BUY MY FACE?
I talked to Ed Moyse, graduate entrepreneur and co-founder of BuyMyFace.com, about looking for jobs and jumping out of planes. [Originally appeared in issue 5 of Ellipsis
Have you got The Fear yet? The crippling realisation that University doesn’t last forever, and that at some point in the near future you will have to find a career in the most competitive graduate job market for decades? Ed Moyse and Ross Harper, who studied Economics and Neuroscience at Cambridge, certainly did. Now, however, they have their own international business in the shape of BuyMyFace.com, a viral marketing concept which happens to involve a lot of face paint.
“We weren’t completely sure what we wanted to do when we graduated,” says Ed. “About halfway through our final year we were still on the lookout for jobs; we didn’t really have a clue.” Instead they decided it was time to get creative. “Rather than going down the conventional careers path and being faced with massive amounts of competition, we quite fancied trying our hand at our own thing.
“We’d been keeping this little black notebook of any ideas we came up with. We wanted to make some money and have a good gap year, but the problem was that we didn’t have any money to invest.” Ironically, the flash of inspiration they needed came to Ed while he was travelling to an interview for a job.
“As soon as it was done I went straight back to Ross’s at university, and I didn’t care at all about the outcome of the job interview. I just said, ‘Come on, we’ve got to sell advertising space on our faces,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, alright.’ After that we had a few bar sessions, just mulling it over and trying to come up with something that was workable really.”
At the time of writing, BuyMyFace.com has been up and running for only 182 days, but its founders are already £33,182 closer to paying off their student debts [the total at day 338 is currently £47,080]. It’s a fiendishly simple idea: companies or individuals can buy Ross and Ed’s faces by the day, with the price going up over time as the website gets more hits. They will then paint an advert on their faces and upload pictures of themselves which become links to the company’s website. This new approach to marketing has proved incredibly successful, but I imagine their families must have been shocked when they announced their new business plan.
“We were very wary of telling anyone that we were going to be doing this before it actually got going. The first thing we did was to get the help of our friend Tom from university to set up a website for us, and we gave him a share in the business too. After the website was looking really good and we were ready to start selling, we actually told our families at graduation. So I met Ross’s parents, then he met my parents, and we said, ‘Instead of getting a job, this is what we’re doing…’
“They were a bit shocked I reckon, but they’ve been very supportive and they’ve been surprised at how well it’s gone. We couldn’t have done it without them because I have to kind of live with Ross the whole time, so we’re always at Ross’s house in London or my house in Poole. I’ve seen Ross more than I’ve seen my girlfriend in the past few months.”
As well as creating a lot of publicity in the UK (as a recent front page feature in the Sunday Times confirms) the website has become surprisingly international. The two graduates have even featured on Australian TV.
“Weirdly, we really took off in Germany. We’ve been on all three national TV channels, as well as in all their national newspapers. We’re bigger in Germany than in the UK so we’ve had quite a few German companies buy space. An American company called Revolver Studios sent us to the Royal Opera House to see a ballet dressed up in our suits with our faces painted up as well. It was pretty ridiculous; we had champagne reception and stuff because they wanted us to get some funny photos.”
Of course most adverts exist purely online, but Ed and Ross do occasionally get asked to venture a bit further in order to spread the word; accounting firm Ernst & Young bought their faces for a week and used the time to send them skiing with students, which Ed describes as my “best week of work.” They have even been asked to jump out of a plane.
“My girlfriend was talking to someone from Altitude Solutions about this weird idea I had, and the guy she was talking to said he’d heard about us on the news. Instead of just getting advertising space on our website, he wanted to send us sky-diving, in the hope that newspapers and our blog readers would be interested. It worked out pretty well for him.”
Sound like your sort of thing? Well you’re in luck, because BuyMyFace.com are looking for new student recruits around the country…
“Basically Tom’s come up with this really clever code for the website, which means anyone visiting it from say, London, would see a London version of the website, and anyone visiting from America would see the American version. So we can get geographical targeting and get people in different areas doing it. It’s a good way of getting more people involved, because what we didn’t want was it spilling out into the real world.
“The role would basically consist of face painting, but there’s also quite a lot of work to do with the media because people are talking about it and they want to know more. They may have to get in touch with their local news for example. But we are trying to make it as little work as possible, so that a student could do this alongside their studies as a way of raising a bit of money, because we know what being a student is like.”
In a graduate job climate with an average of 83 applicants per job, students coming up with their own creative ways around unemployment may become something of a trend, a way to stand out from the job-seeking crowd.
“That’s the irony, really: we’re doing this crazy project because it’s a really tough time to get a job, and then because we’ve done this crazy project, we’ve had loads of job offers. In our first month alone we had five job offers, which is awesome.
“We’ve got some more ideas in our little black notebook and we’d quite like to give one of them a go. It’s just a question of do we accept a job offer or do we try something else out, and we’re not really sure at this stage.”
So while graduating may seem like a daunting prospect, especially when even Cambridge alumni are struggling, the boys from BuyMyFace.com have proved that hard work and a fresh perspective can still get you noticed.
“My advice would be that if you’ve got a good idea and you think it’s worth giving it a go, then as soon as you graduate is an excellent time to do it. I’d say go for it.”