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Student Interview Series: Q&A with William Cleaver from the University of Sussex

Education is one of the most influential factors in determining a young person's future, and we want to share experiences of the up-and-coming generation of professionals. Our team at NimbleFins is conducting a series of Q&A interviews featuring top students at different universities across the UK. This interview is with William Cleaver, who is studying Economics and Politics at the University of Sussex.

Tell us one thing about you that’s not on your resume.

In 2019, I embarked on the Mongol Rally driving from Brighton (United Kingdom) to Ulan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia and back! The route took our 998CC Vauxhall Agile through 21 countries, traversing three mountain ranges and sweating through two deserts in just over 9 weeks. The experience pushed us to our absolute limits, testing us on running a very tight budget against at times what seemed an impossible timeline. This resulted in the three of us driving round the clock for five days to cross Russia and make our visa deadlines! The plucky £200 car that had been battered by 10,000 KM of questionable roads out, limped the 7,500km back to carry us home.

What has your experience been like at the University of Sussex?

Starting university as a mature student after serving in the British Army was an exciting change of tempo. University life has offered me the flexibility to carry out my studies as well as exploring new ventures and meeting new people. Initiatives such as the Sussex Innovation Centre provide great support for budding entrepreneurs.

What other schools were you considering, and why did you choose the University of Sussex?

I chose the University of Sussex as it offered a campus experience that the other universities could not. Having left A levels to join the army at 17, Sussex University offered a foundation year course that gave me the academic skills needed to excel after six years out of formal education.

What influenced you to pursue the BA Economics and Politics degree course?

I wanted to improve my knowledge and understanding of how the world works. It’s a good combination as politics helps you to understand how global decisions are made, whereas economics provides evidence and data justifying why these decisions are made.

What has your experience been like with the programme? What did you find especially valuable about your degree course?

Having the opportunity to balance textbook theory with real world examples and visit industries such as Harvey’s Brewery helps bring a theoretical subject to life. Researching how companies shape their policy to reduce their environmental impact and increase welfare, while still running a profitable business is a necessity which all companies must adopt as consumers become increasingly environmentally aware.

What was your favourite class/module and why?

I took on Modern Political Thought and it came as a bit of a shock to discover the module went back as far as the 1500’s! This turned out to be one of my most interesting modules.

What has been most challenging about studying BA Economics and Politics? Is there anything you wish you had known ahead of time?

I found it's been important to set a routine, creating achievable targets and being self-disciplined with time management and hitting deadlines. University life offers up lots of freedom to explore multiple avenues if you can be efficient with a schedule.

Have you participated in any relevant internships? If so, where were they and can you tell us about your experience?

Between the Mongol rally, managing festival catering units, pursuing a career in the Army Reserves and starting a new business, finding time to do an internship has quashed the idea of a 9-5.

What are your future career plans and aspirations?

The time I’ve had over the last three years to pursue being self-employed is something that I would like to also continue in the future. Having the freedom to push a business in the direction you want, making decisions for the company with the pressure involved with that is something that really motivates and drives me out of bed each day.

What do you think are the challenges that young entrepreneurs face?

Technology is changing at an ever-increasing rate and will be at the centre of any young entrepreneur’s business. Understanding how it will make your company more efficient, dive a marketing campaign or connect with other businesses and consumers is paramount.

Finance and time management. Differentiating between personal and business can be a challenging aspect and difficult to separate at times. For young entrepreneurs who will most likely be working and/or studying while creating and pushing new ideas, the financial pressures will make the failures harder to work through and bounce back from. These setbacks are an important part of any new idea and shouldn’t be considered a failure.

Have you overcome any challenges as an entrepreneur yourself? If so, can you give us an example?

Running an events business in a pandemic has caused many challenges that have knock-on effects in securing finance and future plans due to such uncertainty. Our biggest current challenge is predicting how the events industry will change over the next five years. Questions such as ‘Will people want to attend large scale events?’ or ‘Will the British staycation become the next big thing?’ have caused us to constantly revise our five-year plan and have shaped how we invest into the future. The inherent isolation of Covid-19 has shocked an industry that has its foundations built upon shared experiences. With innervation and drive we have managed to rebrand an old carwash in rural Sussex into a safe and immersive experience. With a budget of zero and limited experience we are proud to have captured the essence of a festival for our consumers during a pandemic.

What is the best entrepreneurship advice you have received?

'The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.' – Jordan Belfort

Erin Yurday

Erin Yurday is the Founder and Editor of NimbleFins. Prior to NimbleFins, she worked as an investment professional and as the finance expert in Stanford University's Graduate School of Business case writing team. Read more on LinkedIn.