Tom left uni, took one look at the job market, and decided to do something about it. Open Society is a network that provides innovative opportunities for young people to get involved in exciting projects. Really proud to share his story on this site - Open Society is a fantastic initiative and one that Esc is really keen to support. Best of luck.
I have co-founded Open Society, and am now dedicating myself to running it full-time. Open Society is a network of project teams, comprising 18-25 year olds, that collaborate to create and deliver independent projects.
In a time when jobs and even work experience can be hard to find, we give young people the chance to develop their skills and experience first-hand, by working together on their own projects. If someone has a project they want to bring to life, we can provide them with a project team to help them to do so. If someone wants to gain specific skills and experience, we can place them in an existing project team.
There are two of us working full-time, so you certainly have to be flexible: I update the blog and write copy for the website; I maintain business relationships and look to build new ones with relevant groups; I manage our project teams and consider project proposals.
And when all that's done, I get a chance to do what we love: working on our own independent projects. These come in all shapes and sizes: the only thing that connects them is they're all implemented by our model of collaborative work and they're all something that wouldn't be happening if we weren't doing them.
I worked in a creative communications agency in Notting Hill as an account handler and copy-writer. I was doing this for six months and learnt a great deal. It was a very good place to work; relaxed, nice people, a variety of different tasks.
But with Open Society on my mind, I wasn't able to stay there for fear I would pass up a one-time opportunity to build something of my own.
It's hard to say - running http://opensocietyuk.wordpress.com/" title="">Open Society isn't like, say, being a professional footballer or astronaut... it's not one of those 'when I grow up' kind of dreams.
I graduated into what was described as the 'most bleak year ever for graduates to start their careers', and this was reflected in my experiences and the experiences of those around me.
Excitement at the prospect of graduation turned to fear; plans and aspirations became damage limitation - that's not what it's supposed to be as you look ahead to the rest of your working life!
I've always been the type of person that loves do to a number of different things and struggles to see the merit of just one career path, and as we began to research Open Society and spread the idea, we found a lot of people were the same. The notion of being able to help thousands of young people turn their problems of unemployment and inactivity into an opportunity to follow their ideas and ambitions became a real dream around six months, and has grown stronger on a daily basis.
I'm searching for a 'Eureka' moment here... Hearing successful and experienced business people praise your idea is very nice, hosting our first project meetings and seeing people actively engage with projects was great - but none of these are moments of truth.
Because Open Society's growth has been so organic, there hasn't been a 'make or break' moment, per se. We haven't poured lots of money into it, we haven't risked it all - we're young and now is the time that we can afford to take these risks.
I feel that probably our most important moment so far has been getting great coverage in the national press, as that has provided all sorts of great opportunities and partnerships. It also helps your idea feel validated, that more than just you and the other founders are getting it!
It's been pretty organic and without too rigid a structure. Our initial business plans and time-line predictions became redundant pretty quickly - I'm sure most business start-ups would say the same. We felt that it was important to maintain our day jobs (which were all pretty great) to help develop our experience and to give us something to fall back on.
Now that Open Society is taking off, two of the three founders have left their jobs to focus on it full-time. It was hard-work to have a full-time job and start your own enterprise, but I think it helped to relax us and not put too much pressure on our idea. We made sure we were flexible enough to deal with opportunities as they arose, but that we didn't have all of our eggs in one basket.
Open Society has required very little funding, our main investment by far has been our time - this we're happy to give, because we enjoy it. We taught ourselves how to build a website, and though it is not jaw-droppingly slick and interactive, it serves its purpose for now well enough.
For a while we had an office, which was a live-in shop, but this fell through, so we are currently without an office. Doing business today you will find many people work from home, and that having an office is of decreasing importance in many industries - so many companies treat their websites as virtual offices.
Clearly, when starting up you need to be sensible with your money. We saved up a bit (not much mind!) whilst we were working, and are now spending frugally - documenting our costs and hoping to recoup these when we are able to take money out of our enterprise.
Hardest things: Uncertainty of starting on your own. Difficulty of getting people to understand an idea that is relatively new and progressive. The feeling that you're somehow falling behind people who have continued with their careers, as if it's some kind of race towards a designated finish line! The worry about money and where it's going to come from - you will find a lot of people who love your idea, when it's free!
Best things: Ultimately, my enjoyment comes from creating something out of nothing: the feeling that if you hadn't done this, it would not have happened. The fact that Open Society allows other young people to get that same feeling and create their own projects only multiplies the satisfaction for us.
'A great idea is often what you leave out'.
Any grand, exciting idea will always offer lots of possibilities and potential for branching out all over the place - it's very easy to get caught up, and eventually bogged down, in this.
Think very simply about what you're trying to do and how you're going to do it. Don't think what you 'could' do in the future, think about how you're going to get started and why people need your service.
Do you think Google when starting up said 'right, we're going to launch an internet browser, map the world by satellites and create a function that allows you to photographically travel across the streets of major cities internationally'? No, they said they were going to help people find websites on the internet.
If you really 100% know you want to start-up on your own, then do it, or risk forever wondering 'what if'. However, it's not easy and you need an unshaken, total confidence in your idea, otherwise you probably aren't doing the right thing. If you're having second thoughts, your clients and customers certainly will.
When at the very beginning of developing the idea, meeting with experienced contacts was very useful - this could be from someone as simple as a family friend experienced in business. Also talk to young start-ups who have recently been through the same experience - there seems to be this kind of 'young start-up' club, in which everyone is very friendly to each other and really happy to help out!
In terms of market research, scour the internet and make sure you know everything that's out there in the market you're entering - make yourself an expert. Social media is an excellent way to engage your customers/target market, and of course, it's free.