I was a Psychology undergraduate with an idea, but I lacked self-belief. I wanted to create an online cashless babysitting and tutoring booking website called Zoo Town. I envisioned this website connecting many parents in London, to students who are fully vetted, experienced and ready to provide world class service to children in their care. The dream is to have Zoo Town after school clubs around London, packed with fun workshops and activities that inspire children in London to believe in them self and their talents. I was determined to create something different, despite the fact I did not know how to run a business, or knew anything about business. But these things became less important along the line. All I knew was that I had passion, determination and self belief.
At times I felt as though my idea was bigger than me. I also questioned whether or not I would be able to juggle university and executing my business. But I pushed through the challenges. In January 2016, I said to myself, you are going to start this business no matter what the outcome is. I kept telling myself, stop saying what if you fail! What if you win? What if you become successful and achieve all the things you are working so hard to achieve. In the Bible (Jeremiah 17:7) it tells you that you are blessed if you have hope in the Lord and that is exactly what I did. My faith in God drove out the my doubting thoughts. I started to throw myself into every business opportunity. I attend business workshops in London, webinars, I read book on business and kept reading other people’s start up stories to keep myself inspired.
I had access to a lot of free business support at m my university, so I took full advantage of it. There was a chance for any startup to win £5,000 and I entered it. I had to pitch my idea to a panel of judges (who were tough) and I was up against ten other students. I was the last person to pitch and to my surprise I won the £5,000.
Making it happen
I had no clue how I was going to make it all happen, but it was a fun experience learning how to do everything. Do not be discouraged when you don’t know how to do something. Take your time and find out how to. I incorporated shortly after winning, contacted web and graphics designers to get quotes for building the website and designing my logo, and made things happen.
I felt really professional getting businesses to sign my non disclosure before talking about how they can help make my business idea sorted. I also loved creating the look and feel of my brand. I created all the content for the Zoo Town social media campaigns on the parents and students Instagram Instagram and Facebook pages. There was so much to do and it was just me doing it all. I felt burned out a lot of the time and didn’t really ask for help. I later realised that I needed it.
Finding parents and students to sign up was a tricky task. I remember spending three hours handing out 1,000 flyers door to door to spread the word and not one person signed up. I felt extremely discouraged and doubted whether my idea would actually work. But having faith in God kept me going. I had to think of a new way to spread my work load.
I recruited six sixth form student volunteers to work one hour each week, for a month. They would go to primary schools, tell parents all about Zoo Town and get their names and email addresses. The student wth the most sign ups would win an incentive. This was a success and allowed me to focus on recruiting students.
At this point, the £5,000 had run out, so I had to be strategic and minimise my costs because all the money was coming from me. I bought six B1 posters and posted them around my university campus to spread the word. This was really effective and students still sign up each week.
A friend and I ran a recruitment stall at Brunel University freshers fair. I managed to get this stall for free. It was a great turnout! I printed out Zoo Town banners and flyers and bought loads of sweets, balloons to make the table attractive. We looked the part with our Zoo Town T-shirts and got students signed up.
I ran another recruitment event at Brunel’s Part Time work fair. Again, the fee for my stall was waived! This event ran successfully. After these events I wanted to focus on setting the tone for my brand, so I directed the Zoo Town mini commercial. The commercial was to give parents and students of what to expect from Zoo Town. I managed to find actors, a location and everything fell together nicely. The commercial was great and was viewed over 2000 times on Facebook.
The next step is the launch! Zoo Town will be launching in January 2017 and I am really excited to help students and parents.
My advice to all students would be to listen to your heart. If you have a burning desire to start a business, go for it. I had great support from my family, friends and amazing business mentor Lydiah Igweh. Growing up in London, there is this hidden pressure to go to university straight after doing your A-levels, get a graduate job and work there as long as possible to get promoted. This was never my idea.. and if that is not your idea either, have a plan, seek support and go for it.
Ibiere Banigo is founder of Zoo Town.