Interview: Supp!

Photo: Supp! team

SCAN speaks to Aleksandr A. Tkachev, the Company Director of Supp!

Q. Hello Alex! Tell us a little about Supp.
A. Supp! is an online marketplace where students are able to share, buy & sell with one another locally. Our sharing platform is completely free to use, with no listing fees or commission. The service is a space where users can safely and effectively exchange books, electronics and other items or services with students. Additionally, we have integrated a supplementary shop for all things people unfit for second hand purchase, such as kitchenware, bedding and bath products.

This way, if students are short on funds, they are able to list their items or services for sale. Once the sale is arranged, users can communicate via our messaging system when and where it is comfortable to complete the trade. The payments can be processed directly at the point of exchange through cash payments, or students can securely link and pay with their PayPal accounts. Both buyers and sellers are then given a code they must input after the trade, in order to confirm the exchange has been successfully completed. Alternatively, seasoned students approaching the end of their degree can give-away old unwanted items, home wares and books to Freshers, instead of throwing them away come years end.

Q. How did you come up with the idea?
A. When I first came to University, as a Fresher, I was surprisingly disappointed with what was offered by local companies when it came to stocking up. More often than not I was unable to get what I needed, for a price that I was willing to pay for home supplies. This is where I came up for the idea of a supplementary shop that would provide kitchen, bedding and bath for students upon their arrival to university.

However, as time went on I began to shy away from buying new books, electronics and general supplies as I realised you could find a cheaper alternative from within the community. Throughout our degrees, my friends and I would give away, trade and swap books, speakers, clothing, computers, you name it, just to get by. However, one day during my final year, this stark realisation came to mind. 90% of the stuff that was occupying the space in my room, had been either generously given to me, or I had bought for a very fair price from friends or from friends of friends.
This is where my partner and I, Tim Seabrook, thought that more people should be able to connect to one another in order to be able to trade locally with each other, be it in the form of knowledge or supplies, especially when starting out in a new community. We wanted to replicate this supportive nature that university life comes with, especially after completing a degree or two! It’s not fair that people should have to learn the crafts for a couple of years before they feel truly embedded and secure in their place of residence.
Q. What has your response been from students so far?
A. Up until about two months ago, I would test my pitch and idea by giving the most adequate and short description possible. With this, I would get a large amount of positive responses, with very little to add in terms of thinking how the platform itself may be lacking as a service. This is where I decided to change up my strategy – instead of plainly explaining the concept verbally, I instead began showing them how the site works, and only then would I ask what they thought of the idea and present what the concept was trying to achieve. This is where I found the most valuable feedback, as people were forced to understand it visually prior to hearing it described verbally. This brought forward the realisation that a reposition was in order, as we are unable to baby-sit the explanation of what we are trying to do for each person. What we have to do is better align our concept image and value proposition, so that it fits with what people envisage such a service to look like.

Q. Have you always been entrepreneurial?
A. I have always enjoyed trying new things, I moved around a lot when I was younger so I was fortunate enough to see a kaleidoscope of experiences when growing up. I have been fortunate enough to be apart of a few start-ups my friends started while I was studying, however I was waiting until some unspecified date to start Supp! Then a company from Lancaster University came out doing what I partly wanted to cover, so I got slightly annoyed and decided to put the start-up together. I did a bit of what most do, some buying and reselling, I used to make money playing computer games, otherwise I had various manual labour jobs on the side.

Q. What do you study? Have you found things that you have learnt in your course useful when working on your company?
A. I studied Entrepreneurship during my BSc and I then went on to do an MSc in Management, with a focus on Strategy for my final dissertation. Afterwards, I was about to start a PhD in the topic area, however decided that I should start Supp! instead.

Surprisingly enough, a good amount of the material we covered has been useful in that it helps structure our approaches to achieving goals or solving problems. University life also gave me the ability to address more substantial problems. It’s like any essay you would have to write, where the idea and concept of the topic develop as you learn more about the perspectives surrounding the subject. Additionally, group work also helped when it came to approaching clients and bridging a connection. Being able to comfortably practice these approaches in an educational atmosphere made me feel I could then take such skills into practice, confidently.

Q. What advice would you give to other students who are considering, or are in the process of, starting a business?
A. Just start it. There are many student support structures in place to help you along the way. It’s like that essay you just don’t want to write, but you know you have to; all that’s left to do is to sit down and do it!

Also, I’d recommend reading a book called “The Lean Start-up” by Eric Reise, just to get a better understanding of how you could potentially test your idea, before throwing capital at it. With this, you can get your bearings in how to approach the particular problem you have set out to solve. Once you start formulating a picture of how you could do this, given the resources available to you. One of the greatest things about studying at a University is that you can find anyone with any pretty much any skill, who will be willing to help solve such a problem.

Q. Have you utilised any of the student societies or university departments to help you bring your business to fruition?
A. We have worked with the Advertising Society, who provided us with scope in our marketing plan, and helped develop a project brief for which we are now using to re-align our image. We have also utilised several PhD students to do some freelance work for us, through our lecturers and friends still studying. Additionally, we have now partnered with the Lancaster University Development Team and LUSU. We will be expanding our reach to the rest of the Northern Universities, once our redesigns are complete and we have gained more footing in the local market. I have also been in close contact with both the Entrepreneurship department from my BSc and the Management department from my MSc, and they have provided me with many opportunities to reach out and connect with more people and organisations. I have also approached a few bloggers at the university, to ask them to write content for us in the form of student experiences, and how to get by as a student while studying at uni!