Startup story: Ben Jeffries, Influencer
Posted May 15th, 12:44
5 min read
Not many business people raise £200,000 in funding for their startup idea in the same year as going to university.
But that’s exactly what happened to 21-year-old Ben Jeffries, who started marketing business Influencer in 2014 when he was just 18. The business recently relaunched as an online platform that connects brands with social media celebrities, who they can work with to promote their products.
Not long after accepting a place at Bath University, Ben won Young Startup Talent 2016 and secured £50,000 of funding. He then decided to launch Influencer on Crowdcube, where they raised £152,000.
What made you want to be an entrepreneur and how did you get the idea for Influencer?
The idea for Influencer came when I was 16. I experimented with my first venture, a clothing brand called Breeze and it was at the time of running Breeze, that I realised the best advertising isn’t advertising. People don’t like ads at all and ads aren’t cool – that’s why over 15 million Brits use adblockers on their browsers.
I looked for creative solutions in order to drive sales. I created a student-focused Facebook page, which grew to almost 200,000 people and I advertised the products by blending them into the content on there. Then as another, I knew I couldn’t afford standard celebrity endorsements so I reached out to ‘micro-celebrities’, people who are still trusted and respected by a few, but not widely well-known e.g. a reserve team player from Chelsea Football Club called Jamal Blackman.
He had a loyal following and cost a fraction of the price per follower than big names, such as first team players. I could see the power of social media and micro influencers so I started to use more and more of them.
I noticed a pattern; the majority of micro-influencers I contacted would often ignore me and those that did reply didn’t know how to price themselves. When I reached out to marketing agencies to aid me, they’d require an unrealistic starting budget of £20,000.
I could see the potential in creating one of the first influencer marketing agencies, so I quit Breeze and set up Influencer.
How did you get the confidence to start a business before and while at university?
I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s about having the confidence to start. I’m very pro-active and don’t like to feel like I’m being unproductive so I like to have consistent challenges for myself.
In the early years of university, you have an incredible amount of free time so I’d rather spend my spare time working on something I enjoy and am passionate about than watching countless hours of shows on Netflix. I read an article in the first couple of weeks about whether an entrepreneur should go to university and that gave me the drive to complete my first year.
What money did you have to start the business/did you invest any yourself?
I started the company through self-funding by working for nine months on my gap year, after leaving school.
We also secured £50k worth of services from winning Young Start Up Talent, which included a contribution to legal, accounting and design fees. We also went through our first round of funding via Crowdcube, raising a total of £152,790 in return for 16.92% from 139 different investors.
I love the concept of crowdfunding as you’re able to get a wide variety of investors who all have a wealth of experience from different areas so can all contribute to the business in different ways. This could be support in terms of discussing launching in a new country, introducing you to potential brands or advice from one entrepreneur to another.
Why did you decide to put your university place on hold? Do you think you’ll go back?
I knew after a while that it would be impossible to balance both university work and Influencer so one would eventually give way. After raising the Crowdcube investment, I felt I had been given a real opportunity to accelerate Influencer and take it to the next level.
I thought if I carried on doing both and Influencer then failed, to give 139 people the explanation ‘Sorry I wasn’t fully committed, I was finishing off my university degree’ would be an inexcusable reason.
Balancing university and business must’ve been difficult – how did you manage the time? Did you struggle to give university the time it needed?
In the first few years of university, you do have a lot of free time so it wasn’t necessarily a struggle to balance both. The biggest struggle I have is to balance a healthy social life and my business, as I find it hard to switch off.
Do you think there’s enough support out there for young aspiring entrepreneurs? What more could be done?
I do feel there is enough support, but the biggest struggle is knowing how to get the support. I overcame that by networking. The more people you meet, the more you will honestly learn and the more doors that will open.
The rise of young business influencers on social media who share advice on how to achieve this support makes it easier for others to learn as well.
What do your family/friends think of the fact you run a business?
All my family is incredibly supportive. My dad has helped me considerably along the way as he also runs his own business and my mother is a mentor for the Prince’s Trust so is very supportive of young people in business.
Fortunately for me, one of my best friends left university nine months before me to focus on his own drone startup. We work alongside each other in the same space and bounce ideas off one another, which is really beneficial for both our businesses.
What advice would you give to students hoping to build their own business during/after university?
Take the leap and do it. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be a journey where you’ll learn a hell of a lot. Anyone ever at the crossroads, feel free to email me and we can set up a coffee – firstname.lastname@example.org ?