You could be forgiven for thinking a 21 year old entrepreneur with an international business who has pitched to Sir Richard Branson might be a tad arrogant. But Jacob Hill, founder of The Lazy Camper, is not the bent-on-world-domination dragon, permanently attached to his iPhone, one might picture. The young businessman aims to go global with his camping kit in a bag and has partnerships with many of the major festivals. Yet despite this he has an easy smile, friendly demeanour and, when asked about meeting Sir Richard, confides that the food at his house was “amazing”.
Virgin Media Pioneer’s ambassador for Yorkshire and the Humber is open about his own experiences. In his workshop for the Youth Festival of Business he regales students from Leeds City College with an anecdote about the time he turned his front room into a sweatshop. A supplier had made a mistake with his order and so he enlisted family, friends and neighbours to help him alter the tents in time for shipping.
He gives targeted advice to the students on how to spot a good idea, get the funding, make the samples and manufacture the goods. Jacob thinks events like the Youth Festival of Business, part of Leeds Business Week, are important because “people need to see that that it is easy to get into business. All you’ve got to do is just get the ball rolling and start moving forwards.”
Jacob began his career selling sweets at age 14. It culminated in him hiring staff, selling to other schools and making over £1000 a week. In 2011, after the cheap camping equipment he bought for Leeds Festival couldn’t handle the event’s routine downpour, the idea for the Lazy Camper was born. However it wasn’t easy being a young entrepreneur.
“Definitely being taken seriously is a big challenge,” says Jacob. “I know when I started my business people were like, ‘Oh it’s just a young person doing it for a laugh, just wanting to take the mick or get something free in life.’” Getting involved with Virgin Media Pioneers and building a reputation around the company helped him to be seen as a businessman worth working with.
As well as a strong reputation Jacob says the first thing young entrepreneurs need is knowledge. “You don’t need to be Einstein but you could do with a bit of basic business background, simple maths, a bit of wit about you, things like that, ready to make hard decisions and be a decision-maker.”
He is also a firm believer that it is necessary for people to make mistakes. One of his favourite sayings is: “‘Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.’ You’ve got to learn to make mistakes so you will fall and because you fall you build yourself up and that’s how you become a better person.”
Finally, says Jacob, you need determination as there are a lot of obstacles in business. “People will tell you that it’s a crap idea, you’ll lose money, you’ll sit there thinking ‘How am I going to pay next month’s bills?’ If you keep pushing through I’m sure there’s a way through it, another way to do things.” It is this determination that led to him becoming a member of the Virgin Media Pioneers which he believes has helped him a lot.
The Pioneers improved Jacob’s confidence. “There’s a video of me doing the coin trick…for the Virgin Media talent adverts. I was so nervous, so shaky and I didn’t know what to do. Then there was the video of me pitching to Sir Richard Branson, they sent me a pitching mentor and I was just fine with it. I was there standing in front of my idol and I was just like, it’s fine, I’m ready to pitch to you. Because of what the Pioneers gave me, I’d built my confidence and I can now talk in front of crowds of people.”
When it came to meeting his hero, Jacob said Sir Richard put him instantly at ease. “He’s so chilled out, he just seems to be a normal person, he’s not arrogant in any way. He seems very down to earth.” Being unpretentious and socially-responsible in his business is important to Jacob. The Lazy Camper’s website says: “We love our planet and deep down, we know everyone else does as well. So we want to help it where we can for future generations to enjoy.” The company offers discounts to those who return their kits, donates those that can still be used to homeless charities and recycles the rest.
There are few people better qualified to help young people in business than Jacob. As a student entrepreneur with a successful growing company and a wealth of good advice he’s well-placed to help those attending the Youth Festival of Business. With The Lazy Camper looking to go global the man who’s “Trying to change the world one tent at a time” may very well succeed.