Food for thought: how one young entrepreneur turned a drunken idea into a tasty business

While recent graduates everywhere are busy panicking about their lack of job opportunities, 24-year-old Josh Magidson is feeling pretty smug. After all, Londoner Josh has just sold the website he set up at university to the e-commerce giant Just Eat for £500,000.

The website, eatstudent.co.uk, allows students to view local takeaway menus and order food to be delivered straight to their halls of residence.

And now, instead of working from his bedroom at home, Josh works in the swanky Just Eat headquarters in Farringdon, London, and Eatstudent has a presence at eight universities across the UK. He was unwilling to reveal his new salary, but he's obviously doing alright: “I’m doing much better than I expected to be doing at my age. That’s all I’m willing to say. I don’t want to go out to dinner with my friends and be expected to pay for everyone...”

It all started in 2006, at the end of Josh’s first year at uni, after a messy night out in Nottingham, where he was studying English. “Some friends and I were desperate for a pizza, but we couldn’t find menus or phone numbers anywhere.” In the end they went hungry, but it got Josh thinking. “I just couldn’t believe there was nowhere on the internet that had all this information.”

Josh paid a friend £50 to set up a simple website and, with a small team of fellow students, persuaded all his local takeaways to sign up. “When we launched it, we didn’t have to spend any money on marketing; we just relied on word of mouth.”

Like Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook, Josh benefited from the way news spreads within the student community. Indeed, he even admits that Zuckerberg was one of his inspirations. “When I came arrived at university Facebook was just starting up. Obviously, I’m no Zuckerberg, but I was certainly influenced by his story.”

Unlike the Facebook founder, Josh did not drop out of university. “The website was always a side project while we were studying, earning us about £200 per week,” Josh says. “We would spend a few weeks at the beginning of each term setting it up and making sure it was all running OK.”

When he graduated, however, it was a different matter. “The job market was so bad that I decided to take on the project full time.” Josh recruited Edward Green, a friend from school who had just finished a History degree at Cambridge University. They both invested £4,000 each of private money to improve the website before they started approaching big companies for investment. “We had proof of concept and the business was growing. We just needed some serious money to take it to the next level.”

In July this year the universities minister David Willetts caused mild controversy by suggesting that if graduates couldn’t find a job they should start their own businesses. “We have some odd definitions of what constitutes a graduate job,” said Willets. “The most vivid example of that is that setting up your own business does not constitute a graduate job.” Josh agrees. “Most people go back and live at home when they leave university. They don’t have a mortgage and they don’t have a family. It’s the best time to start a business.” He is also well aware of the risks: “I obviously wouldn’t recommend that people plough a lot of money into it, but even if the venture isn’t a success after a year or two, you have great experience that could help you get a job.”

For Josh this is only the beginning. “We’re looking to grow the business 100 per cent every month,” he says. “The key is to spread to new universities.” Next up are Bristol, Sheffield, Warwick and Liverpool in January and within the next two years he wants Eatstudent to be in every university in the country. It doesn’t stop there. “My ambition is to take it not just national but international. There are some great university cultures outside the UK.” So, watch out. Eatstudent could be coming to a university near you, and just as Zuckerberg noted the student population’s capacity for endless socialising, Josh Magidson knows not to underestimate student demand for fast food.

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