Welcome to ‘Interview with an entrepreneur’, a new series where we talk to entrepreneurs and industrialists and delve into their business mind. Today we interview Andrew Pallett, the founder of Urban Alpha.

Andrew Pallett is the Founder of Urban Alpha, an online designer men’s clothing retailer.

As a young entrepreneur starting out in the business world, what did you discover to be the biggest challenges in setting up your business and how did you overcome them?
The first thing I thought was that compared to a lot of other businesses out there, I have comparatively less experience and less knowledge. I spent a lot of time reading about business, the industry, ecommerce etc to make sure that I wasn’t going into things completely blind. There are a lot of late nights and early mornings that I spend working to get on top of things, but it’s a sacrifice you have to make if you want your business to be a success.

Another challenge that I faced was that in some instances, people didn’t take me seriously when they found out I was a ‘young entrepreneur’ – and tried to take advantage of my inexperience. That was a real test – I was unexpectedly put into a few situations where I had to walk away from prospective deals or arrangements to find better offers elsewhere. Saying no can sometimes be hard, but you have to stand firm to what you are trying to build to ensure its success.

How have you used Social Media Marketing for your business and how effective has it been?
Social media is a tricky one unless you have the time to fully invest in it – simply setting up a Facebook page and a twitter profile isn’t enough – you have to actively engage with customers on the respective platforms or you risk losing more than you gain by having a presence there. We have had some success with social media campaigns; as a small business the instant access to a wide amount of customers is a great prospect, but you have to ensure that you don’t abuse it.

Do you believe that in order to succeed in business, Young Entrepreneurs have to attend university or get degrees?
In a word, no. I think that having a degree today doesn’t hold the same weight as having a degree 20 or 30 years ago did – which is reflected in the amount of employers looking to hire people with experience. It would be easy to cite Alan Sugar, Mark Zuckerberg or Richard Branson as examples of entrepreneurs who have succeeded without having a university education – but their journeys in business are unique and will never be replicated.

I built up a solid base of knowledge progressing through school, and it has made some situations much easier for me, but I have learnt far more through being in business, experiencing the ups and downs and by speaking with and learning from other entrepreneurs. Business studies gave me a solid foundation of knowledge in high school, and I think more young students should be encouraged to take those classes. It would give young people knowledge of what it’s like in the real world as an adult – managing bills, applying for credit etc – and would perhaps result in better financial management in their personal lives.

I think apprenticeships are the way forward, and it’s great to see them getting attention from the government – however there is still a long way to go. When I was in high school, the only work based learning you could do was as a mechanic or as a hairdresser – by exposing students to what it’s like working in businesses at an earlier age, and giving them opportunities to experience working in different industries that might be of interest to them, I believe that it would produce more engaged and more active young entrepreneurs.

With ecommerce becoming ever more popular, what advice would you give to Young Entrepreneurs who wish to start an ‘online shop’?
It’s easy to build an online store and to get products to sell on it – what you really need to think about is how are you going to get traffic to the website, and what are you going to do that separates you from all the other online retailers that are out there. Fine tuning the design and layout of your site can come in time, but in order to survive you’ll need to have traffic and sales coming in.

What three pieces of advice would you give to any young people who wished to start a business?

  1. Get a mentor
  2. Learn as much as you can about the industry you want to enter
  3. Have a great marketing plan

If you were to start again, what would you change?
That’s a hard question! Were still a young company and while we have had a few hiccups, we haven’t made any serious mistakes and I haven’t made any decisions that I regret making. When you are starting something from nothing, you are bound to make a few mistakes, but its how you deal with those problems that will define your business and you as an entrepreneur.

How did you come up with this idea for your business?
I was looking for a Christmas present for my brother, a pair of Calvin Klein boxer shorts, and I couldn’t find them online. After searching on what seemed like hundreds of websites, I finally found them but wasn’t happy with the website or their service. I then had the fabled ‘eureka’ moment and became obsessed with ecommerce – spending every spare moment I had learning and planning my vision for how an ecommerce website should work. We started out selling men’s underwear, and are now making the move into the broader men’s clothing market! We are still a long way from achieving that goal, but every day we are getting a little bit closer which is a great feeling.