Tailored for success – my four tips for Young Start-up Talent
Online stylist Jeremy Luzinda scooped £50,000 worth of business support when he won the Young Start-up Talent (YST) Hampshire 2017.
As applications open for 2018’s hotly-anticipated contest, he shares his competition’s humble beginnings in Hartley Library and offers advice for future entrants. YST Photos by Jon Rigby.
The secret to confidence is in style
Gents want to feel like James Bond in Casino Royale. Cliche right? But it’s true!
I love ensembles that scream ‘confidence’ and ‘charm’ so I curate styles including the suit, accessories and shirt for the man who wants to look like James Bond but either doesn’t have the time or the know-how.
My name’s Jeremy Mutebi Luzinda, I’m 20 and an undergraduate here at the University of Southampton. Notice the emphasis on ‘Mutebi‘. I get a lot of questions about how I came up with the company name – well Mutebi is my middle name.
Now let’s get onto my YST experience and some nuggets that I’ve learnt along the way:
Lesson 1: Become an expert at apologising
I found out about YST while I was in Hartley Library writing an essay about the esteemed Deng Xiaoping and his 1978 Open Door Policy. A friend of mine walked passed me on his way out and told me about a woman on campus that was handing out leaflets for some “entrepreneur thing”.
I’d spent that whole week plastering posters of my startup everywhere from the men’s toilets to the steps of the staircases in the library, I figured it would be a great place for advertisement. In retrospect, I’ve learnt it wasn’t all that great because I had no metric to measure their effectiveness. The librarians tore them down within three hours, but for every one they tore down, I put up three more. I figured, what’s the worst that could happen?
Because of that resilience, the universe brought YST to me.
Lesson 2: You don’t need a perfect idea
I grabbed a coffee with Sharif Alvis, the founder behind Proofer, who has secured £150,000 of investment and is also an undergraduate here at the University of Southampton. I remember our conversation:
“Sharif, I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do next.”
His response shocked me. “That’s fine, it means you’re in a good place.”
Seldom do startups ever have all their plans finalised and for those that do, rarely do they stick to them. The truth is, startups evolve. The first version of your idea doesn’t have to sound big, it only needs to take over a small specific market and expand from there.
The next stage following my YST application was a Skype interview. I was just a kid with a passion and no real business savviness to me. In the interview, it was the passion I portrayed that carried me through to the next round. This lends nicely to my next lesson.
Lesson 3: Idea and then start up Vs Start up and then idea: “Derivative companies don’t excite people”
Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, said in the How to Start a Startup podcast with Stanford University and Y Combinator that “derivative companies don’t excite people”.
In my experience, it’s true. A founder who experiences the problem his startup solves is at an advantage to the one who copies another company and only improves on it marginally.
The next stage of YST was the One2Ones. It was a speed networking session with 12 or so investors. I had to give a five-minute pitch across a small table to each of them. I had an unrehearsed script I was going to present to the investors. In the final moments before the session started, I made an executive decision to scrap the script and let my vision speak on my behalf. ‘Jeremy Mutebi solved a problem I had encountered’ – I built the picture for a service around me and what I had experienced, that was my advantage and it worked! So, onto the next stage…
Are you still with me?
— YoungStartUpTalent (@YoungStartUpTal) September 15, 2017
Lesson 4: Read, read and read
There’s a quote that my primary school teachers used to throw around all the time.
“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”
I never truly understood its significance until the YST final.
The next stage was the pitch. I watched previous videos from the YST final on YouTube, looked at the winners’ pitches and drew a Venn diagram to find common trends amongst them. I noticed with YST that it wasn’t so much about scale but rather how planned and concrete the concept was. I studied the panel of investors, looking at the style of questions they asked. I also binge watched a bunch of episodes of Dragons’ Den.
After giving my pitch, I was challenged by an investor. They said that while I have ‘swagger’ the average consumer doesn’t, and ‘I don’t package swagger’. In that split moment, I was losing the panel’s favour and the investor had raised a good point.
However, I remembered some knowledge I’d found in a book I had read previously. It was about how customers would buy Michael Jordan’s trainers thinking they could ‘jump like Mike’. In reality, the Jordans had little, marginal effect on the average consumer’s performance but great marketing brought this false perception. The same way great marketing created this mirage for Mike would now work for Jeremy Mutebi, you would buy my suit believing you bought my ‘swagger’.
The books, podcasts, blogs, etc. that I’d read gave me a wealth of knowledge my subconscious could draw upon when required. I saved myself and secured the investment.
These are just some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way. If there were a fifth, be willing to sacrifice. I went three months on a tight budget this summer living off of one 55p six pack of hot cross buns from Aldi a day, eating each strategically to fight the hunger as it approached predatorily to slow me down. It’s your vision, how far are you willing to sacrifice to make it a reality.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
Find out more about Jeremy and his startup at jeremymutebi.co.uk. Applications for Young Start-up Talent 2018 are open until December 22nd. Enter your startup now to inspire more Southampton success in the Hampshire contest.