"For me, attending BU didn't end up just being about getting a degree - don't get me wrong, I left BU with a fantastic education in Marketing, but the things I learnt outside of my degree were just as, if not more important..."
Shared experiences, foods, passions and past times - do these hearty ‘ice breakers’ merely provide passing discussion around the dinner table, or are these dining dilemmas and culinary catastrophes something rather more… marketable?
For BU alumni Jamie Spafford, a BA (Hons) Marketing Communications graduate, student stories of frozen kebabs and cheffing faux pas formed the impetus for an international business – a YouTube channel with a following of more than 2.5million people across the globe.
“It all started in 2008 while I was still at university. I was back at home in Hertfordshire and at the pub with my friends, Ben, Mike and Barry. We were talking about our university experiences and the conversation gravitated towards food. It turned out that all of us – except Ben who was training to be a chef – were eating pretty badly. In fact, I won the competition for worst food consumed with a frozen donor kebab from a well-known supermarket.
“Ben, being a natural cook, was amazed that the rest of us were so clueless about cooking and that we were wasting so much money on eating out or getting takeaways. He began teaching us some basic recipes and we realised that other people like us could benefit from learning them too.”
Jamie, who visited BU recently to talk to students about the rise of influencer marketing, initially saw social media as a host of MySpace profiles, rather than a purveyor of video and multimedia content, with YouTube being an effective way of sharing recipes and tips.
“The audience grew with the support of other social media channels and we started to get approaches from brands who wanted to partner with us. That was the turning point in terms of thinking about it as a full-time career. We were all in our twenties and didn’t have any real responsibilities so figured we should give it a go. If it failed, we could always go back to employment and at least know we had tried.
“In many ways, SORTEDfood grew out of the rise in marketable social media content, coinciding with the rise of bloggers, vloggers and people using their social media followers to generate new ideas for content – though it was still far from straight forward for the group in terms of how the brave new venture would generate income.
“Initially, we never had any aspirations that this could be a full-time career, but that is just what it has been for the last six years. The ethos at the heart of it – a bunch of mates chatting in the kitchen, or around the pub table sharing recipes – hasn’t changed. Along the way, we have upped our game in terms of a studio space and better equipment, and the hairstyles have changed a bit too!”
Even after finding success with SORTEDfood, transforming an idea into a viable business proposition, there’s a special ingredient that Jamie feels forms the backbone of every outstanding entrepreneurial venture - passion.
“You need to have a passion for what you do. If you set out thinking about it as a job or a way to make money, you won’t succeed. This kind of thing isn’t 9 to 5. Our community is based around the world, which means you need to be available to interact and respond to comments when they are online.”
Now a very popular and powerful endorser and influencer for brands as diverse as Ford, Android, The Co-op and the US Tourist Board, SORTEDfood still retains a great deal of autonomy over the companies it decides to work with, remaining authentic and honest with its audience by disclosing brand partnerships and only working with those that suit its’ audience.
“There is a financial reality to making a venture like this work, but you need to judge each approach or partnership offer on its merits. We probably turn down about 90 per cent of the offers we get from brands. It’s a tough choice when you’ve got a team to pay and a building to run, but it all comes back to being authentic about what you do. Don’t get tempted by the quick wins if you want to be in it for the long game.”
After forging such an enthused and dedicated online community, SORTEDfood is now looking at new ways to grow its following as well as bring its legion of fans even closer together.
“In the same way that YouTube enables you to broadcast direct to an audience, we realised we could get a cookery book out loads quicker by doing it ourselves. We managed to release it in two months whereas it would have taken 12-15 months if we had gone through a publisher. One day I would love us to have our own restaurant, or even a pub, to take it back to where it all began.”
For Jamie, coming to BU was more than just studying for a degree. It also saw him discover new life experiences, gained him an invaluable placement opportunity in an area of interest that appealed to him, and perhaps most importantly, found him a close-knit group of friends that are still in touch today.
“Attending BU didn't end up just being about getting a degree. Don't get me wrong, I left BU with a fantastic education in Marketing, but the things I learnt outside of my degree were just as, if not more important...
"From learning to live on my own for the first time and the amazement of obtaining my placement year at Toyota GB, where I could combine my love of cars and marketing, to the unforgettable experiences I had around Bournemouth with friends who have gone on to become part of my closest circle, even 14 years down the line. I can honestly say that BU set me up for life in the best possible way.”