Nicholas Shekerdemian studies Chinese at Wadham College, and is a Co-Founder of Headstart App, a revolutionary graduate recruitment platform, that seeks to create a more efficient graduate recruitment process with just a single application form. Headstart analyses a student’s entire ‘fingerprint’, rather than just what they can demonstrate on paper, and in doing so ensures that every student is recommended the job that they are most suited to. It takes into consideration interests, personality, skill suitability and demographic data, as well as traditional recruitment criteria such as qualifications and work experience. Before Headstart, Nicholas founded Teaching by the Top, an online education company providing English tuition and University Application consulting to Chinese students.
What is your background? Why are you doing this?
As a student, I am very passionate about improving the graduate recruitment process for my peers. It is very stressful and time-consuming, and falls at a time when we should be concentrating on finals, rather than obsessing over application forms to multiple companies. I also feel very strongly that diversity in the workplace is vital, and as such I want to create a platform which can help create a diverse workforce, both in the UK, and eventually on a global scale. Headstart has the potential to make this step.
To me, entrepreneurship is innovation which either adds value, or solves a pain-point for an individual or a company.
It wasn’t an active decision so much as something that just happened. For as long as I can remember I have always spotted gaps in the market and seen opportunities to add value. The difference is that when I was younger I didn’t have the means to take ideas to the next stage, and I wasn’t mature enough to think about how to transform an opportunity into an actual business that can monetise and solve pain-points in practice. I think I have my parents to thank for being able to spot opportunities in every situation I am in, as they have always encouraged me to think proactively and be goal-driven.
So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
1. Organisation – you will have a lot on your plate that you need to balance.
2. Communication – if you can’t express what your startup does and why it is going to be a success to people that don’t understand your business, it will be very hard to raise funding or gain traction. And if you can’t effectively communicate with your team, expansion will be very difficult.
3. Drive – you need to be able to get out of bed every day and work long hours, through both highs and lows, and this takes an enormous amount of drive.
Interestingly, that spells OCD – I think you need a bit of OCD to be a successful entrepreneur too.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The excitement of waking up every day, knowing that something new is going to happen. That isn’t to say that the new things are always good – but at least day to day activities are exciting. There is a lot of problem solving to be done, and a lot of variety in a day.
Marc Benioff, CEO and Founder of Salesforce. He created one of the worlds most useful and innovative software platforms, which, in itself is hugely inspirational. But he didn’t just stop there. He actively campaigns for many great causes, such as LGBTQ rights, and he pioneered the 1/1/1 model of corporate philanthropy, a model which has the potential to make a huge difference in the world. Off the back of this, Salesforce have given over $115m in grants, and its employees have done 1.3m hours of community service. This kind of corporate culture and philanthropy is something I hope to be able to emulate one day.
I would love to hear more about how he managed to acquire so many customers so quickly, and about his journey from conception to IPO, which only took 5 years! If we had any spare time I’d love to ask him his thoughts on our product, and whether or not he had any advice for us specifically relating to Headstart.
I was sitting in a bar in Shanghai with 2 school friends, and I checked my phone to see that a blog post I had written on Chinese Social Media Site Weibo had gone viral, with nearly 40,000 views. This was actually when I was working on my first startup, Teaching by the Top, and was certainly something that made me feel happy with all the work I had put into setting up a business in China.
My biggest mistake was outsourcing initial App development to a company called PHNX in Beijing, without fully understanding the process of developing an App myself, and without fully assessing the competence of the developer who claimed to be able to make the App. I would strongly urge anyone who wants to outsource, to fully understand what they are paying for, before making that decision. References and proof of previous successes are key.
Oxford is a great place to be an entrepreneur for several reasons. The network that surrounds us is incredible. The power of having such talented and driven individuals around you is enormous, and this is something that you don’t get in such concentration elsewhere.
Having said this, running a tech startup in Oxford, or indeed in England as a whole, is very difficult in comparison to in the US. The whole mentality in the UK does not encourage innovation. As a whole we criticise failure and are confined within the system that we have created, and this reflects in the level and quantity of investments made in early stage startups. There is no push to take risks, and thus it is tough for early stage startups to get off the ground.
Oxford Entrepreneurs is a fantastic society for students to get information and attend events. Other than this, the Oxford Launchpad at Said Business School is a good co-working space for meeting people.
Networking is key. You can have an average idea, and be far from the most talented entrepreneur in the world, but still be enormously successful if you have a good network of people surrounding you. Never burn bridges – everyone can be helpful in some way, you just may not know it yet.
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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