Beans means wins27 Mar 2014
James Eder, Founder and Head of New Business at The Beans Group talks to the NBA about how it became an award-winning digital business
In 2005, James Eder became one of the youngest entrepreneurs in the country when he founded website Student Beans aged 22, alongside his brother Michael. Over 8 years later Student Beans has gone from an idea to a nationally recognised brand, reaching 3 million students every month and adding an iPhone app and a cookbook to the portfolio. Now known as The Beans Group, which encompasses youth insights consultancy Voxburner, the company employs a team of over 40 people and was named Digital Business of the Year 2013 at the National Business Awards.
James met with Alex Evans, Programme Director of the National Business Awards, to talk about his award-winning business model, what he has learned as an entrepreneur, and the impact of his win on the business…
You were recently named one of the Future 50, graduated as a Marketing Academy Scholar and addressed the One Young World conference in South Africa on building a brand. How have you innovated to engage your target audience via web, social and mobile?
When we first started out, we wanted to create something of real value that could help students in their day to day lives and we’ve always maintained that focus. All our content is curated especially for the student market and the website covers three key areas: offers, entertaining articles and student-friendly jobs. We also create fun and useful campaigns that engage students at key points in the university year.
From August to October we run Freshersfields, The National Online Freshers’ Fair; from January to March we run Refreshers Wall, The Student Year Planner and during the final term of university we run Summer Made Easy.
Expanding our reach across social and mobile platforms has helped us be where our audience are. Social media is very important for a young audience - we have over 84,000 fans on Facebook and over 26,000 followers on Twitter. Knowledge of our user base showed that more and more traffic to the website was coming from mobile and this year we extended our brand via iPhone app Student Beans ID. The app acts as a digital student ID card that allows users to unlock and discover thousands of student discounts in their local area. We are currently working on an Android version, so watch this space!
What one piece of advice would you give to any UK startup designing a web marketing strategy?
Relate everything you do back to your purpose and put your audience first. For us it’s about helping young people make the most of their time at university and whether it’s online, via social or mobile we are always aiming for the same bigger picture.
What common mistakes do you think big businesses tend to make with their web marketing?
Whilst it can vary depending on the type of business there are common themes and mistakes that can happen. Brands can often take too long to execute an idea because of the amount of people it has to be run past. They could benefit from a more agile approach of taking something to market: trialling a prototype and then iterating improvements whilst getting real time feedback.
Big businesses also sometimes forget about providing added-value content. Starting with the user in mind and considering are they really making a difference and adding value or just delivering content for the sake of it? It also works the same way for channels and platforms - is your audience actually using Pinterest or Vine? What is the value of using these channels for your audience?
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself before launching your first business?
I believe life is about experiences and the journey. Each stage of the business on reflection are stepping stones to the next stage and had we not done certain things, we would not have necessarily got the learnings we needed to take the business further. One thing I would do is because I started the business at such a young age I wish I had been even more opportunistic, even more confident and even more direct with important people. The older I get the less I can use my age as an advantage - despite at the time thinking my age was a barrier, in hindsight it was a bigger benefit that I should have used more.
What growth milestones are most important to you and why?
Hiring someone for the first time was a milestone in itself and now we have a team of over 40 at new offices in Kentish Town. Reaching 3 million visits to the website every month was a recent achievement and the launch of our new iPhone app Student Beans ID which was created, built and executed completely in-house is something I’m very proud of.
What impact has your NBA win had on your business - and how do you plan to make the most of this recognition going forward?
Winning Digital Business of the Year showed us that the foundations we have worked hard to build are taking us in the right direction. The award was the result of us creating a portfolio of innovative digital campaigns that were new to the market and this year it’s about taking a proven model forward and scaling it up.
It is fantastic to be able to tell the brands and agencies that we work with about our achievement, and the credibility that it brings when talking to those we’ve not done business with before. For our business, digital isn’t just part of our strategy it’s our way of life, so to be recognised for this is a great achievement.
What unexpected benefit came out of the judging process or participation in the NBAs?
The NBAs were a great opportunity to reflect as a business where we've come from and to share with a wider audience where we are heading. The preparation and process of the awards forced us to review and include the whole business. For us the award was a real recognition of the hard work of the team, our partners, clients and supporters who have really helped us succeed in the last few years. Being shortlisted and attending the awards evening where we invited our clients and shared the success in itself were great opportunities to engage some of our most important stakeholders.
Overall the opportunity to enable our business to be recognised for our hard work and acknowledged was brilliant and continues to be a talking point as we continue to engage new clients and take the business to new heights. We are continuing to grow the team and recruit and winning Digital Business of the Year is something we can be proud of when talking to prospective employees.
James Eder is Founder of The Beans Group. You can follow him on Twitter @jameseder or find him on LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jameseder.