Jeremy Parsons is a programmer turned career marketer and CEO of Magic Subscriptions. He cofounded Magic Subscriptions with CTO Ronnie to offer an alternative to the eCommerce status quo, one that puts relationships and humanity first. Their mission is to create a world where businesses and customers are connected in meaningful ways, and where the commercial transaction is only one part of the story.
The company has been self-funded to this point. Ronnie and Jeremy are both startup veterans with prior exits. They form the core team, with another eight regular part-time associates (skilled developers) who assist with customer projects and major developments. Jeremy says that up until now Magic Subscriptions has been in “semi stealth mode,” not hiding, not trying to be found. He returned to the Oxford ecosystem late last year on a mission to grow a world-changing business.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
In one way I’m that stereotype, the geek who started selling software at school. Only I didn’t follow through with entrepreneurship until much later, after building a corporate career.
What made me turn back to entrepreneurship? For as long as I can remember I’ve been helping people with their side hustles for the fun of it. The penny dropped that I didn’t have to stick with a story written by my bosses; I could choose my own adventure. And here I am.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
To my mind, the key entrepreneurial skill is to find what you need to get where you want. An entrepreneur is just someone who intentionally develops that muscle to build a business or a social enterprise that’s bigger than their own vision.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
I have a simple test: Will a stranger give me money based on my story?
When we found customers eager to buy into our story of a world where we reject old school manipulative ecommerce, we knew it was worth turning our ideas into a SaaS (Software as a Service).
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
If you’re stepping up from wantrepreneur you should develop:
1. Resilience – If you’re an agent of change you’re going to meet a whole lot of “no”
2. Agility – It’s rare you can see more than two steps ahead, so the entrepreneur moves fast, learns fast and adapts fast
3. Courage – Any meaningful innovation challenges common sense, and it takes true courage to go against the flow
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
I love knowing that every day is a day I can learn something new by engaging with people, whether they’re prospective customers, partners, team members, advisors or investors.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
The writer Seth Godin is someone who inspires me every day. Few individuals have changed the expectations for marketing as Seth has, and even fewer have been relentlessly encouraging and generous with their insight to a wider community. If he’s not someone you know, start by Googling his Startup School on Earwolf.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
Given 5 minutes with Seth, I would ask him to uncover every poor assumption, every opinion masquerading as fact, every excuse for shipping that’s just coming out of fear. You have to trust someone a lot to ask them to go for your weak spot. When you do, the opportunity to grow and learn is outsize.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
I’ve never got past the thrill of the pitch that leads to a “yes.”
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
My first vacation work was with a startup, where I learned a lesson about the importance of keeping teams small and tightly focused. My most painful mistakes in entrepreneurship have generally involved sticking with a team-member too long after it was clear things weren’t working out. In Magic Subscriptions we often say, “You can’t work with us unless you’ve worked with us.” We want to get to know people in the context of small projects, then see what works, what breaks, what develops. So I invest a lot of my time building relationships in the context of small but meaningful projects.
How have you funded your ideas?
With a lot of experience in M&A, my first projects (apart from my schoolday side-hustle) were all externally funded. The Lean Startup movement gave me another perspective, so now I have a bias to self-funding at least the stage of a project. We followed that approach with Magic Subscriptions, and Ronnie and I agreed that revenue was the only proof of concept that made sense to us. So we’ve built our own runway, but we have agreed we should raise a small round in 2023 when we don’t need the money, so we’re in good shape for when we want to go “pedal to the metal.”
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
We were motivated to create Magic Subscriptions by the the formation of Tinyseed, the first bootstrapper-friendly accelerator. We respect the individuals behind Tinyseed and their framework gave us a smart way to make lots of small decisions fast. We weren’t accepted (and, to be fair, at that stage all we really had was a sketch of an idea), but we were off the blocks and running, which is way more important.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
What’s great about Oxfordshire is a real sense of ambition. What’s less good is fragmentation: there are so many people in their own corners. That was surely a product of lockdown, and I want to shout out for Pitch @ The Pub, Startup Huddle, all that happens at Eagle Labs (where I work some of the time) and the amazing community at Perch Eco Business Centre (where I work when the weather suits the fairweather cyclist I am).
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Some years back I set up the world’s first popup startup centre, and had a lot of people coming to me every day. I always sent them (and often took them) to the same place: OUT OF THE BUILDING (excuse the yelling)! Getting out of your own head and into the lives of the people you hope will reward your project with money, time or attention is the hallmark of entrepreneurship. There’s no shame in being a Wantrepreneur, playing with ideas. But never confuse the two.
Secondly, we’re very fortunate in having OxLEP. Their practical support and willingness to help you connect is, in my experience, second to none.
Any last words of advice?
It’s so easy to find reasons to stall. It’s so comforting to think that, sooner or later, someone will pick you for their team.
The better alternative is, pick yourself. To quote Seth Godin, “The outcome is still in doubt, but it’s clear that waiting just doesn’t pay.”
If you want to make an impact, it’s time to *start*.
EnSpire Oxford is a University of Oxford initiative to help connect people to the entrepreneurship resources they need, and to promote entrepreneurship across Oxfordshire.
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