Over the past few years I have been offered the opportunity to interview some of the most talented, hardworking and inspiring people in the world. However, of all the incredible people I have met, there are none quite as extraordinary as teenage entrepreneurs, 17-year-old James Anderson and 15-years-old George Streten.
Space Lounges is the brainchild of James and George, it is the next generation coffee lounge. Space Lounges plans to put it’s competitors in the shade with its use of technology, which will enhance the idea of the traditional coffee shop and will create a more premium experience.
James eyes lit up as he explained their mission, he said: “We want to bring the fun back to the high street. Space Lounges is more than just a coffee lounge, it is a lifestyle. It is somewhere you go because you want an experience, you want better than the generic Starbucks or Costa Coffee.”
James revealed that the idea of Space Lounges came to him after a particularly horrendous visit to a coffee shop chain. He shook his head in disbelief as he recalled: “I went to this coffee shop every single day for three years and to be honest, I was only really going because most of my friends were. During one visit, I looked around and began mentally noting down everything that was wrong with it.”
He added: “I had to queue for 15 minutes to get my drink, then wait five minutes to collect it. The staff were rude and the WIFI was painfully slow. There was a family next to me and their baby was screaming. I noted about 50 different things that were wrong, the list went on and on.”
James discovered that by implementing elements of technology into the coffee shop experience, he could solve most, if not all of the problems that plagued the current establishments. Then the initial idea for Space Lounges was born.
George nodded in agreement; he began to enthusiastically explain the ways the elevated experience customers could expect at Space Lounges. As he did so, my eyebrow involuntarily shot up in awe.
He told me: “The moment you walk into Space Lounges, you are instantly greeted with a premium atmosphere. The aim is for it to be a stark contrast to the chaos of the outside world. There won’t be any queues, as everything will be ordered via the app, which can be downloaded directly on to your smartphone. We have a 30 second goal, this will enable you to get online, download the app and sign up all within that time frame.”
He added: “For those that need help, we will have an on board team who will be able to welcome them to the experience. From there, you will be able to seamlessly order your drinks and snacks. We will have Bluetooth beacons so we can detect which seat you’re sitting on and your order can be brought to the appropriate table. There is no queuing and no time wasting. We are offering a very premium seamless experience at a very reasonable price.”
George smiled warmly, then added: “We do want to incorporate technology into the experience but human interaction is vital too. People have often asked me whether we plan to use robots instead of humans one day. The answer to that is definitely no; this is a fusion of physical and digital.”
He added: “We want to encourage more human interaction but in the most efficient way. Why have our staff wasting time taking orders, when an app can do it more efficiently, enabling them to focus on getting out there to help customers and ensure they are having the best experience possible. The possibilities are limitless.”
James is no stranger to starting his own business. At just 15-years-old, he founded Thinkspace. It is a non-profit organisation that encourages students to learn to code by building epic spaces in schools. The idea garnered support from none other than Richard Branson, Stephen Fry and CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo.
It was through Thinkspace that George and James initially began working together. At just 13-years-old George convinced his school to fund and build a Thinkspace area, he quickly became a regional manager for the company.
James broached the idea of Space Lounges to George. George completely backed the idea and they joined forces to try and make Space Lounges a reality.
During the interview, I was impressed by how knowledgeable, eloquent and mature James and George were; I was keen to discover where their incredible work ethic and vast knowledge came from. The conversation soon became a debate about how fundamental the traditional education system is to success.
George revealed that after his GCSE’s he intends to progress to higher education. James has taken the opposite route; he dropped out of sixth form to enable him to focus all of his attention on his business.
George thought for a moment, then said: “I think it’s down to the individual. For some, education is certainly the best route and for others it certainly is not. For many jobs such as in the health or education industry you need to go through the education system. Whilst with other careers, it can be hugely beneficial to just get stuck in and learn on the job.”
He added: “No one knows what will happen in the future but at the moment I have decided to continue through the education system. I feel as though it will give me peace of mind as something to fall back on should I need it in later life. However, people want to do different things and to choose different things you need to explore other routes I suppose. No one is better than the other.”
James nodded in agreement, then said: “Personally, I couldn’t feel stronger about it. I honestly don’t see the purpose of higher education for me. I’m not saying I’ve got infinite knowledge because I haven’t, I haven’t studied Shakespeare for English literature, in that area I am clueless.”
He added: “However, the great things is that George and I have the opportunity to go out and try to make this business a success. Personally, I don’t feel as though university can help me with that.”
