We caught up with Sohrab who owns Interhousing to ask him a few questions about his entrepreneurial journey so far!
Sohrab at the North East Student Housing Awards where Interhousing was a sponsor!
Tell us a bit about your business.
My business is called Interhousing and it simplifies the process of finding accommodation for international students. What we offer is an online property platform where students can search, compare and book the accommodation that they want. We launched in March 2016 and the website launched in June 2016 and so far we have bases in more than 6 cities.
How did you get the idea for your business?
It was pretty funny actually, I’m glad you asked that question. I was sitting in a pub with my friend in June 2015 and after a couple of beers we were talking about how annoying it was to actually find housing and two months after that when I moved to Newcastle I had exactly the same issue. So I thought if there was a website where I could have access to all the properties in the city, then I could save a lot of time and money and I could be happier with the housing that I received.
What attracted you to the idea of starting your own business?
I think the first reason was pretty much the desire to work on a project from scratch. It starts with an idea and it becomes a project that you turn out to profit from and you can also help people through that project too. Also, it was my personal preference for working for myself rather than in a typical 9 to 5 job, that was a pretty strong factor I would say. I really liked the prospect of being my own boss.
What are the biggest problems you have faced so far while running your business?
One is brand awareness I would say, promotional material, how to actually get the brand out there and attract people to your service. Number two I would say would be getting consumers trust which pretty much relates to the first one and is really important to achieve. And third, it’s been finding the right human resources for a business, finding the right skills at the right time. This is an online business so I would need web developers and people who are proficient in online stuff and that can be challenging to come by. So I would say finding people and gaining consumers trust.
How did you overcome those challenges and what have you learnt from them?
I would say I overcame them by really looking at my network and the network of people around me – you might see many people as people that you just know, or just as friends from university but if you actually get in touch with those people and ask questions you will find out that you can get access to a lot of skills. And secondly I’ve learnt to accept to go with the flow, follow the idea and make mistakes, but to learn from those mistakes every day.
Describe your typical day.
One of the best things about running my business is there is no typical day, there is no routine! The kinds of things that my day might include though are contacting clients, updating the website, producing marketing material – both online and offline, and also getting in touch with students and finding out about their accommodation needs in the cities that we are based in now, which are Newcastle, Sheffield, London, Wolverhampton, Bolton, Huddersfield, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.
What do you think are the top three skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur?
1: Vision – you need to have a big vision; you need to see a lot ahead of you.
2: Time management, that’s extremely important.
3: Excellent communication skills – because the importance of your network becomes more and more evident day by day when you are on entrepreneurial journey.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being entrepreneur?
It’s the fact that I built this project from scratch and it all started with an idea! Seeing it grow and go into different cities and seeing people actually enquire about it and knowing that you are helping people out there, that is probably the most enjoyable part.
How did Rise Up contribute to your success, if at all?
I would say that it would have actually been impossible without Rise Up. I am an international student, I am from Iran, and it was my business advisor Jackie Wade who believed in my idea, she gave me feedback of course on where it could be improved, but the key thing was that Rise Up believed in the vision and decided to endorse me for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, which without that, I do not know what I would be doing today. Yeah, I would say massively to the point that it would be impossible without them. So thank you Rise Up!
If you had the chance to start again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
I would be more careful with choosing my project partner because I did have a partner initially and not far down the line we actually had a conflict of interests, I think it’s a common thing that happens. So that is what I would have done differently, I would have chosen my partner more carefully and that is something that people say a lot, to be very selective with choosing who you work with.
Where do you hope to see yourself in 5 years’ time?
Hopefully, we are going to expand nationally, but ultimately what I want is for this platform to become an international platform. We have two other main competitors, but the market is so large that there is still room for more, and a better service of course, and to include other property related services into the service that we currently provide.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Be 120% confident yourself that your idea has the potential to work even if some people tell you it won’t work. But also be honest with yourself because somehow deep down inside you, you will know if it won’t work. It’s about believing in yourself and your idea of course and also to take advantage of all the resources that are available to you – that’s very important.
Check out Interhousing here: https://www.interhousing.co.uk/