Notes from an Entrepreneur - Part 1

By Lee Travers

“Don’t take a job; create one instead”

In November, we celebrated Global Entrepreneur Week with the slogan “Make a job, don’t take a job” being used to encourage young people to open their imagination and be the next generation of entrepreneurs.

At an event hosted by Sheffield Hallam University, Doug Richards (Dragons Den) tried to encourage the younger generation - who, he said, have far fewer responsibilities at that age - to have a go at starting a business. He said: “So, you start a business and it fails. So what? You can get a job and try something else.”

It got me thinking. Starting a business is not that difficult these days, but making a business last, is. The number of businesses who fail before they reach their fifth birthday is around 50%, according to a study by The Statistic Brain Research Institute.

So, where are we going wrong? Well, years ago, when I first started out in business, the word 'entrepreneur' was not used as frequently as it is now. These days, it’s a buzz word – everyone is an entrepreneur, or striving to be one. A lot of people see being an entrepreneur as a job and fundamentally, it’s not a job - it’s something that happens.

I believe that a lot of people like to call themselves an entrepreneur; they just don’t get what it takes to be one. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you don’t set out wanting to be one. Instead, you start out looking for an opportunity and a product that solves a problem, get the capital and make it happen. Then, at some point in the future, you’ll wake up and realise what you’ve become. You’ll be the person who took a risk and became a successful entrepreneur.

But what makes an entrepreneur? There’s a formula I have used for years, which is: Entrepreneur, plus capital, times by products, plus customers, equals a business.

I never set out to be an entrepreneur, but I always felt that I had a different way of doing things. There were products that I wanted to bring to market back in 2003. I thought mobile payments would gain traction and whilst it’s taken about a decade longer than I thought it would, we have got there eventually and now we have Apple Pay and Mobile Wallets.

The thing is – I saw it coming. I predicted that mobile payments was the way the world was going and back then, it was new and unique. My passion lies is in having the idea and then being able to create and build it.

You can do it your way, but you don’t have to do it alone

Entrepreneurs can come from all walks of life – you don’t have to be wealthy to be successful. There’s nothing to say that you cannot be an entrepreneur within a big organisation, or state body, but there are various challenges that go with that. You’ve got more people controlling what it is you can and cannot do. But then again, who’s to say that’s a bad thing? Maybe other people have a better angle on it, or a better view. I think it’s about being able to create value and bring something new, regardless of what the company, your employment status or structure is.

It's about spotting opportunity. However, you then need the brain, passion, hard work and most importantly, humility, to deliver it. Sometimes - and I have often been guilty of this myself - as an entrepreneur, you believe you know best. It takes skill to learn to listen to other people’s opinions and views. One of the greatest skills that I have learnt over the years, is to lean on other people for the expertise and brilliance they can offer.

Chicken or the egg?

I often get asked: Is it the idea, or the person, that leads to success? I believe it’s the person. The idea comes from the individual, or the group of individuals, but the ability to execute it is much bigger. For example, the best idea in the world can be flattened because you have the wrong team executing it.

Integrity is also important. Having a robust, honest and direct approach with what you’re doing, can - and will - differentiate you from your competitors. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, you just have to be a contributor who has something positive to say and a unique perspective.

So, it’s a tricky one; it’s a good balancing act. You’re probably leaning more on the person than the idea. It does come down to who that person surrounds themselves with and the support they get.

But, you’ll be glad to hear that the idea doesn’t have to be original. Often, people are put off starting a business because they think they need to come up with something revolutionary. That’s not the case. You can take the simplest item in the world and adjust one thing. Products that help the consumer to save time, enhance their user experience and add value to their life, are always popular.

In the next part of 'Notes from an Entrepreneur', I will cover: My pitfalls and inspirations as an entrepreneur…

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