James Eder is Founder of The Beans Group, a company which has undergone exponential growth since its inception as studentbeans.com in 2005. James started the company at the age of just 22 whilst in his last year at University and Student Beans is now officially the nation’s top website for 16-24s. James sits on the board and is non-executive director for a number of youth, tech and education based companies and in the last two years has founded two new companies Causr and FriendlyFriday. James is invited regularly to speak on the global stage on subjects including marketing, entrepreneurship and establishing a successful brand. Here’s everything you need to know about his journey to date…
Getting to Know James
Have you ever had a 9 – 5 job?
No, not one since I graduated. I took a year out before starting university where I did telesales for Gala Bingo, which was 8 hours a day and totally thickened my skin. I was doing 250 phone calls a day and built incredible resilience as we were trained to only hang up once the customer had said ‘no’ 3 times. I leant that ‘no’ doesn’t always mean ‘no’; it is possible to convert a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. It’s an incredible learning curve to hear up to 800 ‘no’s every day for 6 weeks straight and still have the strength to plough on through. Having belief in yourself, conviction and the ability to get excited about something is a good foundation to build any businesses on.
What inspired your entrepreneurial journey?
A scheme called ‘Young Enterprise’, which I got involved with when I was 17. I created a web directory service with my teammates, who I’m still in touch with and are now doing great things as the Founder of Just Park and the Head of Global Social at Apple.At University I then became widely recognised for my extra curricular activities; I was a brand representative for Yellow Pages alongside my studies, which won me the title of ‘the guy with the yellow pen’. I was also responsible for flooding our summer ball with Starbucks since I was responsible for sponsorship. Experiences like this must be leveraged to help you take the next step.
Are your family particularly entrepreneurial?
Yes, my grandparents use to own a hat shop in Malta. My grandfather came to England to buy the hats and then sell them in Malta. One day he actually went back to Malta having bought dresses instead of hats. My Grandma asked “why did you do that? We have a hat shop!” Of course, the dresses sold more quickly than the hats. My Grandma then declared “You didn’t buy enough dresses!”. Not before long they then moved to England and set up four high end maternity wear stores. I grew up with these kind of conversations around the dinner table. My Dad was a barrister and my Mum set up her own alternative medicine practice, which accentuated both the self employed environment and work ethic ingrained and instilled in me as a child.
What was the first step you took to get Student Beans off the ground?
I created a 120 page business proposal as coursework for one of my university modules. I then took this plan to the bank to set up a business account. As soon as we discovered students were hot on discounts we wanted to create a brand that embodied this concept. Firstly, we wanted to help students save money. Secondly, we wanted to help businesses promote to university students. Thirdly, we wanted to make money to qualify as a business. It was win, win, win. We chose a name and designed a logo. When you create your logo, something incredibly unifying happens and you gain both confidence and momentum.
We then went knocking door to door to get the attention of local businesses, despite having only a landing page at the time. When we started knocking on doors, we started in an area we didn’t feel was very important, so that if it went wrong we didn’t have much to lose. We wanted to practice the pitch. Typically I would head to a breakfast conference at 6am and be back on campus at 8am to do flyering. Throughout the day I would promote it through lectures and arrange business meetings. By 11pm I’d still be going as this was prime time to speak to restaurant managers face to face. I even went knocking on the doors of local business during the spare time in my graduation ceremony. After graduating, I got into a routine where I would parachute into a city and engage with as many people and businesses as possible.
In today’s digital age you don’t even need a product to get feedback. Put it out there and see what comes back, even if it is just a landing page. Get people to sign up to test whether your audience is interested. There is now an endless array of free tools available to you today for this kind of research. If it gets to the point where you feel you are ready to put your product out there, you are probably too late.
“I even went knocking on the doors of local business during the spare time in my graduation ceremony. After graduating, I got into a routine where I would parachute into a city and engage with as many people and businesses as possible.”
How did you grow Student Beans?
