The Startup Interview: GuidEd

For a man of his age, Cavid Nadirov has accomplished a lot. At just twenty-two, Cavid is the Chief Operating Officer of a home security business in his native Azerbaijan while taking his first steps in the world of tourism with a student tourist guide app, GuidEd. He’s also studying for his Masters in Human Resources Management at the University of Edinburgh, more than 2,500 miles from home. We met at the University’s student union on a cold but bright Sunday afternoon in January for a chat about entrepreneurship, what inspires him, and his latest startup.

Cavid has taken a break during a day of studying to chat. With the launch of his new startup just a week away, he tells me that he’s forgotten to study for a few days. He opts for an armchair by the window of the New Amphion cafe, blending in among the other students in his green v-neck jumper, jeans and heavy-duty walking boots. Unfortunately, there isn’t any tea available so we get straight down to business.

“What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?” I ask. “My dad’s an entrepreneur and my uncle’s a businessman,” he explains. Cavid’s family come up often during our meeting as one of his primary sources of inspiration and motivation. “They inspired me to have my own thing, my own work, and to create something really.”

“My dad’s an entrepreneur and my uncle’s a businessman. They inspired me to have my own thing, my own work, and to create something really.”

As Cavid is still a student — he originally studied Business Administration at a University split between Turkey and Cyprus before moving to Edinburgh to undertake his Masters degree — I ask him whether he will continue as an entrepreneur once he graduates. “Yes,” he answers without hesitation, “I intend to work on both of my businesses, travelling backwards and forwards between Azerbaijan and Edinburgh to build them up.” It’s a confident answer which leaves no room for doubt despite many students fears that the financial risk of such an undertaking is too great despite a drop in graduate positions.

I’m interested in Cavid’s latest project, GuidEd which aims to match up Edinburgh’s tourists with affordable, student tour guides. Cavid strikes me as having little if any, experience in the tourist trade (it turns out I’m wrong) so I ask him where his inspiration for the project came from. “I was researching the cities I’d applied to for my Master’s,” he explains. “I saw that Edinburgh has two big festivals with four million tourists per year and I thought there has to be some business opportunity there.” I dig a little deeper, searching for a particular moment of entrepreneurial spark. “I met some students looking for part-time jobs during my first week at the University. They were struggling to fit anything into their schedules,” Cavid tells me. “I’d already seen the potential for guides and tourists in the city, but I’d never thought about the students. I thought that students might offer something a little different.” He took the idea further, researching the student and tourist communities before pitching his idea at 3 Day Startup, an entrepreneurship and innovation weekend hosted by the University of Edinburgh’s student startup incubator, LAUNCH.ed.

Taking a slightly different path to the one Cavid appears to be expecting, I ask him about the role that incubators like LAUNCH.ed and the Scottish Institute for Enterprise play in inspiring entrepreneurship. “There are a lot of people who are becoming entrepreneurs out of necessity and the role of these kinds of organisations is to help and inspire them.” It’s an interesting perspective and one I’m keen to explore. He explains that he sees part of the move towards entrepreneurship in recent years as the result of the financial crisis of 2009 and the impact it has had on job quotas. But he also believes that entrepreneurship has changed as a result of startups being easier to get off the ground. “Today, you can start with a Facebook page or just a blog. You can build a website of your own and then things can get bigger,” he explains.

“How would you define an entrepreneur?” I ask. “Would you agree with the commonly used definition of someone who takes a risk in the hope of financial gain?” Cavid surprised me in his answer. “For me, everyone is an entrepreneur. Take your life as an example: you are a product yourself. You get investment from your childhood, your parents invest in you for your education. As you grow up, you try to stay on the right side. Then, you can make a good, valuable company of your services, seeing yourself as a product or you can fail and change direction.” It was an answer delivered as if he’d been waiting for the question all along. Nevertheless, Cavid does, to a certain extent, agree with the common definition I provided, noting that entrepreneurship is “still risky, a lot of work and the future is unknown. You give up a lot.”

“For me, everyone is an entrepreneur. Take your life as an example: you are a product yourself.”

So how has entrepreneurship changed? Cavid reinforces a previous answer, saying “there are no huge business plans anymore, it’s a lot simpler, shorter and faster. People take a few months to tell if it is going to work or not.” He reminds me, however, that for many, the premise hasn’t changed: “Entrepreneurship is the thing you do to change the world, to change things, to innovate.”

“Have you ever started a business that has failed?” I ask Cavid? “Yeah,” he responds without hesitation. “When I was an undergraduate, we had a restaurant idea. We had the business plan, we were making test meals but when we attended investor competitions, we lost all the time. After a few months, we realised we weren’t going anywhere, we weren’t on the right track so we shut it down.” Throughout the interview, Cavid has struck me as particularly open and willing to talk about his failings just as much as he discusses his successes. He also tells me of how he failed his first year as an Undergraduate but, aged just sixteen, it taught him to pick things back up straight away and learn from them. “In entrepreneurship, there is no failed startup, there is a good experience,” he concludes.

We return to talking about Cavid’s latest project, Guided. I’m interested in how far they’ve come and where he sees it going in the future. “3 Day Startup helped me a lot to launch the initial idea, research the tourists and the guides but the team has changed since then,” Cavid tells me. Since then, he’s been working with his co-founder — a fellow Azerbaijani he met through an incubation centre — and their first batch of student guides. “Finding guides was quite successful,” he says — they’ve recruited five already. “We’ve shot the first introductory film for the company and hopefully, in a couple of weeks, we’ll launch and see if there is real demand or not in the first few months.”

“Our near-future plan, and by that, I mean three years, is to test the product in Edinburgh over two years and then expand around the UK,” Cavid tells me with great confidence, his hands parting to demonstrate the growth he envisages. He also has plans to expand into Europe if all goes well, but he knows he will face some competition when he gets there. “It’ll be a long time before we become a global company though,” he says. It’s refreshing to find a startup who are dedicated to step-by-step growth in an age of instant globalisation as a result of technology.

I change the conversation again: “Who inspires you?”, I ask. “Oh, I wasn’t expecting that question,” Cavid answers, sitting back in his armchair. My catching him unaware surprises me. I was half expecting Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg or someone similar as an on-the-spot response. “I like to think that every entrepreneur has their own style,” he tells me. “I wouldn’t have said there was any one of the big entrepreneurs who inspires me. At a personal level, I guess the person who inspires me would be my dad.” The familiar, family inspiration Cavid mentions so frequently makes another appearance.

“Whatever you do, whether you’re a baker or the CEO of a huge company, the first thing you have to have is a passion and love.”

“Whatever you do, whether you’re a baker or the CEO of a huge company, the first thing you have to have is a passion and love. Even if you are forced to do something, then try to love it — then you’ll do it better.” This, Cavid tells me, is the most important piece of advice his family have ever given him. “And what advice would you give someone?” I ask him. He tells me with a chuckle that he’s prepared some future TEDx speeches in the belief that he’ll be successful in the future. “You have to decide what it is that makes you happy. Try to find and keep the things that make you happy and forget about what others tell you will make you happy,” he says, referring to the common view of financial stability being one of the keys to happiness.

And his advice for students considering entrepreneurship? “People always give the examples of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg who dropped out of school — their success stories are one in a million cases and you always have to have a backup plan, whatever you do,” Cavid says. He notes, however, that “having a backup plan is always good but it shouldn’t discourage you from being an entrepreneur at the same time.”

With that, I switch off the recorder and we both don our heavy winter jackets once more. Cavid is heading back to the Business School to catch up on his studying before returning his focus to running GuidEd and his other business once more.