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Guest blog: It pays to make bold, unusual decisions

This week, we're delighted to welcome Cornerstone.co.uk Founder and 2009 FreshMinds' 'Ones to Watch' Alumni Oliver Bridge as our guest blogger.

Oliver gives us the low-down on his unconventional career path and the world of men’s shaving.

When you have size 13 feet, finding shoes to fit is quite hard, and it was this frustration that led me to launching my first e-commerce website - biggerfeet.com, when I was 15 years old. I set up the business whilst studying for my GCSEs and A Levels – certainly a fairly demanding combination to willingly take on, but, it was different, exciting and paid well – meaning that I never had to wash pots or pour pints in my local pub, which I was grateful for.

This entrepreneurial streak continued at university - I launched a website called GenderChecker.com which helped identify the gender of names. In hindsight, it was a bizarre idea, but one which handsomely paid off through the sales it generated, and again meant that even as a student I had no need to take on part-time jobs to make ends meet.  

I studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, and upon graduating, decided at the last minute to turn down a job in investment banking to work for a small innovation consultancy called Happen. My job involved helping brands such as Cillit Bang to develop new product concepts – it was fascinating work and took me all over the world interviewing consumers in categories as diverse as mosquito repellents and premium gins.

I then moved on from Happen to join a young private equity fund – Synova Capital, where my role was to identify promising technology and consumer businesses and give us the opportunity to invest in them – again, a role which was incredibly interesting, but very different to what my peers – who had mostly gone into banking, law and consultancy - were doing.

Thank you for bearing with me so far. The previous two paragraphs are not a draft outline of the first chapter of my upcoming autobiography, but rather an attempt to illustrate that doing something different and making bold, unusual decisions can give you a diverse set of experiences and skills.

This puts you in a superb position if you ever decide to start your own business – a journey I have recently set out upon with Cornerstone – my latest venture.

Cornerstone is a men’s shaving brand with a difference: we sell our range of products exclusively over the internet, on subscription – essentially meaning that the bathroom cupboard can now re-stock itself with our razors and shaving products. It’s a ground-breaking approach – bringing technology and shaving together, and it is a model which I believe can dramatically disrupt the way men buy shaving products. We launched last week, so it’s an exciting time for the business.

Lots of people dream of being the CEO of a funded start-up – in my experience, the way to maximise your chances of being in this position is to start early – make non-standard career decisions, and expose yourself to a variety of different experiences.

As a start-up founder, your role stretches from financial modelling and marketing to making the tea and cleaning the toilets, so the more diverse your skill-set and career history, the better.

I can’t claim that this is the silver bullet for success – after all, at Cornerstone we’re just starting out, so that would be a little premature. However, if one day you’d like the opportunity to launch a start-up of your own, then I think bold, unusual decisions are the way forward, right from the start.

A big thank you from FreshMinds to Oliver for giving us an insight into his career, tips on what it takes to succeed and introducing us to his exciting new venture! We love to hear from our 'Ones to Watch' alumni and wider FreshMinds network - if you're part of our network and fancy guest blogging for us, sharing your career story and insights you've gleaned along the way, plus details of any of your exciting ventures, please let us know!

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