Josh March first built a digital marketing agency around social media before identifying the product opportunity for Conversocial.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal story. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised, and in what kind of background?
Joshua March: I grew up in a relatively small town in England, a few hours outside of London. It’s called Malvern, Worcestershire. It’s famous for classical music composer Elgar. It has beautiful hills and countryside. It’s a lovely place to grow up but not completely exciting from a business perspective or the perspective of a 16-year-old.
I studied an undergrad law degree at college. I really wanted to be a barrister, which is a type of lawyer in England. That really attracted me. My family were lawyers and I was very interested in it. I didn’t really know anything particular about business. Entrepreneurship wasn’t part of my experience growing up. I went to college at Durham University. I was thinking I was on a pretty clear career path.
In my first summer holiday, I got a job with a small firm. New laws had been passed which meant every single restaurant and bar in the whole of England had to update their licensing laws. Every single place in the whole country had three months to make this change or they could lose their license. I needed some work every summer and I got a job helping companies do this.
After about a few weeks, I realized a number of things. I realized that you didn’t have to be a qualified lawyer to offer this as a service. I also was stumped by the fact that I was doing all of the work. It wasn’t that complex but there were these old guys running the firm who were charging a load of money and paying me very little. At the end of the first few weeks, I didn’t want to work there. I thought, “Why don’t I just do it myself?” I just went out, printed some flyers and started doing these licensing applications. Over the summer, I had made a decent amount of money. At the end of it, I reflected back and I was like, “I learned a lot.” It was actually the legal part of it that I found boring. The exciting bit was getting out there and meeting with customers. That sparked something inside of me to start learning more about business and being an entrepreneur, which I had never considered before. I started delving into that world as much as I could. Over the next few months, I made this decision that I was going to be an entrepreneur. The rest came from there.
Sramana Mitra: What year are we talking when this decision was crystallizing in your head?
Joshua March: I guess that was about 2005 to 2006.
Sramana Mitra: When you decided you were going to be an entrepreneur, what kind of ideas were you toying with? What was going to be the content of your entrepreneurship?
Joshua March: I immediately started thinking up as many business ideas as I could. I was pretty dead certain at that time that I was going to be a billionaire within a year or two. I joined business plan competitions and all kinds of things. My first business which I did while I was still in college ended up being an e-commerce company. There was a lot of growing interest in fair trade, eco, ethical type of market. I had interest in that. My mom lives in Kenya and is involved in trade projects. I was familiar with it.
The one thing that struck me was that the vast majority of people who are selling fair trade or eco products were selling them because they were eco or fair trade and not selling them because they were great products. I just thought that if we are going to move out of a niche and into a mainstream market, then people need to buy these because they’re great products.
The idea I had was to search out the most high-quality product that was fair-traded and ethically make and sell them online. Keep in mind that this was pre-financial crisis. I was a 20 year old full time law student. I actually bought Business Plan for Dummies and wrote this 67-page business plan of how I was going to do this company. I took it to a bank and two weeks later, they gave me over £100,000. Part of what caused it was that everyone was giving loads of money. Suddenly, I’m a 20-year-old with all this money in the bank and a business plan.