Featured Entrepreneur: Lizzie Fane

22 FEB 2010

Lizzie Fane’s success with Third Year Abroad, just announced as a Smarta100 company, demonstrates that entrepreneurs profit by turning problems into solutions.

What does your business do?

ThirdYearAbroad.com aims to inspire students to study languages at university and make the most of their year abroad. It’s such a fantastic and hugely valuable opportunity to speak a foreign language fluently, and yet it is very easy to be discouraged from going by the sheer amount of planning, organisation and self-sufficiency needed to make the year a success.

The year abroad is a complicated and often scary step which we try to make easier by providing students with ‘been there, done that’ case studies, city profiles, course reviews, language help, a discussion forum and advice for their worried parents. ThirdYearAbroad.com is a social networking platform where our users can share their worries, information, help and advice before, during and after their time away.

How did you decide to start it?

I studied Italian at university and spent a wonderful third year abroad in Florence, but I had endless difficulties in registering on my course, finding accommodation with local students and setting up a foreign bank account – especially as I didn’t know anyone else there to ask.

My home university hoped I would return completely fluent in fourth year, but they didn’t have the resources to help me until I was back, while my destination university grouped me en masse with all the other foreign students and left us to our own devices.

I didn’t know any students who had studied there and had no source of information to help me. I checked with friends and parents and discovered that this has been an ongoing problem over the years, so when I graduated I decided to set up the website that I needed while I was away.

What were your toughest challenges?

I’ve been really lucky and have had loads of help and startup advice from very generous people, but my business is solely based on the website so my most difficult and frustrating experience was being let down by my first developers after they’d completed 75% of the project. This meant I had to start again from scratch. I wasted a huge amount of time and money – crucial factors for a startup – but I learnt from my mistakes, treated the process as an expensive crash-course in web development and am very lucky that 3B Digital stepped in to save the day and have done such a fantastic job!

What sites do you recommend

  • www.wexo.co.uk – I couldn’t have started up without the help of work experience students.
  • www.ooh.com – I love learning new skills and this site offers every creative course worldwide I could possibly imagine, plus a few more!
  • www.dailycandy.com – every day I receive one email with the details of something completely new, exciting and unique to do in London.
  • www.springwise.com – the world’s most weird and wonderful new business ideas, all in one place.

Which entrepreneur do you admire most?

I worked for the founder of lastminute.com, Brent Hoberman, on his latest project mydeco.com, and was so impressed by the way he truly involves the entire team in decision-making and developing new ideas. If there are thirty creative brains in the room, why not use all of them every now and then, instead of always selecting a small team?! He was very inspiring.

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