At an event GrowthBusiness recently ran, I took to the stage to kick off the day’s activities and used it as an opportunity to share with the room what I thought were five traits important for all entrepreneurs to possess.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is meeting with the brilliant, and often highly entertaining entrepreneurs, who populate the British business landscape.
I’m in the fortunate position to hear, in a very candid and upfront way, how they have gone about nurturing their idea from a very early stage – taking it through all the funding, marketing, hiring and expanding obstacles that crop up along the way.
As such, I decided to draw upon a few encounters I have had during the last year, and reflected upon why I thought those I met are successful business builders who exemplify five straits pivotal for succeeding: ingenuity, self-belief, risk tackling, commitment and experience.
The first, ingenuity, I encountered last year when I met with Tom Allason, the entrepreneur behind first e-courier, and now Shutl.
Allason is what I’d describe as a tenacious entrepreneur who, as he put it to me, wants to be, ‘the master of his own destiny’.
His ingenuity is categorised in a few ways: his early business efforts in creating fake IDs while at university in the US, his use of a masters-studying friend to gain access to the inside workings of courier companies, but mainly his ability to secure growth capital from a wide range of sources including angels, VC firms and, most importantly for him, a corporate venture partner in the form of UPS.
For me, Allason demonstrates the all around approach that must be taken when securing investment – analysing not only the capital that is being brought to the table, but also the expertise and influence with it.
For self-belief, and wanting to do it your own way, I was fascinated by the story of Alistair Crane, the co-founder of mobile development business Grapple.
Meeting Crane at his base in Soho introduced me to what can be achieved in such a short space of time. It was also interesting to see an entrepreneur shunning what many would have viewed as a good idea in using seed investment to fund an acquisition, in favour of funding it out of the company’s own balance sheet.
Speaking to Crane I was left in no doubt that he is adamant his business can grow based on its own merit, and the tales he told me about business meetings in deep dark Russia highlighted how far he is willing to go to build abroad.
Moving on to risk – this is one area that entrepreneurs tend to thrive in. Forging out on your own, and shouldering the financial responsibility associated with leaving a well-paid job and tapping into life savings, is a situation only the most strong-minded can deal with.
Having successfully built and sold a business for a healthy margin, going back to the beginning and doing it all over again can, on the surface, seem like madness.
Not wanting to return to the corporate world he had left behind when founding Streetcar, Akker is putting it all on the line again. He has the benefit this time of having an established list of advisers and possible backers, but it just shows the joy that some get in walking the tightrope.
Commitment is a trait which entrepreneurs cannot afford to not have. An unflappable self-belief and drive to keep going in the hardest of times is essential.
At an open office hours session hosted by Passion Capital, I decided to find out what those attending were hoping to take away from the process.
One of the entrepreneurs who agreed to speak with me was a chap called Matthew Gribbon. Having had an initial discussion with him a week before, and learned that he had never before sat down in front of an investor, I was intrigued to find out what he would be like.
Turning up barely in the nick of time for his first appointment, sweat dripping from his brow and red-faced, I was prepared to right him off as someone whose heart wasn’t really in it.
That was until he revealed that he had been car jacked at knifepoint filling up his car in a Manchester petrol station, and had to dash off to rent a car in order to make the drive down to London – not a bad excuse for being late.
For many, this would probably have been enough for them to write the day off. But the efforts of Gribbon that day, to me, personifies the commitment that entrepreneurs must show.
The final trait I touched upon was experience, and the level and range that entrepreneurs have when they decide to start up a business. Many will have come fresh out of universities, others from the corporate world, and some from the very kind of start up that they are now aspiring to build.
A recent conversation with the co-founder of online gym booking platform payasUgym.com highlighted this for me and showed how key previous experiences are.
The company’s co-founders, Jamie Ward and Neil Harmsworth, had experience of the corporate and start-up world, but it was the time Ward had spent in the M&A transaction arena at Ernst & Young that struck me as particularly pivotal.
Ward told me how he is now using the experience he gained there to not only set up his business in the right way so that he can attract investors, but also with a view to the eventual exit that all entrepreneurs must consider.
Utilising his previous business experience is placing Ward ahead of thousands of other entrepreneurs who are at the same stage as he is, and is a great example of how experience can drive success.
While there are other traits which make up a successful entrepreneur, these are the five that have stuck with me – and ones which I see cropping up on a regular occasion in the UK business world.