Starting a business is not an easy feat. Starting one at university is arguably even harder, but that is exactly what Matteo Bergamini did during his Politics and History degree at Brunel University London.
Graduating in 2014, he launched Shout Out UK, an independent political news site in his third year of university. Now, with a growing readership of 10,000 a day, Shout Out UK’s founder and director has returned to campus to give the Innovation Hub his story and top tips for student entrepreneurs.
How did you get the idea for your business?
“It’s a bit of a strange one really; Shout Out UK originally was a campaign to get more young people involved in politics and the subject. But then I started to realise that actually there was a severe lack of what people considered current affairs and what they actually cared about, which a lot of young people do care about; green issues, racism, you name it. There is a massive disconnect and I thought that what we actually need is a political news site that connects these two issues together, so it shows how current affairs and things young people care about actually relate to politics and how there is a direct link. If you care about one thing, and you want to change it, the best way is to do it through politics and it sort developed from there.”
Did you find it difficult going from a campaign to a full scale website and business? Was that a difficult transition?
“In the beginning it was. Our website looked dreadful at the beginning. It looked like teletext, someone told me the other day. It was horrible. But then once you start getting the swing of it you start to actually see that there is a lot of help out there. Forums are great. You start to gain more skills, more knowledge and after a while it sort of builds traction. Once we got our site set up, got our SEOs set up it just went from strength to strength. Once you add that base it does become a lot easier but the initial bit was incredibly hard.”
How did you get past that initial, difficult start?
“You meet a lot of people; networking was probably the most important thing I did in starting a business. I met web developers that said I can help you do this and then you meet people that know about social media and you pick their brains and get that skill. It was all about meeting people and using their skills. “
What do you think makes Shout Out UK different from all the other political news sites out there?
“We try to connect young people with politics. In the UK there are tons of youth media networks but they’re all to do with music, lifestyle and fashion. None of them are orientated around politics at all. We are trying to connect the 16-25 year old bracket with politics in a way that connects the grass roots level to what happens in the mainstream. We haven’t come across any other platform that do that yet.”
If you could go back to day one of your start up and talk to yourself about things you’ve learnt, what would you say to yourself?
“I’m not entirely sure what I would say to myself, if I look back on it you make tons of mistakes, but it was through those mistakes that you ended up knowing what you wanted to do afterwards.
“The one thing I would say is to go and network more. You think back and you had some events that you didn’t go to, because you couldn’t be bothered and think ‘I should have gone to that event now’. The more people you meet the more likely it is that your business will succeed. It really is that simple because those people that you meet can then provide you with funding or skills that you potentially use and obviously they’re all potential clients as well.
“But if there is one thing that I would say would be to go into films earlier. To go into films earlier and to forget about going into print. There was a time that I wanted to go into print, now I think back I think I must have got hit in the head or something because that is a ridiculous idea, especially nowadays with the internet. But we’ve only just got into films recently, making our first documentary ‘Anonymous’ and going onto Channel 4. I just think that if we did that a lot earlier we would have got a lot more traction.”
Looking to the future, where do you see yourself and Shout Out UK in five years?
“We’d like to see ourselves as more of a production company as well as a news network, so more films, more documentaries. We are going to be doing a feature film on squatting soon so we are fundraising for that at the moment.
“We are doing an expose on unpaid internships, where young people now have to pay to work for free, so it’s not just that you’re doing an unpaid internship. That is where I want to take it in the next five years.”
How do you think your experiences at Brunel shaped you?
“Apart from obviously the education, I thoroughly enjoyed Politics and History not just because of the teaching but because I genuinely enjoyed those two subjects. But also when I went to Andrew Ward (Director of Corporate Relations) I told him about my business and what I wanted to do he said straight away yes we’ll find you a room even before I asked.
“The support has been brilliant, more so than other universities. I can say that because I’ve got friends that are starting their own businesses and I was telling them what Brunel was doing, and they tried to go to their universities and hit a brick wall because there was no support for entrepreneurship whatsoever. With my business, the academic side helped so much because that’s not really what they are there for. The university itself was incredibly helpful.”
Do you think you still would have set up your business without that help?
“I still would have been able to do it, probably, I wouldn’t know for sure, but it would have been a lot harder. We could have meetings in the Innovation Hub, we could ask for advice and guidance and the space itself was massively helpful, obviously there was no rent to it and if you try and look for a place in London, it’s insanely expensive, even for start-up hubs.”
What advice would you give to young student entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own business?
“Two things, I’d say.
“Don’t be shy. If you have an idea, go for it. The worst thing that can happen is that you fail. So what, at least you’ve tried and the skills – even if Shout Out failed – that I’ve learned in coding to journalism, the people I met helped me immensely anyway. Those skills I can then put on my CV and look for a job, so that experience in itself helped. So if you have an idea that you think can work go for it.
“The second thing is networking. I can’t stress that enough because the one reason that I managed to do the Anonymous film, we went to a protest met a load of Anonymous members, followed it through, kept meeting people and got a network of people together that we could then make the film about, so I can’t stress that enough – it is a lot about who you know.”