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Up for Hire: Entrepreneurs

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Annabel McLeod | 14:27 UK time, Friday, 14 October 2011

Video game fan Jess Ratcliffe was just 15 when she came up with the idea of for a game-swapping website. Her pocket money couldn't stretch to start-up funds, so she finally started GaBoom! when she was 19, in her first year at university. One year and a trip to Dragons' Den later, the site has 10,000 members and is 21-year-old Jess' full-time job.

Name: Jess Ratcliffe

Jess Ratcliffe

Age you started your business: 19. I first had the idea when I was 15 but it didn't happen. I hired a web developer in the US but he wasn't a good egg. That experience left me with no money and no website. But I kept developing the idea as a hobby and picked it up again at uni.

How I spotted the gap in the market for my business: I used to swap my games with friends and I thought wouldn't it be a good idea to do this with people in the UK.

What's your USP (unique selling point)? That gamers can swap with each other. There are stores that take secondhand games, but with my site it's a fair value swap for gamers with each other. We cut out the middle man.

How many hours you work a day/week: It varies - all I need is a laptop to work, so I can go into the office and work, then I usually come home and do some more, so maybe 10 hours a day. It doesn't really feel like work though.

What have you sacrificed for business? I haven't really thought about that until you asked the question. But I guess potential relationships; I live at home, so since I gave up uni there is less opportunity to meet as many people. I'm fortunate that i have a close group of friends already, because building new friends takes time and effort.

What's the biggest surprise about being your own boss? Being able to decide what you want to do in a day. The surprise is that I don't ever hate what I do in a day. I hear friends say they've had a bad day at work but I can't relate to that. So that's a surprise, doing what I choose and having the power to do that.

My school report said: It used to say I was quiet, and that, even when I knew the answer in class, I wouldn't put my hand up. And I think that's funny that my younger me was too shy, because now I have to stand in front of people and pitch. I went in front of the Dragons. I can't believe I was worried I might get things wrong when I was younger.

What was it like in the Dragons' Den? Fantastic. I had a great experience. I was offered a job and they said some nice things. Deborah Meaden said whatever 'it' is, then I have 'it'. I didn't get any investment but it didn't matter - the whole experience helped confirm that I was on the right path. I gained some valuable advice too. James Caan didn't invest and mentioned how some of the logistics with the swapping options hindered expansion, so I learnt from that and could look into it. And lots of gamers heard about the site for the first time on there too.

What I wish they'd taught me in school: Web development. I'm trying to teach myself now. And I wish they'd taught me about entrepreneurship, to let me know that is an option. It's a route people think is too risky. I think they should raise awareness of it in schools and let children know that it can be so easy, especially with technology. Also I think if I could have gone to someone at 15 at school, and talked about my idea with them, maybe I wouldn't have made the same mistakes.

What advice would I give about this job? If you have the spark of an idea, just do it. Take the action to make it a reality. There is support out there if you go looking for it. One thing I heard about was the business centre at the British Library when you can get a free one-on-one chat with an expert so that you can bounce your idea off them. And they gave me leaflets about how to write a business plan.

What advice would I give about starting your own business?
Maybe try to find a team of people from the start - it would have been good to have had a co-founder, so you can go together to a business meeting and share the work. So if you have an idea, and they have the technical side, it would help.

What one skill/talent has helped you? The fact that I'm persistent. I'm not gonna give up. And I don't look at failure as failure, to me it's just a result that you can learn from, and then move on.

The best thing about my job is...: Being able to communicate with my members. When they email, it comes straight to me. Just to know that they're using your website is so rewarding. Or when someone says they have heard about the site - that's the craziest thing that someone's heard of my business.

And the worst thing about my job is: Maybe some of the sacrifices I mentioned earlier. But honestly, I can't really think of a worst thing. I don't regret anything about it.

If you want to be like me/work in this industry: Find a website online and get some ideas. Speak to people who might have started a business, meet and have a coffee with them and get feedback on your idea. I was fortunate to know people who started businesses, so I bounced ideas off them.

Business hero: Richard Branson, definitely. But I have a number of people who inspire me: Mark Zuckerberg, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates - they are people who used their business to change the world. I think if you aim big enough to want to change the world then anything is possible. And my dad is an inspiration, he started his own business when he was 16.

If you could go back in time and do one thing differently in your business, what would it be?
Quite a few things! I've come across some real snakes in the grass who have knocked my confidence or slowed down the process, so I would choose not to do business with them. But then from that I've learnt how to spot dodgy people.

Up For Hire Live is a whole week of programmes with Radio 1 tackling unemployment. Starts October 17th at 9pm. Tweet us on @bbc3tv using #upforhire.

- Up for Hire: How to be a... plumber
- 60seconds Sam: How can we help more young people into work?
- For more advice, check out the Up for Hire Facebook page


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