iFuse: Liam Rhodes
One of the UK's youngest company directors, Liam Rhodes is aiming high with his business, iFuse
Not content with being a teenage entrepreneur himself, Liam Rhodes appears keen to help the next generation of business owners on their way.
He is set to launch Enterprise Now, a web-based software package for secondary schoolchildren. Showing entrepreneurial nous belaying his 17 years, Liam realised that there was sparse competition among software developers offering business educational tools to young people.
“There’s a dire need for enterprise education in secondary schools and the government has a target to fulfil in educating all 15 year olds about enterprise by next year,” Liam explains.
“To plug a gap, we’ve come up with Enterprise Now, an web-based, e-learning software suite, which educates people about entrepreneurship.”
Still under development, Enterprise Now follows the national curriculum closely, educating pupils about skills they need in business and providing case studies, ideas and further sources of advice.
Liam still needs to raise the profile of the product and hammer home the message that schools are required to teach enterprise to pupils from Year 10. However, he feels that he will soon be able to sell the product directly to schools.
“We are going to find out the schools that don’t provide enterprise education and remind them quite subtly that they have a responsibility to educate their students about this and that Enterprise Now can do that.”
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Liam is already a business owner with, almost unbelievably for a person of his age, two years of entrepreneurial experience. He incorporated iFuse in October 2004, making him, at 15, one of the youngest company directors in UK history.
Initially, iFuse, a home-based business set up by Liam and his 20-year-old business partner Dan Munn with their savings, concentrated on providing web hosting and ICT consulting. Having met Dan through a friend, the business model complimented the duo’s technical skills.
However, Liam admits there was little strategy behind the business before they discovered the opportunity for enterprise software for schools.
“With out lack of experience came a lack of knowledge about markets, so initially there was no plan or core purpose other than we wanted to make money,” he explains.
“I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was 12. Being your own boss is the main attraction – you can also make an impact and it’s a good financial avenue.
“I’ve never been someone who likes taking orders either!”
The web hosting has been almost completely dropped – Liam dismisses it as a “dead dog” – although iFuse is launching an ICT consultancy call-out service, manned by Dan and an additional member of staff. The remaining focus has been shifted onto Enterprise Now.
iFuse consists of four directors, with three employees tasked with researching and developing the software.
Liam’s team is as fresh-faced as he is – the operations director is 17 years old, with the product director also one year shy of adulthood. The small workforce is on strictly commission-based pay until Enterprise Now starts selling enough to provide them with a wage.
Staff were accumulated through friendships or via the internet, although Liam is quick to downplay any suggestion that there is any favouritism when it comes to recruitment.
The youth of the company has provided Liam with some practical difficulties.
“The finance side of things has been difficult as banks are quite reluctant to enable us to use all services, such as credit card processing, as I’m under 18,” he says.
“It’s difficult and a pain, but you just get on with it. We have found different avenues to credit card processing because there are companies that can do it for you. There’s always a way around these things.”
The Derbyshire-based entrepreneur has also found it hard to divide his time between running the business and studying for his A-Levels, lamenting that school has been both help and a hindrance.
“School has provided me with knowledge but, on the other hand, it’s taken ages to set up the business because of my A-Levels,” Liam says. “To divide time between A-Levels and a social life is bad enough, but with a business as well it can be quite difficult.”
Once his exams are out of the way, Liam plans to laugh Enterprise Now in time for schools’ new academic year.
The software will cost schools £750 for a yearly site license, a figure Liam feels should be within budget of schools, which are allocated an average of £6,000 per year each to teach youngsters about starting up a business.
iFuse is projected to sell 300 licenses from a list of 1,000 target schools, making around £225,000 in turnover. There are plans to expand the offering to web-based networking for budding entrepreneurs.
Liam has received plenty of encouragement, ranging from Enterprise Insight (a government body tasked with developing an enterprise culture in the UK) and his former head teacher to Simon Woodroffe, founder of the YO! chain.
“There has been a great deal of interest,” he enthuses. “We will be taking public relations advice to expand our relations.
“I will go onto university and then on to politics, but I plan to stay business for some time.”