The Edit

The Brains Behind a Brand; an interview with Anisah Osman Britton of PocketMUni

We interview 19 year old Anisah Osman Britton about her rocketing new startup.

Anisah Osman Britton is really young. That’s the first thought that enters my head as I meet her at a decidedly upmarket members club in the heart of Soho. She is just 19, nothing strange there, except for the fact that Osman Britton is a veteran of The Young Entrepreneurs Festival; a boot camp come web festival come showcase (launched by The Department of Trade and Industry) that pitched the young businesswoman against thirty competitors (think Dragon’s Den crossed with Young Apprentice) in a battle of enthusiasm, business acumen and sheer dog headed tenacity. And how did it all end? With Anisah beating the competition to first prize with her vision for PocketMUni (pronounced 'pocket money'); the student version of sites such as; a domain that pairs up employers with hard pushed students looking for odd jobs, handy work or whatever the employer’s heart desires and cash can pay for.

Anisah and the Startup Games finalists outside Number 10

So there’s the first impressive feat, the second is that Osman Britton only came up with the idea for PocketMUni on the 22nd of May 2012. Yes, in the seven short months before neuron crackled to neuron and a thought was born, Anisah has assembled a team, got the site up and running and moved through private into public beta. ‘It was so so quick,’ Anisah says. ‘It will go properly live on January 2nd... So I can have a lie in on January 1st!’

So how did it all start? ‘I went travelling for a bit, but all my friends at university - none of them could afford to come with me, they were sixty grand in debt already, others just didn’t have a job because they couldn’t commit to it.’ There was the light bulb moment; ‘We’ve moved quite a lot... My parents have always used my friends to help around the house, to help with the packing and gardening and stuff, and in turn pay them a bit of extra cash, and I thought why not do that on a much bigger scale?’

Winning the Young Entrepreneur’s Festival brought Anisah some essential resources, amongst them a turbo charged mentor in the shape of serial entrepreneur David Murray-Hundley; ‘He’s awesome,’ Anisah says, ‘but don’t tell him I told you that!’ The two connected instantly; ‘I needed someone I could banter with (I’m quite sarcastic), someone I could have a bit of a laugh with - he’s perfect.’

The night before the festival saw Anisah making some 11th hour changes to her business plan. ‘My whole revenue model changed at about three o’clock in the morning, at a bar in Shoreditch over some cocktails and rocktails. It was a really amazing experience, because I realised there was a lot more I could do with the business...’

These changes obviously contributed to her success, but why did she think PocketMUni won above and beyond more developed start-ups? ‘I think it may have had something to do with just going out and selling the site as quickly as I did and just going into student universities and saying, ‘Guys sign up!’- I got loads of students that way. Maybe it was also to do with how much I changed from the first time these guys had all met me and also because I was cheeky...’

‘There were four judges; three guys and one lady,’ Anisah says when describing the pitching process. ‘I went up to the lady before my speech and I shook her hand and said ‘It’s nice to meet you.’ I think she really liked the fact that I was polite - I think it’s a really big thing in business that women don’t tend to be nice, they tend to be quite bolshy - that’s not what business is about. If you’re going to do business, do it properly - just treat people well - you seem to get further that way.’

Wise words indeed, but were there any mistakes made I wonder, given the speedy nature of the start-up? ‘I crashed the site in the first week,’ Anisah admits. ‘It was completely my fault... Luckily no one was on the site because it was about ten or eleven o’clock at night. I quickly called up my developer, he taught me that if you don’t know what you’re doing don’t do anything at all!’

Revenue wise – where does the money come from? ‘It will be basically advertising, but we take ten pounds from every student who gets a job. It’s free to sign up, and it’s free for businesses and charities. As soon as a student gets their first job they pay ten pounds and that covers them for the entire year.’ And there seems to be no end of employers looking to sign up Anisah’s workforce; ‘At the moment we have more jobs than we do students. It’s weird because we’re obviously in the middle of the Silicon Roundabout, and you’ve got all these people starting businesses who want students to help them out.’

What about the next five years – given the pocket rocket nature of the site’s growth, where will Anisah be by then? ‘I hope to have this business in at least four countries - I’m looking at Spain, Australia, the US and maybe France. Recession hit countries mostly.’ How about other job markets, does she plan to expand past students? ‘If you can focus on a niche you’ve got a lot more chance of success - so I don’t think I will expand outside of students but there is always that potential.’

Does Anisah have any advice for others hoping to follow in her decidedly speedy footsteps? ‘Just do it, go and meet people talk to them, find a mentor, have a really well focused business plan; not just finances - a step by step guide of what you really want to do, that you can just chuck at anyone. You can even chuck it at me and I can say ‘Maybe I can help you with this bit,’ and maybe someone else can say, ‘I can help you with that bit - so just talk to people.’

In terms of the daily grind – what is the average day like at PocketMUni? ‘At the moment it involves a lot of meeting with developers, then its emailing universities, doing social events, networking events, that’s a regular day – it always ends with a party - a networking party obviously!’ Socialising in clearly an essential part of Anisah’s business strategy, but do the late nights impair the early mornings? ‘I would like to say yes but they really don’t. I live on a boat, plus there’s a school right next to me, so at nine o’clock I know I have to get up!’

Even better Anisah’s role allows her unlimited access to the Google Campus; what’s the best thing about this resource? ‘Lots of people who know what they are on about - that’s the biggest thing I guess because there are around a hundred start-ups in one building, so everyone knows what everyone’s going through.’

Anisah in action at The Startup Games with fellow contestants SuckMyTrend

And last but certainly not least, what about Anisah’s parents, they must be pretty proud of her? ‘If you look at my Facebook page my mum is so proud, posting news articles and stuff... Everyone expects because I’m half Indian that my mum would have pressured me into it but not at all. I think they kind of knew because I always said ‘Ok I’m going to go to Oxford - that was my dream.’ The dream before PocketMUni took over; ‘I don’t think I could do anything academic now... It’s not that I can’t take directions it’s just that I feel like I can do it myself.’

There it is; a young woman on the cusp of a pretty exciting journey; ‘I wake up every day enjoying what I’m doing - I know it’s really cliché but it’s so true. My friends post stuff on Twitter or Facebook saying ‘Oh my god I’ve got work this morning,’ and I’m like ‘Hey I get to go to Google and work on my new site.’ Enthusiasm, joie de vivre and business acumen; a pretty heady combination in Anisah’s case. ‘Recognition is great - it gets the name out there; my personal brand which is quite nice, because obviously this won’t be my last business, fingers crossed.’ And if PocketMUni is anything to go by, what a brand it promises to be.

December 2012.

Interview by Alice Kahrmann