GO HIGHER: Showing a Large Degree of Success ; the Generic Skills You Learn as a Student Are the Key to a Bright Future, Says Entrepreneur Michael Smith

Article excerpt

Going to university was the making of me. The self-confidence I gained from making an independent start in a new city has been the secret of my success.

At 18, I was more than ready to leave home. With the right grades, supportive parents, and no burning desire to go somewhere else, I would have been mad not to take what university had to offer.

I was relaxed about where I went. My criteria were: somewhere big, new to me, quite a way from home, but near enough to bring my washing home. Birmingham was the only place I visited. Its reputation and the happy students I met on campus sold it to me. My course choice - geography - was less spontaneous. It was the A- level I liked best. Doing a subject you enjoy is important, otherwise motivation will be difficult.

On my first day I got on well with a Welsh guy in lectures, Matt Shone. Matt and I later shared a house with James Robinson and Tom Boardman, who is now my business partner at Firebox.com. James and Matt work there too, and the four of us still live together.

I was shy; the course brought me out of myself too. Presenting seminars was quite daunting, but being made to do it, and coached, was valuable. I have to do a lot of public speaking now. Essay writing taught me to work in a logical way - vital for business in terms of preparing briefs.

There was a strong statistics element to my course, a background that has proved very useful to me in business analysis. A lot of time was spent on computer literacy, too, which is vital to me now. The internet was just emerging at the time. We were given free email and internet access, which fired my enthusiasm for the Web. …