our site and ensuring that our site becomes optimised against searches for ‘internships’.

What are the most crucial things you have done to grow Enternships as a commercial business?

The most important thing has been networking and developing partnerships with organisations who share our vision and want to see Enternships succeed eg with business bodies, university enterprise societies etc. Everything I have achieved to date (with practically no money) has been due to the goodwill and support of the people around me.

How is Social Media / Networking changing your business and business as a whole?

Right now all our customers have come through recommendations. I haven’t spent any money on marketing the site per se and we focus on using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to spread the word. We have also been fortunate to have received some great coverage in the media from publications across the globe both in print, online, TV and radio and this has resulted in over 3000 businesses already registering on our site and offering ‘enternships’. It is essential that businesses embrace free social media marketing tools in order to stay competitive and as a source of new business.

What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today in this tough economic market?

Firstly I think it’s important to realise that being an entrepreneur is a long and hard journey with numerous
 ups and downs. The key thing is to stick at it. The recession provides lots of opportunities to spot broken business models and new ways of tackling existing problems. Tenacity is a virtue and if you have conviction
in your idea and belief in yourself just keep at it. It is also important to have a think about what success really means to you – people have different aims and objectives in life and you shouldn’t measure your success against other people but against where you were when you started, where you are now and where you hope to be. Success doesn’t happen overnight and the entrepreneurs who can weather the downturn are the ones who will emerge the strongest in the long-run. Ultimately some of the best businesses have historically been started in an economic downturn so just go for it!

The other two bits of advice are around the importance of being ‘remarkable’ and developing a strong network around you. Marketing guru Seth Godin talks about the need to be ‘remark-able’ – ie for people to talk about you. I have tried to do this by creating a new word – an ‘enternship’ – which on the surface may appear to be a typo but hopefully acts as a starting point for a conversation. I feel that it also helps attract interest in the media as you’re trying to do something slightly different. Given how much ‘noise’ there is out there think about how you will stand out from the crowd – whether that be through a superior product offering or through the marketing/branding of your product/service.

Finally on the point of networking. I started developing my network from the age of 17 and work hard to nurture it. Networking isn’t just about accumulating masses of business cards and LinkedIn contacts but about adding value to those around you. Whenever I meet someone I think about who I can introduce them to which could lead to mutual benefit. This not only helps the two people but also helps keep your network active. This has become second nature to me and in turn has led to numerous opportunities coming my way and people helping me with Enternships. Whilst to many ‘networking’ may seem a dirty word, in reality, developing and maintaining a network is very important and definitely pays dividends in business!

What would be the first thing you would do, with all the knowledge and experience you now have, if you were starting a startup today?

Find a technical co-founder from the outset. I have struggled enormously with numerous technical issues and trying to balance the product development with business development on your own is extremely tricky (especially if you don’t have a technical background yourself). I would definitely have spent time to find someone to work with me from the start to focus on developing the platform and share the load!

We thank Rajeeb for his time and wish him all the very best for the future…

 

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