Student Harriet Noy has always had an entrepreneurial mindset – and she may have found the perfect outlet for it with marketplace app Hazaar.
The University of Birmingham student set up society Plastic-Free UoB with a friend before an unexpected success catapulted her into the new status of business owner.
Plastic-Free UoB was designed to reduce the use of plastic campus-wide by meeting with decision-makers to find alternatives. Its success led Noy to consider other ways of making the area greener. One opportunity outside of the redbrick university’s picturesque campus was the weekly deliveries of fancy-dress costumes required by one of the university’s organised nights.
While the packaging these costumes arrived in was recyclable, the environmental cost of the air-miles, and the waste of a costume worn once, inspired Noy to consider an alternative.
By setting up a marketplace in which students could trade used costumes by meeting in person – alongside textbooks and household items – packaging and air-miles could be cut out entirely.
“I live with 10 other girls at university and every Wednesday is sports night, which you need a costume for. Everyone would go on Amazon Prime on Tuesday and order something,” explains Noy.
She set up a Facebook page for the purpose in January. On launch day, sat in the library, she heard people talking about it; within 20 minutes of publishing the post it had 400 likes.
An astonishing 2,000 people would join on that first day. “I was shaking,” she says of the experience.
Four days after launch, the page had amassed 4,000 Birmingham students, and to date has helped them trade around £14,000 worth of items.
Despite the success, she realised that a Facebook page was perhaps not the best long-term home for a fast-growing online platform.
“There were a lot of problems with the Facebook page,” says Noy. “If you want to search for something you have to look through lots of things you’re not interested in.”
Facebook’s regulations also proved a problem: “If you post a high-value item it can be deleted because they presume it is fake.”
Creating an app was the logical next step, a move which would evolve the Facebook page into a tech business and see Noy become an entrepreneur.
Her initial research – asking student friends at other universities – confirmed that there was little else out there which met the brief, and a much bigger opportunity was making itself clear.
Noy’s plan now is to bring the app to every university in the UK, alongside a companion Facebook page specific to that university.
To build such an app, Noy needed investment. She created a pitch deck and sent it to investors via LinkedIn. Funding finally came from a distant family friend, based in Dubai, with whom Noy had done work experience.
That was four months ago – and the resulting £40,000 raise is currently being used to build the Hazaar app, set for launch at the University of Birmingham around Christmas.
A wider roll-out will follow at Swansea, Leeds, Manchester and Cambridge around March.
Replicating the success of the first project will rely on finding the right ambassadors at each university, who can replicate Noy’s activities in their own social networks.
Noy, who has used LinkedIn to build her early connections, convinced Natalie Furness, Marketing Director at Niam Marketing, to lead the build of Hazaar.
“I was trying to do all the UX and design myself so I got in touch for advice, and we got on incredibly. I wanted her to be involved in the journey,” she says of Furness.
When released, the app will recognise a student’s university email address and automatically authorise them before putting them into the correct marketplace.
Though university email addresses and locations are being used, Noy says the university doesn’t need to be involved. “As soon as you become branded with university or as part of the university, you lose the idea of being trendy or cool,” she says.
“Our app’s going to be so much bigger and better than Facebook Marketplace. It’s going to be tailored to students.”
Because the trades are made in person, funds will be held until the exchange is confirmed using a QR code.
“The money will be held via a payments processor until they meet in person, then they scan the code and the payment is completed,” she explains.
Revenue will be made through a commission made from these sales.
“For students, the thought of being stuck in family homes is not ideal: they’d rather be at uni with their mates. In terms of coronavirus, students are quite a safe target market,” she says.
Students have also been using the time to make their own ‘side hustles’. Noy says there is an increasing trend of buying and reworking second-hand clothes to sell online, and the Hazaar platform was ready for this too.
Noy plans to “power through” the final year of her economics degree alongside running the business, despite now finding it relatively boring.
“I can sit in my room all day and do the start-up stuff. It doesn’t even feel like I’m working,” she says.
After graduation, Noy plans to operate the business from her parents’ BnB in Silverstone, with the ultimate aim of setting up HQ in Manchester and launching the app at every university in the UK.
She then hopes to oversee a global launch, beginning in the US.