Marcus Ereira has a frog in his throat. Since the beginning of the summer, he and his business partner Benjamin Shashou have been working 16 hour days, scrambling to have their venture ready for the new university term. The pair launched the Student Eat card in September and have been travelling the length and breadth of the country trying to drum up interest among freshers. When we catch up with him, Marcus has just returned from LSE's freshers' fair - hence the hoarseness. For aspiring young businesspeople, Marcus is proof that you don't get anywhere in this game without a lot of hard work.
The Student Eat card costs £7 and lasts for the academic year. It gives students an average of 20 per cent off at a range of bars, cafes and eateries, including the likes of Coffee Republic and London-based restaurants The Diner and Me Love Sushi. While the card is currently only accepted by selected outlets in the capital, Marcus and Benjamin have been in talks with proprietors across Britain about expansionary deals. Student Eat makes a small profit on each card sold, but to date it has all been reinvested in the business.
"So far, so good," is the view of Marcus, a student of Regent's Business School, on Student Eat's first few weeks in business. "This morning we signed up two Nando's outlets and we're speaking with more of them. We worked throughout the summer for 15 or 16 hours a day - if you want your business to be a success then you've got to do all it takes. But it's fun, working on your own business. We've had a good number of sales and hope things keep going the way they are."
The idea for Student Eat emerged when Benjamin was on a trip to America. He saw a similar product that gave students discount at retailers located on campus. "We changed the model quite a lot," says Marcus. "Because very few British students live on campus, we've had to roll out our card across an entire city. The ultimate aim is that one card will be valid across the UK." The pair also took inspiration from the Taste Card, which bills itself as the UK's largest diners' club, but it offers discount on pricier establishments and targets a wealthier demographic than students.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Marcus's approach to business is how methodical it is. It's something he acquired in his teenage years, through a prior business venture. When he was 17 he started Tavistock Tutors, an agency that provides students with professional private tutors. And so when it came to starting Student Eat, he knew that he had to manage his time as efficiently as possible. He enlisted a web development company to create the website, outsourced the creation of the company's terms and conditions to a professional company and got an accountant to make sure everything was legally in order.
"You learn as you go," he says of his previous business experience. "The first time around, everything took me five times as long. I was only 17 years old and still at school! I was meeting tutors, many of whom were postgraduates or teachers that were much older than me. I had to learn quickly and a lot of that was from textbooks, but a lot was trial and error. I needed to find out what was required from a tutor academically and get criminal record checks, in addition to lots of other administrative stuff I didn't know how to do previously. Now I have over 300 tutors on the books and it set me up well for launching Student Eat."
A large part of Marcus's work is finding businesses that are happy to be included in the Student Eat discount scheme. "You can try calling and email," he explains of his sales technique, "but mostly it's about going into a restaurant or bar and speaking to people face-to-face. Sometimes you have to be in touch with someone 50 times before you meet them as they're very busy people."
But Marcus says when he finds the right person and gets time to speak with them properly, Student Eat is a very sellable product. "Students are suffering a lot at the moment," he says. "Pre-recession, they'd often go to coffee shops to work and spend money in businesses near the campus. But now there are fewer jobs available for students and they don't have the same amount of disposable income. Establishments need to find a way of getting them through the door and so it's our job to convince them that Student Eat is the way to do that."
It's early days for Student Eat, but it's refreshing to find young businesspeople with a well thought out business plan and who are determined to do things properly. "If other students are inspired to start their own business," says Marcus, "I think Britain can return to its role as leader in entrepreneurship." We'll drink to that...