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Business school did not inspire a start-up idea for Saurav Chopra but it convinced him that he could make it as an entrepreneur if he could find the right plan.
The electrical engineering graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi secured a place on the MBA course at London Business School after working for three years as a technology strategy consultant at Deloitte, both in the US and the UK. “Over the course of my first year at London Business School, I realised that entrepreneurship was where my heart belonged,” he says.
The inspiration for exactly what to do took a bit longer than his two-year programme. After graduation, Mr Chopra took a job at Yahoo Mobile as head of business development for Europe, where he met his business partner, Chieu Cao, who had moved to the UK from Texas. Only then did the concept for their start-up begin to emerge. What interested the pair was finding ways to help small businesses grow and over time they realised that these companies often struggled to provide the employee benefits that large companies could access.
The business they created, Perkbox, secures bulk deals with high-street retailers, cinemas, restaurants and insurers to create employee benefits packages tailored to the needs of small businesses. “It was less an instant ‘aha’ moment and more of a very clear and sensible realisation that no other business was offering up this level of support,” Mr Chopra recalls.
“Small businesses provide employment to 65 per cent of the UK population. We perceived a gap in the market for digital web platforms dedicated to helping small businesses and start-ups grow.”
LBS provided financial backers, both fellow classmates and from among the teaching staff, as well as a network of graduates working in target corporate partners who could provide introductions for Mr Chopra and Mr Cao. The founders also secured investment from high-profile figures in London’s start-up community, notably Alex Chesterman of property website Zoopla and Sherry Coutu, a business angel.
Ironically, given the nature of their business, one of the biggest challenges in the early days was attracting key staff with the limited resources of an early-stage venture. “All we had to recruit the very best talent was our passion for the business and our vision of making business owners and their employees happy and successful in their day-to-day lives,” Mr Chopra says. “That really resonated with new recruits who were hungry to become part of something they believed in and to work on a venture with huge potential.”
One of the most valuable experiences for Mr Chopra during his MBA was the four months he spent as an exchange student at the Haas School of Business at University of California Berkeley. Here, he immersed himself in the Silicon Valley ecosystem, gaining first-hand experience of the launch of technology ventures, which then grew to a significant size.
“I received a very holistic education at London Business School,” he says. “It made me realise that the core business and management principles remain the same whether you run a £1m business or a £100m business.” Mr Chopra says that what makes the difference is how quickly you can act, how well you measure your results and the testing of different ways to deliver the service.
Perkbox tripled sales last year and Mr Chopra expects to triple sales again in 2016 to £15m ($21m). The goal is to achieve a turnover of £100m in three years. Headcount has quintupled in 18 months and should go over 100 this year, according to Mr Chopra. “We are proud to have grown at this rate on the back of an initial £350,000 investment.”