Be a great storyteller — It’s crucial that you bring your team, customers and users along on the journey. Share your vision with passion and belief at every opportunity.
I had the pleasure to interview Josh Rathour. Josh Rathour is the CEO and Founder of UNiDAYS, the essential student app that brings together the best deals, content and internships connecting brands with a verified global audience of Gen Z students. As the app’s CEO & Founder, Rathour is actively involved with many aspects of UNiDAYS’ technology, innovation and marketing, including developing brand partnerships, student research and verification systems. He is responsible for leading the company towards their mission — to give students the power to make every experience more valuable and rewarding. This requires looking to the future of their Student Affinity Network (platform), of how organizations can use their technology and data to improve the opportunities and experiences they can offer to their growing global audience.
Inspired by his daughter’s experience attempting to verify friend requests on a popular children’s website, Rathour developed his vision for digital identity, aiming to reinvent online verification for the masses. Alongside Co-Founder Jon Hawley, the pair founded UNiDAYS is 2011 with a mission to help better equip students with all the exclusive offers available to them during this unique time in their lives. The brand expanded to the United States in 2013 with notable brand partners such as ASOS and Apple Music. UNiDAYS is currently used in over 114 countries by over 13 Million students. Rathour resides in Nottingham, England with his four children and partner.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
“Igrew up in a very entrepreneurial Sikh community in the midlands of England. It was inspiring to see their ambition, drive and resilience to make anything possible, and so from very early on I knew I wanted to follow the entrepreneurial path. After graduating from college I worked in real estate for a number of years. As the world encountered the financial crisis in 2008, I had a conversation with my then 5-year old daughter that changed everything.
She was keen to use an online interactive digital world for children, so we sat together and I signed her up and subscribed for a monthly fee. However, within minutes of entering the digital world she noticed numerous ‘friend’ requests. Anxious and afraid, she looked at me and said, “How do I know who these people are?” She was absolutely right, so I cancelled the account and closed the laptop. The experience upset us both. I wondered why and determined that fundamentally, we couldn’t trust who these digital profiles were. So I developed a hypothesis that digital verification of identities could enable students to access more trusted experiences online and in the physical world. This was the start of the journey that lead to UNiDAYS and our global platform that brings benefits to millions of students every day.”
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
“I saw a great opportunity to help students with their mounting debt by assisting brands to digitally identify student customers and to seamlessly offer them a discount. This would help attract valuable young consumers and show their commitment to helping students save money. I took my idea to major retail brands, but it took almost a year of pitching, listening, revising and then re-sharing my vision before we signed our first contract.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
“Taking a long term view and being motivated by purpose and impact over revenue alone. If the long term view is right, the revenue will grow.”
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
“1. The beginning stage isn’t easy — Starting a business is intense and scary and full of highs and lows. You expect it’ll get better over time, but it only gets more intense; especially once you have a team and you’re suddenly acutely aware that you’re responsible for the livelihoods of hundreds/thousands of people.
2. Own the vision — It’s easy to feel inferior to the many great people you’ll come across along the journey but don’t delegate your vision to others or you’ll end up somewhere you don’t want to be.
3. Overestimate your own stupidity — Keep learning, keep networking, keep accessing information from everyone around you and use this to inform your decisions.
4. Be a great storyteller — It’s crucial that you bring your team, customers and users along on the journey. Share your vision with passion and belief at every opportunity.
5. Look after your mental health — Make time for activities, interests and projects that enable you to stay centered. Give time and attention to relationships with family and friends; this will do wonders for your morale and will provide huge returns.”
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
“Enjoy the work, but find satisfaction in other parts of your life too.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
“UNiDAYS Chairman, Matt Atkinson. He’s a great mentor and Board member and brings many years of experience building customer-centric platforms powered by data and insight to the team. He’s an advocate of supporting communities and has been instrumental in helping me shape my vision for UNiDAYS globally. I’m also very grateful to my daughter, Asha, not just for being my original inspiration but also being a mentor about Gen Z and what students truly care about.”
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
“UNiDAYS still has so much scope for growth around the world and we have so many things we want to achieve. There is so much more we can do with the data and insights on Gen Z and the brands they’re shopping with all over the world. Seeing this company and the people I work with fulfill its and their potential is a professional and personal goal.”
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
“The ability for people to realize they can achieve their dreams and that nothing is out of reach as well as helping students to fulfill their potential and create amazing businesses of their own.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
“To connect students around the world, to provide peer-to-peer learning and share ideas to promote diversity and access to education for all.”
How can our readers follow you on social media?
As I was editing this interview, I became aware that accusations have been made against you regarding sexual harassment and bullying. To be fair, we’ll need to address that here. What is your statement about this?
Allegations were made about senior staff at UNiDAYS that the board and executive team took extremely seriously. They called in an independent firm of senior lawyers who conducted a full investigation, interviewing many people both within and outside of the business. The law firm found no credence to the allegations but they did make recommendations about how the business could better operate and these were made available to every member of staff.