Lockdown was different for all of us. While it definitely had its lows, a lot of people finally found time to do things they’re passionate about or even decided to start their own business.
Ahmed Abbas is a great example of the latter one. After coming up with a business idea during the lockdown, he now runs Piier, an online marketplace that enables people to rent or share their spaces with each other.
When asked how he would describe the business to someone who has no idea what he does, Ahmed said: “It’s all about sharing spaces with each other. People who have an unused driveway or a garage have the ability to list it on the website and make money from it. And then the person who’s looking for a parking space at, for example, Saltburn or Whitby, instead of going round and round and trying to find a parking space can use someone’s driveway. Basically, helping people to go green and also make money.”
Inspired by a TV programme
Many people start their own businesses after picking up an interesting hobby or by using skills and experience they’ve gained from their previous jobs or studies. Ahmed, however, was inspired by a TV programme.
“It was 2020. Lockdown. I was watching TV, watching all sorts of Netflix. And I came across something that was about the sharing economy. It was about how people are sharing resources such as lawnmowers and stuff like that, and I thought this is very interesting,” he said. “So I went and did some research about the actual company, the competitor and then I started digging in.”
After doing research, Ahmed had his ‘lightbulb moment’. He realised that this is exactly what he wants to do: “I just thought it’s a really interesting sector. It has a positive effect on the community and this is the business I want to do. I want to do something really exciting and this hits all the criteria of what I want.”
The impact of lockdown
When the lockdown started, Ahmed was in his second year of university, studying business and marketing. He was applying for placements down South but the pandemic meant everything had to be put on hold.
However, having loads of free time helped Ahmed find his true passion:
“To be honest, I always say that if it wasn’t for covid, I probably would not have come up with the idea. And one of the main reasons is because I would very likely be on placement and I probably would not have been thinking of a business. And I might have not even seen this TV show that was I flicking through.”
How EMS helped Ahmed go from the ‘lightbulb moment’ to starting a business
Having a good business idea is a great start but starting an actual business requires a lot of effort and knowledge. And knowledge is something that many new entrepreneurs are lacking. Ahmed wasn’t an exception.
“I was like right, I’ve got an idea. I can go into business. But I don’t know where to begin,” he said. “I had a vision where I want Piier to be. But I didn’t know how to do it.”
When looking for some advice and guidance, Ahmed discovered EMS that helped him set up his business and gain the skills and knowledge needed to run it.
Ahmed worked with business advisor Nic Calvert. During one to one sessions, Ahmed has learnt how to focus on one thing at a time instead of everything at once. That meant his original idea had to change:
“I wanted to have a platform where you can rent your bike, your car, your drill, gardening equipment etc. But Nic said it’s too broad and I need to refine it. Also, the insurance was too expensive and the easiest way to get into the market was through spaces, which is what I’m doing right now.”
Another thing that needed changing was the name of the business.
“I came up with the name but we didn’t like it. Nic said to go back and look at different names, just brainstorm. He told me how EMS have changed their branding and mentioned a few other businesses. So the name is thanks to Nic.”
The benefits of business training
Apart from one to one sessions, Ahmed has also attended the Early Stages workshop and Going For Growth course. According to him, the Early Stages workshops was extremely beneficial for a startup like himself: “I was spending money on my business from my own bank account not realising that really I should have a business bank account and then we talked about everything I spend and how I should document it.”
“The training, in general, is really good because it’s tailored towards me. So if I ask a question, it isn’t a generic answer from a textbook. It’s more tailored towards your business,” he added.
Plans for future development
When it comes to future plans, Ahmed stays optimistic and dreams big:
“I want to develop an app with the easiest application you can ever use to share spaces with each other, keep on expanding within the Northeast and grow within the UK,” he said. “I also want to have the best customer service – that’s really important for the digital business. If you need help, you need to speak to a human.”
He also hopes to get back to his original idea: “I want to expand technology and add more services, so everyone can rent anything. Become like an Amazon or a Facebook marketplace for everything in the future.”
However, the most important thing right now is to increase brand awareness and spread the word about the positive effects of sharing economy.
“As a start-up, I want things to happen now and quickly, but it’s a journey. All great things take time.”
Experience with EMS
Ahmed believes that without the help of EMS, his business wouldn’t be where it is right now. The whole process would have been slower, he wouldn’t have got to network with certain people and know the opportunities available within the Northeast and Teesside.
When asked whether he would recommend EMS to others, Ahmed didn’t hesitate:
“If someone came over to me and said, I’ve got a business idea but I don’t know what to do, I’d point them to go to EMS. You get advice, guidance and support handed to you on a plate. I got advice that can cost hundreds but didn’t need to pay for anything because it’s fully funded.”
You can check out Piier here: