Graduate business founder shares his tips
Mark Oakden studied Building Engineering and Management at the University of Brighton, graduating in 1996. Here he tells beepurple – the university’s entrepreneurship support service – about his career journey after graduation and how he came to launch his own business, Branching Out Adventures.
“After university I took a gap year and did some travelling around the world and then went straight into construction. I gradually worked my way up through the ranks to Managing Surveyor, responsible for a team of eight surveyors managing £60m turnover, working out of East Grinstead.
“I have always enjoyed the outdoors and realised that if I don’t follow the dream now, I never would, so I took a huge leap of faith and through in the security of a 9-5 and set up my own surveying practise specialising in anything to do with construction and money.
“This enabled me to invest more time and money to turning the dream into a reality.”
Describe your business: what do you do, how do you provide value, what is your vision for the future?
“Branching Out Adventures is a high ropes activity centre providing a fun, adrenaline-fuelled day out. High ropes courses will challenge your strength, agility and nerve; while the giant swing will challenge your courage, with the zip wire satisfying your desire for speed delivering you safely to the firm, solid ground.
“Apart from being a lot more cost effective than our competitors, we add value by keeping it local and family-oriented. One of our main drivers is keeping it personable, developing relationships with all of our customers, insuring that they have a great time and want to return and recommend.
“We have some new ideas in the pipeline keeping it original, eventually we would like to ‘Branch Out’ and set up some other activity centres, not necessarily ropes course based (as the market is becoming quite heavily populated) but certainly outdoors and tree based.”
What are the biggest business challenges you have overcome as an entrepreneur?
“Firstly getting investment, secondly location, and now we are up and running it’s marketing. We hugely underestimated the expense of this and how important it is (rather naively). During the planning stage we thought it would just happen, as we had confidence in everything we had worked on, we just thought people would hear about it and come straight away within months of being open. We have now been open two years and are still at 50% capacity.
What is the best thing about running your own business?
Excitement, challenge, the unknown, in control of your future.
What is your advice to any student thinking of starting a business?
Go for it, but make sure you do masses of research and understand as best you can what you are taking on. Speak to people, understand all the stages involved. It’s not easy and you have to be committed.