We chat to Ed Holroyd Pearce, co-founder of student and graduate experience website virtualinternships.com. He tells us about speaking to candidates and creating remote working internships for people entering the workplace.
Please explain who you are, what your business is, and what it does/aims to achieve?
I’m Ed Holroyd Pearce, co-founder of virtualinternships.com – we arrange remote work experience programs for students and graduates around the world. The service aims to not only break down barriers to traditional internships (e.g. flexibility around existing commitments, no need to relocate, or experience high transport costs), but also to equip participants with extremely useful skills needed for remote working for their future careers.
What time does your day usually start and end?
By 8am, I’ve done a quick check of emails and checked any urgent actions needed from overnight (alongside getting my twins to nursery!). I’m in the office by 9am, unless meetings mean it’s more efficient to work from home or a cafe. Most days I aim to be home by 6pm which is dinner and bath time for the twins. When needed I catch up on a few outstanding items after they’re in bed.
What is your favourite part of your job and what is your least favourite part?
I love speaking to candidates – whether that’s during their initial admissions call, or during their internship – hearing their individual backgrounds, future desires, and what they’re getting out of the program is extremely rewarding. I typically take one out of every 10 admissions calls just to keep my ear to the ground and remind myself why we’re doing this. Worst? Hearing about red tape or regulations which stop a university posting our opportunities to students, or knowing that we’ll have to add an extra clause to our T&Cs for a certain jurisdiction.
What inspired you to start your business? (And what made you want to be your own boss?)
I worked in asset management soon after graduating and my boss once mentioned that he thought I’d be good at running my own company – I guess he knew more about me than I did myself at that stage. With our existing business providing internships in Asia (crccasia.com) and the new spin-off, it’s all about connecting young people with opportunities and giving them something which can help them stand out and have stronger careers in their future.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Having been in the internships and study-abroad industry for over a decade, we saw the inefficiencies and the barriers – we know what students want, we know what universities want, and we know what businesses want, yet there are very few services and companies that seem to take all those three factors into account. Remote working is a reality for almost 50% of the workforce in many countries, so why shouldn’t this translate to internships, and at the same time reduce many of the barriers?
How did you fund your business?
Our first business we grew organically for three years and then took a small amount of investment to allow us to grow and expand. For the Virtual Internship business, we were supported by a handful of investors from inception, mostly from my personal network and from my recent MBA at Cass Business School. They saw the potential of the business and had confidence because we understand the industry.
What has been the biggest challenge for your business?
Some companies (we call them host companies) still need a lot of assistance in making an internship position suitable for a virtual internship. Understanding that they need to provide projects which will really benefit the participant is sometimes a struggle too, this takes time when we could be providing more student-company matches.
What do you feel are the biggest obstacles to growth for SMEs in the UK?
As a new entrepreneur, there’s a lot of red tape and jargon. You may believe in your business concept and have a lot of passion, but you perhaps don’t leave enough energy or make mental preparations to deal with Companies House requirements, pensions, tax, etc. Even very positive things like SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) can still seem like a minefield, so realising you need to set aside time and positivity to deal with these elements (or, outsource as many as possible) is important.
Have you made any mistakes along the way and how did you overcome them/learn from them?
Plenty! It’s just really important to see them as learning points, ways to improve your business, your processes, or often to improve yourself. I’ve found it useful to set aside time to ensure I’m really learning when things go wrong, and taking notes or finding other ways to remind myself not to make the same mistakes again. Also, being able to share mistakes openly with colleagues, investors, etc is important. Not only does the transparency do you good, but I believe it strengthens the learning outcomes, making them less likely to repeat themselves.
What previous experiences have helped you in starting your business?
Pretty much every single experience in your life could have some bearing on your ability to start a business. Resilience is key, as is self-awareness. I am grateful to my mother for instilling a natural curiosity in me, which means I do really want to understand things and am not afraid of asking questions.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to anyone looking to start their own business?
As mentioned above, alongside your passion and conviction for your service or product, reserve some energy and positivity to get you through the admin and the bureaucracy, there are times you may need it!
Would you do anything differently if you could start again from scratch?
Starting virtualinternships.com has allowed me to tweak some things we did the first time round with crccasia.com – finding investors and scaling faster, for example.
What do you do to relax away from the hustle and bustle of work?
Holidays are essential for me to recharge and appreciate the amazing world we live in. Sometimes with the kids and sometimes without. My husband and I are good at finding time for ourselves to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries too. And Clio, our Patterdale Terrier is a useful reminder to take a break from the screen and walk around the nearest park for 20 minutes.
What would you be doing if you weren’t running your own business?
I aspire to have a portfolio career, and whatever roles I was doing I would prioritise variety. I have found that to get the most out of myself, I need a balance of hands-on activity alongside something which needs reflective, contemplative, or strategic outputs.
Do you manage to achieve a good work/life balance?
Generally yes, though during busy times it’s easy to feel like you’re cutting corners with either family, work, or a bit of both. Taking a moment each week to realise how fortunate I am and to be honest about which element of life might need a bit more TLC the following week has helped me.