After completing the 12 month NEF programme in 2013 Viraj Ratnalikar co-founded Car Quids which matches drivers with advertisers to help brands connect with millions of people every day.
When I was at university I already knew I wanted to do something entrepreneurial one day and setting up a small venture whilst at university convinced me this was the case. However, I had no clear idea of how exactly to do “something entrepreneurial”.
So, after experiencing the drudgery of a summer analyst program in Investment Banking (confirmed it definitely wasn’t for me) I decided to try my hand at Strategy Consulting.
Conventional wisdom among my peers at the time was to do a Professional Services role for a few years so that by the end, you had a safety net and some experience (in what exactly I don’t know – it’s not as if PowerPoint skills are a critical skill at a startup) before branching out on your own as an entrepreneur.
But I decided to ignore this conventional wisdom and applied for a place on the New Entrepreneurs Foundation (NEF) programme. Of course it was exciting when I got an offer but this soon turned into the realization that I’d need to make a hard decision: whether to take less than half the salary, no guaranteed stamp of approval on my CV, and a less proven career trajectory in return for taking a direct step towards pursuing my entrepreneurial ambitions.
If you’re reading this, chances are that you are, or will be, in a similar position. Ultimately, I chose NEF for two main reasons: first, I was interviewed by the CEO of the ‘host company’ start-up I would be placed with for the year, a sign of the respect they gave to the program. And second because I realised I could easily go back into consulting or banking if the year didn’t work out.
Since then, I haven’t looked back. Here’s why:
1) The other NEFers: over the past few years, they have been the people that I’ve worked with to trial new ideas and side projects. They’re the group of friends who say “congratulations” when you tell them you’ve quit your job to develop an idea, rather than staring back at you in horror!
2) Placement: in hindsight the NEF placement gave me some amazing opportunities that aren’t available in typical graduate roles. I discussed this in more depth in an article I wrote on Medium in June 2013.
3) Learning: I learned a lot through NEF’s own events as well as the plethora of tech events in London which I was plugged into in large part thanks to NEF.
Last summer I found myself back alongside another NEFer founding Car Quids. What started off as an idea over lunch quickly escalated into a business with 3000 users in the space of a few weeks.
Car Quids is a technology business in the very traditional outdoor advertising industry. Currently we’re building our first product that enables brands to advertise on personal cars all over the country. As a driver, you can sign up with your car and when you are matched with an advertiser, Car Quids arranges to put adverts on your car and pays you each month. It’s taking the airbnb model to outdoor advertising.
A few short months later we’ve booked ad campaigns with several great brands including easyCar Club and are now a team of three.
If you’re even considering applying for the NEF as a step into an entrepreneurial career, I’d say go for it. You don’t have much to lose by applying and during the selection process you’ll have a chance to understand what it’s all about. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the NEF or anything else mentioned above, feel free to get in touch with me via twitter (@viiraj).
The NEF run a change-making 12-month programme, combining real-life business experience in fast growing start-ups with intensive training, business mentoring and coaching. For more info and to apply click here. The application deadline is 27 February 2015.