James also admitted that he is not afraid to fail. He said frankly: “Maybe I am being naïve but I don’t necessarily think that if we fail, it will be a particularly terrible thing. I obviously hope that we don’t, but if we do it would present a great opportunity to rebuild ourselves and learn to do better next time.”
He added: “It’s important to know how to work your way back up from any mistakes that brought you down. Failure is not necessarily all doom and gloom.”
James thought for a moment, and then a smile illuminated his face. He said: “George and I have different views on education but there is one thing we both feel strongly about and that is persistence. We are not the sorts of people who give up at the first hurdle. Over the past 13 months, whilst we have been developing this idea, we have come across so many hurdles.”
He added: “It’s that persistence which has got us to where we are today. You don’t necessarily need qualifications to be a success, it is more important to find what you are good at and apply determination and passion to make it a success.”
With success comes pressure and over the past year or so, James and George have had to make some difficult decisions for the long-term success of their business.
They partook in Microsoft Ventures Accelerators, a mentor-driven program that is aimed at empowering start-ups. During the program James and George learnt a number of skills including; legal, finance and branding knowledge.
At the end of their three-month program, they were offered £75,000 in funding, however James and George declined.
James said frankly: “It was a difficult decision to make because I had been living in London alone for several months and racking up a lot of costs. However, we couldn’t accept as there were so many strings attached and loopholes.”
George nodded in agreement. He said: “Long term it could have been a disaster. There were convertible loan notes; the entire amount would have had to be paid back in one year.”
He added: “We think that Space Lounges is going to succeed but £75,000 is a lot of money, I think we’d have to have a pretty firm knowledge that we’d be able to pay that back in one year in order to accept it. Even then, they would take equity on that and there’s an interest so we decided not to.”
With their heads so firmly screwed on and their eyes on the prize, James and George are without doubt an inspiration to thousands of young people. To have achieved so much so young, it shows that age is not a barrier for success. I was keen to discover what advice they would offer young people who would like to start their own business.
Without a moments hesitation, James said: “Think about what you are good at, whatever that may be. I think naivety at a young age is a huge strength, it allows you to have less fear and make certain leaps that you couldn’t do if you were older and had certain commitments like a mortgage or a family.”
He added: “When you are young, you have nothing to lose apart from your personal reputation and even that doesn’t mean much. What’s important is that you have no fear, keep trying and if you do fail, it’s okay, just get back up and try again.”
George chimed in: “People always tell me that they have an idea for an app or that they don’t want to work in a 9-5. It pains me to hear those people because they aren’t acting on it. There is no point having a thought and not doing something with it. Go out and find out how to make that app or know how to avoid whatever it is you don’t want to happen.”
He added: “It’s a magical thing, to have an idea and actually get on with it. Never let it become stagnant, keep moving forward with it. It’s a very self-perpetuating movement.”
James was utterly lost in thought. Then suddenly he said: “This is a controversial subject but I think this leads to whether you are born an entrepreneur or whether you become one over time.”
He added: “I think you learn qualities over time through experiences you have in your life. George and I have both had access to computers from a very early age. I began building very basic websites at 6-years-old.”
He smiled at the memory, then said: “We were lucky to have parents and schools that were supportive of us and allowed us to explore. When we were getting awareness of how to use a computer, we familiarised ourselves with Microsoft Word and Powerpoint. Once we knew those well, we didn’t stop there, we found out how to make applications instead.”
James smiled softly, he said earnestly: “We were not born different or special in any way. I think our success is down to the fact that we started earlier. Anyone can do it, it’s just that they don’t.”
Through James and George’s hard work and dedication, Space Lounges has come a long way. Last week they announced that they have secured a deal with one of the country’s largest retailers to trial their first Space Lounge. If the trial is successful, the app will be rolled out across the U.K and Space Lounges will hopefully be dominating a high street near you in the very near future.
I was determined that this interview would be about so much more than what they’ve achieved at such young ages, although this incredible fact is hard to ignore. Regardless of age, James and George are two of the most professional, intelligent and courteous people I have had the privilege of interviewing. They were warm, funny and with a fierce perseverance that would put most to shame.
It is astounding that James is straight out of school and George has barely begun preparing for his GCSE’s, yet they have achieved more than most adults three times their age ever could.
It is their sheer determination and phenomenal work ethic, which will take them far in the world of business and beyond. The fact that they have launched two revolutionary business before they were 18-years-old cannot and should not be ignored. The future is incredibly bright for James Anderson and George Streten and the possibilities are endless.
Follow James Anderson on Twitter: @JSA
Follow George Streten on Twitter: @GeorgeStreten
Lead image courtesy of Alan Powdrill