By maintaining clear, focused and deliverable goals. The business has moved on now to consist of three main strands under the ‘The Beans Group’ company. Student Beans is the first strand, which does online deals and promotions for students. We work with brands including Topshop and Ted Baker so students can access deals through their website. We’ve become a lot more technical as we now verify students online. Student Beans has evolved as a marketing business to become a scalable technology available in over 20 countries around the world. The second strand of The Beans Group is called Hexjam, which produces fun and engaging content for the student audience. One of our most recent articles got liked on Facebook 150,000 times. The third third strand is called Voxburner which is all about conferences, events and helping brands understand the student audience.
What has been the hardest part of your journey over the past 10 years?
I hit a point when I was setting up The Beans Group where I had to shout for help. A big mistake for many entrepreneurs, including myself, is that they think they can do everything. You have to pass on responsibility to your team and allow them to do things you might potentially stop them from doing unless you take a step back. There’s a wonderful African proverb that says ‘if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’
“There’s a wonderful African proverb that says ‘if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ “
What’s your biggest personality flaw?
I’m very trusting. I want to believe the best in everyone and have a strong sense of optimism. As soon as I have a vision I put trust in someone to help and have full faith it will succeed, that we will do what we need to do and it will be great. Of course, it doesn’t always turn out that way and it is extremely frustrating when people let you down. I have very high expectations when it comes to trusting people and I’ve definitely been burnt by that. It’s also a challenge when it comes to bringing people on who are better than you, but if you stop yourself from doing so it can be very limiting.
What mentality have you adopted to get to where you are today?
I’ve adopted 3 key mindsets. First is my outlook. When I look at anything in the world, I see opportunity absolutely everywhere. Lots of people feel they don’t have permission to engage with others, but the more I do it the more I see happen. Second is my confidence. A lot of people stop themselves from asking questions because they are unsure of themselves. You should grow your confidence, learn how to put yourself out there and expand your horizons. Third is taking action. Lots of people have ideas but fail to take action because they’re afraid. You must learn how to drive forward fearlessly.
“When I look at anything in the world, I see opportunity absolutely everywhere.”
I also truly believe in the iceberg analogy of success. Everyone sees the top of the iceberg which is fuelled by the media’s portrayal of overnight success. People rarely see the bottom of the iceberg, the part that success is built upon: the rejections, the challenges and the heartache. People don’t appreciate how incredibly hard it is to achieve success; I generally wouldn’t wish what I’ve had to go through upon anyone. I’ve made big and real sacrifices that have not been lighthearted including friends and time for myself.
What does success mean to you?
Enjoying life. So many people get caught up on achieving the perfect work life balance, yet the reality is that we are now accessible 24/7. Why don’t you embrace the excitement of it all instead of trying to fine tune and control everything? The worst thing in the world is to envisage being in the hospital and see that flat line on the heart monitor because it means you’ve died. So even if you’re putting yourself in petrifying situations which are outside of your comfort zone, you have to do it because it gets your heart racing and that’s when you know you’re alive. I realised that the most incredible thing is to feel invigorated through the excitement of starting up, raising investment and growing my team. I don’t know about you but I want to feel alive and I want to feel my heart racing because of the crazy situations I put myself in – that’s what life’s all about.
“even if you’re putting yourself in petrifying situations which are outside of your comfort zone, you have to do it because it gets your heart racing and that’s when you know you’re alive.”
Rebel Wrap Up
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
To positively frame the outcome before it’s happened; to imagine the future as you would like it to be and then make it happen. I learnt this through a book called ‘The Naked Leader’ by David Taylor. A friend of mine bought me this in 2003 and it carries the very powerful message: imagine what you could do if you couldn’t fail. There are 3 related questions: who would you be, where would you go and what would you do?
“imagine what you could do if you couldn’t fail. There are 3 related questions: who would you be, where would you go and what would you do?”
If you could go back to any point in your life what would it be and what would you tell yourself?
I would go back to my first day at university and tell myself everything’s going to work out ok. If I could travel in time I would also travel to the future and come back to my current self today and say the same thing.