What successful entrepreneurs wish they’d known when starting out

The founders of some of Britain's most successful young start-ups tell us the decisions they wish they could make again...

How many times have you found yourself stuck? Up to your eyes in problems, drowning in difficulty and able to trace all this trouble back to one misjudged, mistimed and misgiven decision? We know we have. From problems in our personal lives to career complications, there are choices we’d give anything to go back in time and change. Unfortunately, we can’t – but we can ask others to give us the advice they wish they’d been given.

Here at Gentleman’s Journal, we admire those businessmen who give up their jobs and strike out on their own. But, with more and more people quitting the daily grind to set up new enterprises, what can we learn from the established entrepreneurs – and their mistakes?

Phil Beahon, co-founder of Castore, wishes he’d had a clearer vision

“Achieving anything worthwhile in life is difficult and going to be fraught with challenges,” says one half of the team behind pioneering sportswear brand Castore. “But the one single thing that will help you get through these times is having a clear vision of what you want to become. Also, perseverance eats talent for breakfast. Being good at something is great but without the ability to take the inevitable setbacks in your stride and come back stronger, talent is almost meaningless.

“Achieving anything worthwhile in life is difficult..."

“Be passionate,” Beahon adds. “Building a successful business will require more time, energy and emotion that you can even imagine. Being truly passionate about what you are doing will make everything infinitely easier and you will smile every day — something that is worth more than any other accolade your business career will bring you.”

Archie Hewlett, of Duke & Dexter, wishes he’d embraced change and delegation

“Never be afraid of change,” begins the man behind Duke & Dexter footwear. “Change is good and, as a rapidly growing business, you have to be dynamic. It’s so easy to worry about change, fearing that you might upset your team internally, or customers externally. But being agile is so key; particularly in the early stages when you will undoubtedly make plenty of mistakes.

“Your team is everything,” he continues. “As any business grows, you simply cannot do everything yourself. You have to learn to let go of aspects of the business that you can’t do as well as someone else or that simply take up too much of your day. Take the time to find the right hires to bring into the business and then be sure to give them the autonomy and freedom to carry out the roles that they’re there to do!”

Tom Broughton, CEO of Cubitts, wishes he’d trusted his gut reactions and common sense

<p class="c-excerpt">Images: Tom Bunning</p>

Images: Tom Bunning

“If I was to speak to my younger self, I’d tell him to have confidence in himself,” says the founder of Cubitts hand-crafted eyewear. “And, in particular, trust his gut reaction – it’s rarely wrong. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not going to work out.

“I think there’s often a tendency to overweight mediocre experience,” he adds. “A lot of it is common sense, and if you have take an analytical approach, you’ll often make the best decision. And, even if you don’t, at least you’ll learn more readily from your errors.”

Jack Stammers and Will Davison, of Jack Davison Bespoke, wish they’d taken the leap earlier

“On reflection and discussion between us,” say Jack Stammers and Will Davison, graduates of Savile Row and founders of innovative new tailoring brand Jack Davison Bespoke, “we both have the same thought. The one piece of advice we would offer our younger selves now, and would have loved to have taken on board before, is that it feels like there is never a good time to start up!

“And there isn’t,” they continue. “There’s always a good excuse to delay. You just have to believe in your business plan, your product and yourselves and take the leap.”

Abel Samet & Samuel Bail, founders of Troubadour, wish they’d looked to industry experts

“If we were to speak to our younger selves,” say the founders of fresh young luggage brand Troubadour, “we would encourage ourselves to spend more time with people in our industry, who had been in it for years.

“We definitely re-invented the wheel in a lot of cases, when it was just not necessary,” they add. “We were so focused on what we thought the existing players were missing — when we should have spent more time appreciating what many of them were getting right. We probably could have moved further and faster originally, if we had just spent more time learning from the talented people already in our industry.”

Colin Pyle, co-founder of CRU Kafe, wishes he had changed his mind more

“I would tell my younger self to expect the unexpected and embrace the changing process,” says the CEO and founder of one of the world’s first producers of Fairtrade, organic and recyclable coffee pods. “It’s OK to change your mind – it is how myself and my team adapt to these changes that will determine CRU’s future.

“I would also say try not to run before you can walk,” Pyle adds. “Among the start-up culture in London it’s easy to get ahead of yourself. It is important you take a step back and focus on creating the best possible product for your customers and the environment.”

Want more invaluable advice from top businessmen? Learn how these entrepreneurs use their morning commutes…

Gentlemen's Journal is happy to partner with The Prince’s Trust RISE campaign, which is working to create a network of young adults aged between 21-45, who are passionate about social mobility. You can become a Prince’s Trust Riser by donating just £20 per month to the scheme.
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