Interview with Co-founder of 'Raise a tree' Dominic Tarn
Today's interview comes from the Co-Founder Dominic Tarn of 'Raise a tree' a fun environmental e-learning game, which has big expansion plans for 2012.
1. Hi Dom, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I’m from the north east, came down to London as a history student at University College London, and then at the end of my second year I took everyone by surprise and moved to Canada with my girlfriend at the time. First to a Province that rightly describes itself as beautiful British Columbia, and then to the cold north of the oil rich Province of Alberta. I started writing for an online magazine about the Middle East, since I enjoy writing and have had a passion for that region, its politics, history and culture for some time now, and I continued my studies. When Canada clearly was no longer right for me I had to return to the UK. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get back into UCL, and the economy made it necessary to finish my degree and work part time, which I did. At the same time I became editor of that online magazine, and later did marketing work for an award winning web development company located, once again, in Canada, whilst I was finishing my degree. Once I’d graduated, with a first, I started working with various startups, until I was introduced to the founder of Raise A Tree by a regional tech hub, Sunderland Software City. Now I’m working to scale this startup, across the country and internationally.
2) What inspires you about the world of business and entrepreneurship?
What is more inspiring than anything is the chance to make a difference. This is a trait which is inherent in any entrepreneurs personalities, whether your thinking about Steve Jobs or Michael Bloomberg. If your doing something, or want to do something where your going to wake up and know that your doing something which benefits more than just yourself then your in the right area. And this goes for adding value to a client, creating a better product or service, or something revolutionary, like Facebook.
Business may be all about the bottom line, the next quarter, the return on investment, but great companies start with the end user, the customer, in mind. Richard Branson didn’t start Virgin Atlantic to make a lot of money. He barely had anything near the right amount to invest, and the airline industry, now as it was then, is very expensive. He literally was in flip-flops asking for considerable overdrafts from his bank just to keep the planes in the air. It did, eventually, turn a profit. But he started it wanting to make a better experience for air travelers, and that’s what he managed to achieve. There’s no shortage of inspiration amongst entrepreneurs. Key is to keep looking where you want to go, remember what it is you set out on your own personal mission for, and doing what’s needed - and what you enjoy - to make it happen.
3) Tell us a little bit about your venture raise a tree?
Raise A Tree is a fun environmental e-learning game currently being used in 250 schools in 14 countries. Pupils get to plant their own virtual trees, nurturing them and answering online educational activities in order to help them grow, whilst simultaneously learning about environmental and green issues in a fun way. Raise A Tree can be used individually, with parents or as part of a classroom activity. Schools can purchase a license directly at better value than other e-learning software packages, or companies can gift the subscriptions to schools as part their corporate social responsibility programs. Real trees can be bought to plant in school grounds whilst the children grow their virtual trees.
Raise A Tree was founded & developed by Andy Stephenson when he was an undergraduate at Durham University, and field tested during his Masters to ensure it fits with the curriculum in primary schools. I tell the full story here in my blog, which is where I came in when I was brought on-board in November 2011 in order to build the company, which is what I am doing now. This was after six previous offers of equity in other startups, one of whom had been featured in Mashable, another which had gone through some very intensive European incubators.
4) Do you see more graduates heading in the direction of entrepreneurship and can anyone become an entrepreneur
Definitely - blame the economy - but also thank the economy, since this is an unprecedented time of growth for two area’s of the economy which successful, skilled, ambitious graduates are going into - startups, and freelance work. No one can deny the graduate jobs market is tough, and that’s partly why so many are looking at other avenues for career advancement. But also it comes down to lifestyle choices; never in recent history have so many people decided to use the skills they have to make it on their own, or as part of something larger, like a startup, as opposed to a FTSE100 company.
In terms of can anyone do it? Good question. Comes back to the nature versus nurture debate. There might be some inherent traits, and certainly the Startup Genome Report indicates what traits of startups indicate the likelihood of success or failure. However I wouldn’t like to say, definitively whether entrepreneurship is something everyone can do. I like what Sir Alan Sugar once quipped on The Apprentice, that an entrepreneur is something you get called, not call yourself. I would say however, if there’s something you want to do, if you spot a market opportunity, a way you can add value for a client, or the world generally, and you can see how to make money for it, then go for it. Like the Nike slogan: “Just Do It.”
5. What's been your biggest success and struggle till date?
Biggest success, so far, is linked to my biggest struggle, and that would be finishing my degree, finally, following my returning from Canada. It was tough to finish it, juggling over commitments, like running on online magazine about the Middle East (and a team of writers spread around the world), working part time, and commuting around the north east region to get the resources I needed (made great use of Durham University, which meant lots of early starts and late finishes!), but in the end I finished it. And came out with a first and an award for my dissertation, which wasn’t a bad result after everything. To be able to share that with my family who dropped me off in London in 2005, and my partner and her family who witnessed me finish it, was really something.
6) What advice would you offer for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Same advice I was given by the writer behind the Working For Wonka blog, who’s worked for lots of interesting - and crazy - entrepreneurs; just jump right in, don’t look back, and don’t sit and wait for the best time. Its like falling in love or having children, there is no best time. There’s only now. But let me paraphrase that with the sort of advice you might here over morning coffee not evening cocktails, and this is from Sarah Lacy, formerly a senior TechCrunch writer, now the founder of the latest Silicon Valley media outlet, PandoDaily, who told me to get all your facts in place first. If your going to start your own company, whether its the next big web startup, or a bricks and mortar coffee shop, your about to pour a lot of time, energy, and sweat into it, so although there are no certainties, there are many opportunities - and opportunities are like ideas - the better executed are often those which are the ones we prepare for more effectively.
7. Where do you see the future of raise a tree and what's next?
Lots of things happening at the moment. Scaling the business is what we are doing right now, both in the UK, US, Canada, as-well as further afield thanks to other entrepreneurs who have contacted us and want to be a part of our international expansion, which is ultimately part of what’s next. We now have the chance to be on the platform of a very exciting educational startups platform, Edmondo, which has $15 million B round funding, backed by the likes of Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn. We’ve got a long way to go yet, and we will have many more announcements during 2012; so if you want to join us you can apply through Enternships, Gradpreneur, or contact us directly.
For more information about Raise a tree, visit http://raiseatree.co.uk/utopian/index.cfm