Interviews – Technology – Benjamin Cohen

Benjamin Cohen set up the community website soJewish.com when he was just 15 and confined to his bed with ME – chronic fatigue syndrome – with nothing but the Internet for company. Benjamin is now 18 with an estimated paper wealth of £5m

Creating kosher culture

How did you come up with the idea for soJewish.com?
I was stuck at home in bed with ME and got more and more involved with the Internet. I used it to keep in contact with friends and to make sure I was up to date with everything that was going on in the world. It was then I realised there wasn’t really a site out there that catered for the Jewish community in the UK. So I thought I’d create one.

What did your parents think of the idea?
My parents have been really supportive right from the very beginning. My dad (Richard Cohen, chief executive officer of Epoch Software) thought it was a great idea. They were more concerned about the strain the workload would put on my health rather than my studies, but I love the work I do and they were prepared to let me go for it.

How did you go about setting up soJewish.com?
First of all I registered a domain name and then paid to have space for a web site. The site really developed organically until it reached the point when I needed to find outside investment to develop it further.

Have things gone according to plan?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I’ve found that in business opportunities will constantly emerge or situations develop that make you revise your plans along the way. At the end of the day I’m pleased with the site I created.

From bedroom to boardroom

How did you go about publicising your business?
Initially, the site was favourably reviewed in a leading new media publication and the word spread. The first profile piece on myself came about after my Rabbi sent information to the Jewish Chronicle on what I was up to. The story was then picked up by one of the nationals and things grew from there.

What advice would you give someone starting up their own small business?
The most important thing is to be able to spot a good opportunity, or a gap in the market, and then work from there. Even if someone is already in your market space, ask yourself whether you can approach it from a different angle and thereby secure your own customer base.

The truth is that most small businesses will not succeed and you need to be emotionally prepared for this. On the other hand, always aim to be the best in what you do and give 100%.

Everyone’s a winner

Can you see yourself having a long term career in e-business?
Definitely. I’m currently focussing most of my energy on developing CyberBritain.com – a UK search engine that I first created in 1998. CyberBritain’s selling point lies in its brandability and it has now registered over a billion searches since its initial development.

We’re now well on target to extend CyberBritain to launch in both the US and Australia within the year and I’m in the process of raising funds as we speak.

I also want to develop the e-consultancy side of the business – hermia.com – which is designed to provide fledgling e-companies with sound advice on a whole range of areas.

What do you plan to do with your new found fortune?
To be honest with you, the majority of my ‘value’ is paper-based. And although I like to relax and have fun, my passion is my work. Most of my time, energy and other resources I use to nurture my projects.

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Business, career, interview