Grads: Business Brains

The Real World awaits. Here’s what two very entrepreneurial graduates are up to – running business models where you’re the target market.

business Dan Barker emmanuel Geology Graduates Instant Impact Interns internships Lottie Unwin work Yearbook Machine

On the other side of the piles of paper, calloused and ink-stained hands, and May Week hangovers is The Real World of graduation and jobs. The Tab spoke to the owners of two companies set up by young men and women who were in your shoes only a few years ago.

Felix Mitchell is one of three Emmanuel graduates who run Instant Impact Interns, catering to people just like you:

The three founders: Felix Mitchell, Charlotte Scott and Rob Blythe at graduation

“After graduating we were all lucky enough to have brilliant internships where we enjoyed the amount of responsibility that we were given” – far from the long days making tea and filing many of us have trialled in the name of work experience.

“We decided that the only reason why more students from top universities don’t work for smaller companies, where they can have the opportunity to really pitch in, is because they have no way of finding them.” They decided there was a market, and Instant Impact Interns was born. Its mission? “To offer students an alternative to applying to the typical Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan internship scheme, and to give smaller companies access to some of the smartest young minds in the country.”

Obviously their time at Cambridge bonded Felix, Rob, and Charlotte, but how much of a leg up has the hard graft of an Oxbridge degree been? “We did use some Emmanuel contacts to get us off the ground with cold calling.” He is keen to add: “The list was pretty limited though and we quickly used it up.” A lot of their success comes from simple hard work, writing their own legal documents, and registering the company themselves to keep expenditure low in a model they have financed themselves.

I asked Felix if he would encourage others to run with their big ideas. “My advice [to anyone with an idea for a business] would be to just do it. It’s way easier than you would think. Experience isn’t always a good thing – when you have to work things out for yourselves you often come up with a better way than most people use. If you have a good idea just run with it and see how far you can go.” All very inspirational, if only I had that elusive ‘big idea’.

Their favourite office snack? “Definitely Maryland cookies.”


Dan Barker almost graduated from Downing. He runs Yearbook Machine, advertised as ‘the social network in a book.’

What’s the company about? Dan answers simply: “Your memories, made beautiful.” He continues, “most other yearbook companies are selling a product that middle-aged people think that young people want to buy. We’re making timeless documents which you will cherish.

“I’ve been working on this since 2007, and I left my Cambridge degree to focus on Yearbook Machine last year.” He hints that the idea to leave his degree behind was a wise one: “I spent most of first year working furiously on the business, including spending all but the last two days before my exams in exam term teaching myself to program computers.”

He thinks working life has proved as much of a challenge as Cambridge: “Although I’ve escaped finals, I’m still probably working harder than most of you, as we’re making books for about half of Cambridge this year and I’m the one who has to make that happen!”

Should any prospective entrepreneur follow his footsteps? “I wouldn’t advise you to be as balls-out as me and drop out of your degree,” admits Dan, “but be aware that if you take a job at a consultancy firm/bank, it will make you very comfortable and may make it more difficult to make the jump later – you don’t need £50kpa in your early 20s and money makes you lazy and numb. The earlier you start, the more times you can fuck up… before you have any real responsibilities.

“If you wanted to run a website, already having a prototype which people use and like is a lot better than pointing to your 2.1 in Geology,” Dan advises.

The biggest mistake to date? “Hiring people we didn’t like – even if someone seems talented; if you find them annoying, having them in close proximity will make your life a misery.”

And the best office snack? “In the hot spell it’s got to be summer fruits: tasty, refreshing and healthy.” I’m not sure I’ll leave those Hobnobs behind just yet…