Tom Fryer is the founder of Write on Point, a social enterprise that’s working to increase access to university. They do this by providing students from under-represented backgrounds with UCAS personal statement feedback. This is all possible because they recruit postgraduate students to give feedback through a purpose-built online platform. After piloting in 2015/16 and doubling offer rates from top-universities, they expanded to support over 320 Year 13s with the help of 50 editors. Next year, they will be expanding their work to Oxfordshire, and have just received funding from the Oxford Hub to work with 200 local students!
What is your background?
I come from a family of teachers, so it’s no surprise that I’ve always been interested in education. Plus, I’ve been lucky enough to work in various roles across schools and universities. This included a university in Bangladesh, where I helped to redesign the admissions process.
Recognising that things need to change, and then backing yourself to have a (evidence-based and iterative) stab at changing it.
I’m a big fan of the idea that you need to do something before you know if it’s any good. When I first piloted Write on Point, there were plenty of parts that didn’t work very well. But, because I’d given it a go, I had a tonne of data and experiences to know how to improve.
One rule I live by is: if you keep coming back to an idea and worrying if it’s good enough to develop, this is pretty damn good evidence that it’s worth giving a shot.
So what would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Be clear why you’re doing it – it can be unstructured and tough, so you want to be clear what your motivation is.
Identify the data that will help you to develop – this is key to ensuring that you notice problems, test ideas and increase your impact.
Don’t take yourself too seriously – you need to promote your enterprise, whilst constantly making mistakes and improvements. I found that the only way to square these two things was to get better at laughing at myself!
The opportunity to bring about the changes in the world that I want to see. I struggle to put into words how much of a privilege and motivation this is.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
This year we worked with an amazing student society called The 93% Club, who do some great work on university access and helping students adjust to university. At our very first event with them, I remember pinching myself as 30 editors were all typing away on our platform – we’d never achieved anything on that scale before.
I’ve made lots of mistakes, from the structure of the feedback forms to the training of editors. But mistakes aren’t a bad thing, they’re times when you have the chance to develop and improve. The key thing is to always have the data to tell you why you made the mistake, and in an ideal world you’d also have some data that suggests whether an alternative would be more effective.
I won a couple of small grants from O2 Think Big and SOAS Ignite Fund. Otherwise, I’m generating funding through selling the service to schools, colleges and universities. Recently, I was also lucky to win a more substantial grant from the Oxford Hub. This is really exciting, as it will enable 200 students in Oxfordshire to use our service. Watch this space!
If a new entrepreneur or startup can to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I’d send them something on Theory of Change – this is basically a way to map out how the ‘stuff you do’ fits with ‘what you want to achieve’. It’s a great way to make sure that evaluation and impact measurement is at the heart of your enterprise.
Also, if you’re based in Oxford I’d definitely point people towards the Oxford Hub. They’ve got a tonne of experience with social enterprises, and are always happy to help.
One last thought – check out the resources that Teach First have developed for social enterprises.
Any last words of advice?
There’s a TED talk called ‘Fake it until you make it’. I’m glad that I overcame my aversion to the slight cheesiness of the title – there’s something really quite powerful in it. Check it out and then give your idea a go.