Once upon a time, dropping out of university or college was frowned upon. The view was that if you stayed on, got a good degree, you would get a good job. However as thousands of graduates will currently attest to, this is not automatically the case any more. Many of the most successful businesses we know today were founded by people who did not complete their degrees , but who instead had an innovative idea and vision and took the risk of becoming entrepreneurs.
TheEmployable were pleased this week to be able to speak with one former University of Leicester student who has done just that. Suleman Sacranie left his Chemistry degree behind to set up 99pshopper – an online food and drink store with customers across the EU. We asked Suleman some questions about his business, advice he has for prospective entrepreneurs and of course his plans for the future.
So, Suleman, when exactly did you decide that entrepreneurship was for you and who or what were the main influences in you deciding to go down this road?
I think being in business has run in the family for many years, and there is a long history of the family being in the Food and Drinks market. My father has a great deal of experience in the market and he together with some of my uncles have been in the industry for some time. Clearly they have done things the traditional way starting from a small shop and I wanted to do add a modern influence to this, which led me to the internet.
In the last couple of years, you have achieved a lot of deserved recognition for your company , 99pshopper. Can you tell us a bit about it – how did you first come up with the idea?
I wanted to deliver to customers the ability to shop from their PC’s at home, and have the ability to get items delivered to their door. 99pshopper was really the start to that. Whilst this has allowed me to learn a lot more about running my own business, I found that a number of large orders were coming from independent retailers who liked our prices and the fact that goods could be delivered to their door without going to the Cash and Carry. It also confirmed that people were always on the look-out for deals and so if the price was right, we would always get buyers. 99pShopper has been the start but as you know we have also started 99p Wholesaler which has been an offering to these higher volume customers.
What were the most difficult challenges you faced when you were starting up?
As in any start-up, things are always tough and even as we grow we always face new challenges. I would
say that in the early days the hardest part was to convince someone we had a good offering and to secure investment. We have been lucky in that not only did we find investment but it came from investors that also brought their years of experience which has helped to us to avoid many pitfalls along the way. Even today though you often find that something unexpected happens and you have to deal with each issue which then in turn strengthens the business as you improve you offering. I still don’t think we have the solution we have is 100% so I am always looking to improve it and introduce new and innovative ideas. The Challenge for businesses is to continue to do this whilst growing the business day to day, introducing new products, better efficiency, cheaper operating costs and better service. These are issues I am sure are faced by all business in this environment.
And when did you have the idea for your most recent company, 99pwholesaler ? Was this always a part of the long term plan or a new initiative boosted by the success of 99pshopper?
As I said we started to experience larger orders and so the idea really came from there. So it was really a new initiative that we agreed with our investors who also wanted to see greater volumes and throughput. The margins in the Wholesale business are tight so it is important to ensure that volumes are high. Even now we are working on the next two phases of 99pWholesaler and we shall be re-branding the site to introduce some innovative ideas that have not been introduced to this industry.
Despite these difficult economic times, many people are currently creating their own opportunities and businesses. What advice would you give someone who right now might be considering doing just that?
I would say, do your research well and ensure that whatever your offering, make sure you have buyers and you can sell your Product and Service. At the end of the day it is all about Sales. If you can get Sales you can fix all the rest. I don’t just mean go and ask people will they buy, get them to buy, even if it is letters of intent etc if you can. Approach big and small players and confirm there is a market for your offering. When I started 99pShopper I had already tested that if I could offer goods at an attractive price and that people would buy, especially independent retailers looking for deals.
Do you feel that everybody has it in them to become an entrepreneur or do you feel that only certain people are cut out for it ?
I have met some great people along my short journey to date, and of course I have a long road ahead, but I
have learned from my investors that everyone , and I mean everyone, has a Genius in them. The trick is to find that within yourself and then have the courage to go make it happen. It is true that there are what I call “Business naturals” who have tapped into their Genius streaks from the time they were born, but I believe we all have it and I would encourage everyone to find theirs.
We’re not going to ask you about all the recent press speculation about acquisitions and takeovers – exciting though it sounds!, but we do want to know , what is next for you? Do you have some other business ideas in the pipeline or more ideas for the existing businesses?
Again, I have found out that all business is ultimately about the People. If you have good people, your business is substantially more likely to succeed. I have some investors who have believed in me and they are always encouraging me to look at the bigger picture and they would like me to get involved in a number of projects they are looking at, some industry related, some completely new to me. I am up for that Challenge, but want to ensure that I make success of my current business. Of course if the right deal is presented, I would exit and do the next one, after all that is Business. At this stage I am focussed on making a success of the new ideas into the current business and not letting any external rumours or speculation deter me from my day to day job. Working with some experienced guys has shown me how to keep my feet firmly on the ground.
Finally Suleman, we would like to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. We have been inspired by all we have heard and read about you and we know that TheEmployable community will feel exactly the same. You truly are an inspiration.
Thank you very much for inviting me. I would encourage everyone to go out there to go and find the Genius in them.
Thank you Suleman for such an inspirational quote to end on – “ Go out there and find the Genius in you…..”
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