I was introduced to Ernest by Liva. Even though she didn’t really explain what it was he was doing, she had thought about it for long enough for me to know it was something good! Living in London, I don’t necessarily think of other European cities, like Riga in this case, as a breeding ground for start-ups. Well, consider me schooled! (You’ll get the joke in about 2 lines)
What is your job, exactly? I am a start-up founder and CEO at Edurio, a company we built to help schools improve the quality of education. We are working on a set of web-tools like student feedback collection, classroom observations and best practice sharing to identify where the school could improve and how to do it. The tough bit is that I don’t have a job description! I do everything: strategy setting, project planning, fundraising, legal work, accounting and discussions with future partners. I’m lucky to have a team of five extremely smart folks with an equally vague job description!
Before Edurio I was a strategy consultant in London - working with a large number of businesses to help them fix some of their problems. In consulting I’ve managed to see a huge range of industries from sewage treatment, where I was trying to reduce tankering costs, all the way to diamonds where I was working on a long term strategy. My last major project was helping a large consumer goods company become more environmentally friendly.
What was your first job? Whilst studying I set up a small farming business back in Latvia, I rented some land and started growing reed canary grass (a tall grass they use in heating). I had to deal with tax law, subsidies, weather disruptions and lost car keys in a crop field in the middle of nowhere (local farmers with metal detectors saved the day). It taught me to always expect loads of random stuff going wrong so now there’s very few issues that I would get worried about.
What did you study? Did you do internships? I studied Management with Decision Sciences (fancy way of saying ‘modelling and statistics’) in the Manchester Business School. I had two internships. After the first year I did a voluntary marketing internship at the Durrell Wildlife Preservation Trust in Jersey, an amazing organisation that has brought a number of species back from the brink of extinction. Then after my second year I did a strategy consulting internship at PwC energy team in London. Both were amazingly insightful and good fun - one because I got to work on something I am truly passionate about and the other because it gave me the first proper view of my future career choice.
If someone wanted to get your job, what would you tell them to do? Don’t rush it - I believe you need three things to have a business with a decent chance of success. First, you need some skills like planning, negotiation, presenting etc. Second and most importantly you need to find a customer pain to go and fix, and, third, you need to have some credibility in the field you’ve found the pain in so that people listen to you. The customer pain and credibility are things you can only get by doing something beforehand and waiting till the right moment to arrive rather than specifically focusing on becoming an entrepreneur. It also helps to have some savings as it takes a long long time before you have a chance of making money.
What did you want to be when you were a kid? I wanted to be an inventor. Alas most of my inventions turned out to have been invented beforehand, even my innovative way of automatically closing doors with a string and a paperweight.
Is there a piece of advice you would give your former self? Be more active! It took me a while to realize that most of the learning happens outside of school and uni - in student societies, meeting people who have a different background than yours.
Is there someone in particular whose career you admire? Gerald Durrell, who wanted to fight the accelerating extinction of animals. His career spanned from traveling round the world, collecting animals for zoos, to writing books about his travels and eventually setting up his own zoo with conservation rather than entertainment as the main goal. He focused everything on the one problem he cares about and as a result has done more for conservation than most large organisations.
Do you know what you want to do later? Do you have a specific goal you have in mind? With Edurio I’m in it for the long run, the only real goal is to create something that helps the schools deliver better education.
Are you good friends with your coworkers? Yes, if work wasn’t a lot of fun, we wouldn’t be doing it as it’s really tough and pays less than working at McDonalds. I knew everybody on the Edurio team beforehand so we knew we would get along well (most of the time).
What is your work schedule? Last month has been 12-15 hours a day, 7 days a week but usually it’s not that intense. There is no work schedule, there is just stuff you need to get done by the agreed deadlines and then you work whenever you need to. At the moment we are gearing up for testing our student feedback collection tool with 10 schools in December so there’s a lot of loose ends we need to tie up before that.
What do you wear to work? In start-ups it appears that the worse you dress, the more you demonstrate that you’re too awesome to worry about dressing well. I don’t take it quite that far though.
Do you have any side projects? I teach economics to high school students in the school that I used to go to, which helps me learn how to explain complicated issues in a simple way. I also serve on the board of an awesome UK-based start-up, Nifty, where I help them with strategy setting and financial planning.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done at a job? When I was a consultant at McKinsey in London, I spent an entire summer learning how to juggle Diabolo on stilts for a charity circus show we put together with colleagues. We had 3 sell-out shows and raised a fair amount of money for charity. Tough but awesome experience!
Who should I speak to next? You should speak to Edgars, who runs a graphic design agency in Riga.