By Lee Travers
Last week, I gave you my insight into what it takes to be an entrepreneur and hopefully some encouragement that it isn’t as difficult as one might think.
It takes an idea, hard work and some risk. It all seems so simple doesn’t it? Well, if it was that simple, we would probably all be doing it! Of course, I have had some near-disastrous setbacks along the way. But, every entrepreneur has failures. In my experience, it’s what separates the born leaders from those who haven’t got what it takes.
A prime example of this is Sir Richard Branson. Whenever the word entrepreneur is mentioned, I guarantee you that he is one of the first people - if not the first - to come to mind. But Branson, as successful as he might be, has had some investment disasters throughout his career.
Do you remember Virgin Brides, the chain of bridal shops that Branson launched in the mid-1990s, which has since closed down? Or Virgin Cola – a soft drink that the billionaire thought would take Coca-Cola’s throne as the king of soft drinks? Yes, Branson has had some stumbles along the way, like all of us. But, he hasn’t dwelled on these mis-steps and that is why he is one of the world’s most successful men.
Not bad for a guy who was once told by his school headmaster that he would either go to prison, or become a millionaire. Look who’s laughing now!
Just like Branson, my set-backs have made me stronger and more determined.
My biggest pitfall to-date is spending money before I’ve even made it. I have come up with many great ideas, but have lied to myself at times and spent money that I didn’t need to. One can be so enthralled by an idea, that it’s hard to step back and take accurate measures and analysis.
Branson, for example, admits that one of his biggest stumbles in business was driving a tank into Time Square to announce the launch of Virgin Cola. Even with this extravagant PR stunt, the drinks brand still failed.
Spending money on a flash office, or hiring top-class people, may seem like a good idea at the time, but if you haven’t got the funds to do it; it can be the nail in the coffin for any business - cashflow is king. You have to be clear about what is happening and what is the right thing to do. Being brutally honest all the way through is essential.Thanks to these pitfalls, I have learnt many valuable lessons along the way.
Lesson number one: You need to have patience, because inevitably, everything takes longer than you might think; success doesn’t happen overnight!
Lesson number two: Always have a plan B. People will let you down, particularly on the investor side. I don’t know how many times I have struck a deal with an investor who, at the very last second - when you’re at your most vulnerable - has added another condition, or pulled out. It’s like when people buy a house, there’s always a last-minute offer. Sometimes, saying no is the hardest thing.
If I could turn back time and do things differently, I would say 'no' to a lot more people and persist with what I feel is right. Doing the wrong deal can bring down a relationship, or an organisation.
It’s something that people fail to recognise and certainly something I have been guilty of early in my career. I went against my beliefs because I was stuck for cash, or because I felt that it was the only opportunity I had. That isn’t the case. I have learnt that you need to look at a deal and take all of the emotion out of it. Any deal that’s a bad deal, will always be that, and you need to get smart and walk away.
My father is a prime example of how being smart can lead to success. Whilst Branson is a billionaire, he is not as inspirational to me as my father. Because, unlike Branson - who started his career when he was 16 - my father became an entrepreneur at the ripe old age of 59. Yes, 59.
After refining his craft in world class manufacturing all of his life, my father decided that he had a solution and opportunity that he wanted to take to market, so he set up his own business.
He’s a good man with a great brain, a supportive wife and family; so we worked as a team.
He taught me that you don’t always have to do things a certain way in order to be successful – you can challenge the norm. For example, instead of taking his customers out for dinner and wining and dining them, dad would host fine dinner parties at our house. Mum would cook up a great meal and my brother and I would be bartenders. He built a unique reputation for himself and little things like that made such a big difference.
He never conformed, thinking how others thought he should, and that is inspiring to me. My brother and I have always looked up to him. He’s a man of character and strength, who has built a successful business, a great reputation and happy home.
Inspired by my dad, I saw an opportunity at the age of 24 and thought I’d do something with it. I ended up being the engineer, the salesman and the financier. As an entrepreneur, you have to be an all-rounder, because at the beginning you don’t have a large team to do these things for you.
My biggest achievement is surviving. The hardest thing to do is persist in the face of adversity; when people are telling you that you’re an idiot, or you’re wrong. But, I’m still here, throwing punches. So, it is possible!
In the next installment of 'Notes from an Entrepreneur', I will cover the best sectors for entrepreneurs...