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Posted on March 2, 2020 by staff

Online anonymity helped me start a business at 13

Young entrepreneur Ed Beccle’s approach to business is to identify a problem, and very quickly create a solution.

After he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes while at school, he had attempted to find a cheap tutor who could help him catch up for the time lost after his diagnosis. The problem, he said, was a small marketplace of available tutors who were out of the price range.

“I’d try and catch up with tutoring in the holidays, but I didn’t want to have to pay for a 40- or 50-year-old professor to come and tutor me,” he said.

“I wanted to build out a secondary marketplace that would connect you to a third-year university student, who is often a lot cheaper.”

The concept would become the first iteration of Grasp, but not the last, and just one example of Beccle’s approach to problem-solving.

A self-motivated entrepreneur as soon as he entered his teens, Beccle finds it difficult to pinpoint where his confidence in business building began.

The idea had always seemed a possibility, he said. And it was a more attractive one than his disrupted school life in Oxford.

“I had amazing friends at school but I didn’t enjoy the work. We were all being taught the same thing in the same way. You’re forced to repeat it in exams and you’d forget about it the next day.

“I’m part of that generation that had access to the unrestricted internet. It seemed like a way to have a potentially limitless impact on the world, and quickly too.”

He had already set up his first business at just 13 years old. Using bots, a website he built allowed visitors to buy YouTube views and Instagram followers. At its peak, this first venture was making £100 a day.

The online world offered another advantage: it provided him with anonymity. This was crucial because of the restrictions his young age might have presented as the founder of a traditional business.

“Most people my age have pretended to be a different age online,” he admitted.

“It just gave me this realisation that all of this is possible if it’s done behind the computer.

“I thought, if I could make a lot of money online, maybe I don’t have to be at school.”

After a few years of work on Grasp Tutoring, the company would be licensed to a Chinese EdTech firm. The sale meant he could leave school. Officially this happened at 18 years old, but he had mentally checked out at 16.

“I just stopped working on school and started working on my stuff,” he said. It was a gamble, but thoughts of failure didn’t last long in his mind.

The alternative was to finish school, go to university and get an entry-level job. “I couldn’t think of anything worse.”

Beccle’s parents were shocked at his decision but ultimately trusted his instinct, he recalls. He argued that if his entrepreneurial ventures were honourable failures it wouldn’t affect employability. The way he saw it, he wouldn’t want a career working for someone who didn’t respect his choices.

But the reality of his age had begun to creep into the real world as Grasp Tutoring grew before its eventual sale.

“Our issue was that our acquisition costs were high, and we couldn’t raise any money because of my age,” he explained.

Turning 18, he began his next venture; the build of a sales enablement platform with a multi-billion dollar wholesaler. He said this platform now facilitates hundreds of millions of dollars in sales around Europe.

What was more important than those figures was that the work helped him to see inside the offices of companies with thousands of employees, something he’d not experienced from a career behind his computer.

“I got to go and see a lot of what these organizations were like, and people just don’t talk to each other! You barely know who works five or six steps away from you, let alone the floor above.”

Just as he had done with the first iteration of Grasp, he took this observation and began working on a solution.

“In companies that have thousands of employees, ultimately everyone must know everything which needs knowing.”

But, he said, as a new starter it must be awkward to connect with the people around you, to make phone calls to people, and to ask for help.

This would be the birth of his latest company, Grasp HR. The start-up has, unlike his previous ventures, managed to raise money despite his age. Over $5m in fact, led by FTSE 100 CEOs and angel investors.

“I’ll go into Fortune 1000 companies meeting the CEO or CHOO, and they ask me why on earth I’m trying to redefine HR tech when I’ve never had a job before, let alone one in a similarly large corporate.

“But I kept coming back to the tutoring app I’d created, which was amazing to find knowledge within a geography or ecosystem. It’s never been easier to connect with the people around you in theory, but technology has pushed a lot of people further apart in terms of meaningfully connecting with purpose.”

Grasp is now designed to make smart recommendations about which employees in large firms are best fit to connect, creating mentors from existing employees who can chat in person or digitally via the platform.

The firm, co-founded by Beccle and Henry Costa, now has 10 full-time employees based in the London office, and around 30 in total.

The benefit of Grasp HR is better retention for employers and happier employees, said Beccle. Millennials, in particular, are weighing up the opportunity for mentorship when deciding where to work.

But of his own less traditional career development path, Beccle said his most valuables lessons had to be leant first hand. Experienced young entrepreneurs are in shorter supply.

“I think I was very, very trusting,” he said of his teenage years. “Trying to meet anyone and everyone I could was brilliant for me, but inevitably you end up meeting and trusting the wrong people.”

“I don’t think I’m that confident. I’m super scared and there’s so much pressure. I feel all those things too. It’s just I’m more scared about not doing this stuff.”

And in another decade, when Beccle turns 30 years old, he said his goals are as big as ever. He said he loved to think into the future about what possibilities lay ahead.

“I’d like to imagine I can get to a place where we’ve impacted the entire world.

“I just want to work out where I fit best, whether that’s scaling or running the big business, starting a lot of businesses up and getting to the point where I can hand them on to someone else. I don’t know yet. But I’ve got to explore and figure it out.”