Welcome to Business School, a new monthly series from Gentleman’s Journal in which serial entrepreneur, CBE and Professor of the Practice of Entrepreneurship at King’s College London, Stefan Allesch-Taylor, will guide you through the daunting process of setting up your own business. Having founded or invested in more than 100 companies, as well as participated in philanthropy projects that have helped more than 1.5 million people worldwide, he knows a thing or two – so listen up.
In his first column, Stefan tells us what is actually being taught at business school (it’s as much about you and the emotional quotient (EQ) demands of business as the numbers) and the baby steps to take if you think you’ve got a great idea…
Becoming a full-time entrepreneur. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Everywhere you look there are ‘wantreprenuers’, huddled in cafes across the land, nay across the world! Aspirational. Ambitious. Tapping away and changing everything one slow cup of coffee a time.
It may sound a bit disparaging, but my objective is to make you think a little about those people and ask yourself: does that look like the fun you often see entrepreneurship portrayed as?
Before you embark on developing your business idea, I think it wise to get a reality check on what developing that idea may mean to you personally. If it’s an idea that doesn’t fade with morning sobriety, if you actually have something, that’s when things can get very real and very unglamorous, very quickly. It is not for everyone.
"If I have put you off – you’re welcome. Better in these couple of minutes than after you’ve told your boss you quit and his company sucks"
If you were job hunting and you saw an advert that said, ‘Vacancy: Leadership role with ultimate responsibility for everything. Salary: Maybe, but probably not. Holiday: Hahahaha. Healthcare: Illness is forbidden. Pension: See civil service job advert below’ – you’re getting the point. Starting your own business requires real dedication and commitment and that’s going to mean sacrifice on many levels. You need to go into your new venture with your eyes wide open. It is a life of spectacular highs and the most crushing lows. You must be able to see both as the journey and never the destination.
If I have put you off – you’re welcome. Better in these couple of minutes than after you’ve told your boss you quit and his company sucks. If you shrug your shoulders and say, ‘Yup – I get it – move on,’ then by starting at the very beginning I’ve saved you a lot of time, stress and probably money. These are the things no-one used to teach at Business School – now we certainly do.
However, if you’ve decided you’re up for the challenge, then, before you embark on your physical business building exercise, you need to build your team. Many who have spent a lifetime in entrepreneurship have kept the same core of people around them for very long periods and there’s a good reason for that. Who you have with you will play a huge part in determining both your success and survival in the face of serious setbacks.
Everything I have ever achieved, and every disaster I got up, from was due to the people around me. You will soon learn this isn’t simply about balance sheets and inventory – this is life itself and it can be eye-opening to discover the kind of person you become under the weight of horrible pressure or times of seemingly invincible success. Neither tend to bring the best out of humanity.
Starting at the top, find someone who shares your vision and has a useful skill set but with ‘more’ – a willingness to do whatever you’re prepared to do in terms of hours and sacrifice. You don’t have to make them equal partners, but you do need them incentivised and as determined as you. That’s your job to achieve. You need a lawyer you can talk to – one you feel is interested in what you’re doing, is keen to help and will take a long-term view of your new venture. If they mention an hourly rate, they’re not for you.
Find a great accountant. They are not crucial in the stages before money is flowing, and you should be able to follow your cost base increases yourself, but you do need one for forecasting and determining the viability and profitability of your business assumptions. No question, the more experienced the better. Get them all together occasionally, having fun but always talking about the business.
In the earliest stages of developing your business idea you must also do one thing no-one ever seems keen on: hunt high and low for a business that does what you intend to do – especially if you believe you are innovating. It’s a very tough sell to say to potential investors that you have no competitors. Frankly it pisses people off. You can even choose businesses similar or ‘close enough’. Most people only pretend to like true innovation – they admire it, say nice things about it and then run from it! There is always a comfort level in seeing something similar that is successful – especially if you intend to improve on it in a variety of ways. If you really can’t find anything then ask someone else to look because you’re kidding yourself! We can deal with entrepreneurial ‘god complex’ some other time.
The key takeaways for this month are accepting the cold reality of the life you’re embarking on, knowing the need for good people you’ll turn into great people and the importance of recognising the competition for your business idea. Next month it’s all about you and your personal skill set requirements.
Looking for more business advice? Jeff Raider, co-founder of Harry’s, share his biggest mistake…
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