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Self employment and the graduate

Aston University graduates Mohammad El-Hilu, Kyle Johnson and Tom Stuart co-founded LearnAware a few months after graduating.

The company is a software development company aimed at improving the business processes of educational institutions across the UK. The three graduates talk to The Graduate Guide about their experiences in the world of Self Employment.

What undergraduate course did you study and where?

Mohammad and Kyle did a BSc in Computing for Business, whereas Tom did a BSc in Computer Science. Both Tom and Kyle won awards for outstanding achievements and achieving the highest grades in their course.

Why did you decide to start a business?

The concept of our company first came to light when our Co-Founder Tom Stuart was reviewing systems for St Barnabas C of E School. He found that, regardless of his software development background, products were still difficult and sometimes tedious to use. After spending time discussing the idea, we felt that more emphasis needed to be placed on usability and believed in the idea that events should be able to be created and bookable by parents within minutes rather than hours or days. Recognising each other’s talents and having previously worked together on group projects, we equally felt that we should set up a company.

Tell us more about what your company does?

We offer cloud-based solutions, and have vast experience of developing mobile and desktop applications. Technology has a transformative power, and we feel that educational institutions need to capitalise on what web applications and software can offer.

Our flagship product is SchoolEvents Pro: the cloud-based events management system for schools. This allows schools to easily set-up and manage events such as parent’s evenings and school trips. All of this can be done online, cutting out the need for paper and many of the issues that come with that.

How did you go about setting up your own business?

The initial process in setting up a business, although daunting, is more straightforward than you might think. Setting up online with Companies House saw us owning a limited company within hours, but there is much more to setting up a business than officially becoming a company. Setting up a basic infrastructure requires organisation and an assessment of individual needs. In our experience we found that, through the use of resources online, we were up and running with a virtual office and a call switchboard very quickly. There is no mistaking that getting started in business does take time and will come with its challenges. The end result, however, can be very rewarding and motivational.

Has this path run smoothly?

Managing a business is not always straightforward, and our experience so far has been both stressful and exciting. Taking that immediate leap from a tested product to hundreds of live users came with its challenges, but this has helped us develop and improve our infrastructure.

Tell us about the challenges that the company has faced?

The biggest challenge is striving to offer a solution that can accommodate all of our clients’ needs, particularly as requirements change. The task of taking customer requirements and producing an end result that fits into schools’ workflows and compliments the product has been demanding but ultimately very beneficial both for us and for our clients.

What about the achievements and highlights?

One of our biggest achievements is the reaction that SchoolEvents Pro gets when showcased to new schools. At the recent Education Show, we showcased our product to various teachers, bursars and head teachers, who praised the product and signed up to our free trial. This was a very gratifying feeling and, with such positive feedback from new customers, we knew SchoolEvents Pro was a great product with a prosperous future.

What are the company’s ambitions for the future?

In line with the market research we’ve gained in developing our product and attending the Education Show, we’re looking to develop an SMS and payments system to go alongside events. Online management of communication and payments is something a lot of schools are looking to branch into. As a company, we are looking to develop a complete product suite to ease administration and allow schools to take advantage of cloud-based solutions.

What advice would you give to graduates who want to go into self employment?

We feel that one of the best times to start a business is shortly after graduating. Your knowledge attained through University is fresh and current and having just graduated, you are young, bright and motivated. We would recommend any graduate to start their own business. The job market is very tough at the moment and, if you have a particular skill that you can excel at, business is for you.