By ABIGAIL KHOO
An Adelaide man was able to move from student to entrepreneur after turning his idea to help international students settle in Adelaide, into a reality.
James Martin came from humble beginnings, before co-founding Insider Guides, a free guide for international students living in Australia cities, which is now distributed nation-wide.
Mr Martin, like many university students, was working while studying marketing and international studies at the University of South Australia (UniSA).
While working in a bar to earn some money, he realised international students never came in with locals.
Mr Martin said the students told him they did not know many local people and didn’t know what to do in Adelaide.
“They weren’t given the right tools to enjoy the city on their terms,” Mr Martin said.
He got into contact with his colleague Sam Trezise and together they published their first free International Students Guide in 2008.
“It started off as a passion project and after I realised there was a serious need in the market for a product like this, it actually became viable as a business, not just as a hobby,” Mr Martin said.
Now known as Insider Guides, the business had to make the transition from an idea birthed in a bar into a publication with content, willing advertisers and funding.
Mr Martin said the transition did not happen overnight – it required a mixture of a lot of hard work and a leap of faith into the marketing world to get it started.
Originally, Mr Martin was mentored by his neighbour who published aged care publications.
“I ended up selling advertising in a book that didn’t exist and I used that money to pay for the printing,” he said.
“It was a risk but it paid off.”
So, Mr Martin began an endeavour which would lead to an expansion into five Australian capital cities, an iPhone application and the 2012 Pank Prize for Entrepreneurship.
This result is impressive and Mr Martin attributes Insider Guides’ longevity to funding and support from mixture of public and private investors.
“We did have a lot of private companies coming to us and saying we want to reach the international student market by advertising in your book but also the state government actually said ‘we want to be seen to be supporting this edition’,” Mr Martin said.
Support for the project also included universities and city councils across Australia.
The ride did not stop there, with Insider Guides winning $30,000 worth of support from the Pank Prize, which will be used to develop stage two of their iPhone application.
This stage will commercialise the app and allow potential international students to get an idea of what Australia is like.
The backing and investment has been important to expand Insider Guides from one publication in Adelaide to a national and international level.
UniSA entrepeneurship expert Peter Balan said entrepreneurs needed to ask themselves whether they can turn their idea into a practical business and whether they have the support to get it up and running.
He said they needed to put together a really exciting case to encourage people to put money into the venture.
“[It’s] extremely rare that an entrepreneur can get something up and running with their own resources,” Mr Balan said.
Insider Guides also has a team of contributors interstate which are hired on a contractual basis.
“It’s all local students and they have their ears to the ground,” Mr Martin said.
When looking for contributors, he put an advertisement on job boards in all Australian universities to a huge response.
“I think a lot of journalism students don’t often get the opportunity to get paid work that includes going out to places and reviewing bars and clubs,” Mr Martin said.
Mr Balan said Insider Guides responded to a clear gap in the market – the growing international student population.
“There are lots of gaps, but the key thing is can you recognise, find a way to fill it and make some money,” he said.
Mr Balan said one of the major traps and reasons small businesses failed was because entrepreneurs assume they know the market.
“Because they’re convinced it’s a great idea, they put a lot of time and energy in developing their particular venture,” he said.
“But they haven’t been out to real life potential customers.
“It’s people out there who will pay for it, will buy it and they will determine the success of your venture.”
Mr Martin agrees with the importance of solid groundwork.
“A big challenge is to do your research and consult widely; you don’t just act on a hunch,” Mr Martin said.
“I think a lot of small business owners act on a hunch, (do) a huge amount of work and they just drain their change.”
So Mr Martin, after “doing a bit of business analysis”, found that his passion for small business had turned into a successful ongoing venture.
He said to be successful people needed to work hard, be passionate and understand that everything does not always go as planned.
“Also, have a work life balance because when you run your own business, the day doesn’t stop at 5pm,” Mr Martin said.
“You are always thinking about your business so you have to learn to switch off otherwise you will kill yourself.”