On Thursday 5th October, the Alumni team and Westminster Business School will be hosting the first of the alumni event series ‘What It Takes’ with What It Takes To Be An Entrepreneur. We’ve got some exciting guest speakers lined up along with The Apprentice star herself, Margaret Mountford who will help host this exciting evening.
“Our economic future depends on the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators, so it is essential that young people are inspired to start up businesses and given the tools to enable them to succeed.” – Margaret Mountford.
To give you a preview of what you can expect on the night, we’ve interviewed some of the guest speakers who will be talking. See what advice they had for aspiring entrepreneurs.
You have set up your own company focused around your skills and expertise as an executive career coach. Why did you decide to become self-employed and were there any major hurdles you had to overcome when setting up your company?
My journey to running my business began when I trained as a coach while still working full time. I found the process both personally and professionally transformational, and as a result my role as a marketer was no longer fulfilling. At the time I couldn’t see any full time roles for coaches in existence. I realised that I would have to start a coaching business to do what I was passionate about. So, I didn’t choose to run a business it chose me.
I was cautious about leaping straight into the unknown world of coaching. I came up with a plan to reduce my hours to 4 days and build my business on the fifth. Within a year, I was freelance and that was in 2006. My business has grown and developed since then, Reflexion Associates now delivers accredited leadership and coaching training alongside one to one coaching. In 2012, I wrote a book, which propelled my business to the next level; it is now receiving global attention. As a result the business now has a second arm: Rocking Your Role, which provides work and life navigation for trailblazing women executives and entrepreneurs, through speaking engagements, programmes and one to one coaching.
I have had some challenges along the way, I didn’t really think of it as a business as first, I just wanted to match my full time salary, but that really isn’t enough if you want to grow things. If you are delivering a service, you need to take into account that you will need to be a marketer, book keeper, networker and administrator as well as the service you provide, so you probably won’t be doing the thing you love all of the time. Factor this in when you are thinking about your pricing or you won’t make enough to survive past your first year.
Although juggling being a Mum alongside running a business can be hard, especially if you don’t have back up when your child is unwell, I have found it liberating. When my daughter had school events I enjoyed not having to ask permission to take time out and working from home whenever I could. Of course you do have to be disciplined to do that and structuring your day is a must.
As a career coach you have worked with major clients such as Ernst & Young, American Express, Accenture and Shell. How have you mastered the art of self-promotion and networking to find potential business clients?
When I started my business I didn’t know other business people, this made networking invaluable for me. Your network can provide you with connections, information and opportunities to collaborate, but most importantly you will be with a group of like-minded people and will get the support and challenge you need.
In terms of self promotions, I think of it more as the fact that I have connected with my “why” or my mission. My mission is to transform the world for everyone, empowering one woman at a time. When you are on purpose with your mission, you want to help as many people as possible and will do what is necessary to ensure they hear your message. The self-promotion is a conduit, not the purpose. I also challenge myself a lot, the more I step out of my comfort zone, the more I am able to be less self conscious and more confident in what I do.
What is the best business lesson(s) you have learnt during your career?
- Have a Strategy: If you know where you are going you are less distracted by all of the other things vying for your attention
- Take Action: Nothing happens unless you make it happen, so don’t over-plan or procrastinate, or you’ll miss out.
- Build Your Resilience: There are daily ups and downs, there will always be hard times, but you can train yourself to rise from them more quickly
In your own words, what does it take to become an entrepreneur? Are there particular skills or attributes that you need to be successful?
You need to be focussed, tenacious and consistent. These are skills you can develop.
What did you learn during your time at Westminster Business School that helped you become the successful businessperson you are today?
Well I did a Business degree!!!!
So everything was really helpful, even the module on computer programming which I was useless at helped me with my first word press site. Also I completed my degree in the evening, so that tenacity, discipline and determination is critical to the success of any entrepreneur.
When did you realise that you were a natural entrepreneur?
At age 12 when I sold Commodore 64 computer games instead of playing football like the other kids. It meant I had more pocket money than my friends did!
What is SocialBox.biz and what inspired you to create it?
SocialBox.Biz is a social enterprise that aims to help disadvantaged people in London. For example, we run initiatives to give laptops to homeless people and young refugees who are here without their parents to help them get their lives back on track. We collect these items from socially responsible firms. My reason for starting it is that I wanted to give something back to the community that gave me vital help when I first arrived in London.
We live in London and there are so many opportunities but there are times when we need a hand and a bit of hope and encouragement, especially those going through hardship such as homelessness. There are so many new flats being built in almost every part of London and yet there are more homeless people than ever.
There are various companies in this world that pride themselves on multiple things such as how large the company has become since inception, but not many can say they put advancement of society as first with their practices.
What comes first, profit or human life? As a Social Enterprise, our focus is on human life.
At Socialbox.biz, our services to businesses and our culture of being an example will help transition businesses in general, to take stock of where they are and challenge the conception that a drive for profits is the main goal and motivator.
What did you learn during your time at the University of Westminster, which helped you as an entrepreneur?
I enjoyed the diversity and the flexibility offered to pick different modules. I really enjoyed the business-focused classes as well as modules in Project Management and Information Systems Analysis. Having figured out from an early age that I like computers and business, it was great to be given an opportunity to study and learn more.
What practical advice would you give students who have a business idea but do not yet know how to pursue it?
I believe there are two types of entrepreneur – those that are primarily focused on making money and those that want to make a difference in the world.
My advice to students that want to make a difference is to ensure that the bills are paid first. And if it’s just about money try and work out how much money is enough…
I guess is that if you are doing what you love and are able to pay the bills you are already more successful that you can imagine and are probably much more successful than those just doing it purely for the money.
What are your five top tips for aspiring student entrepreneurs?
1) Have clear goals – and always refer to these and remind yourself of them in everything you do.
2) Keep trying – Nothing worth pursuing in life is easy and that applies to starting your own business.
3) Don’t give up – You will be faced with many obstacles at every stage of creating a business but remind yourself of your goals and use that as motivation to push through until completion.
4) Pay bills, cash flow is important – it may not sound glamorous but sometimes starting a business has to be part-time until you are able to turn a decent profit and quit your full-time job.
5) Do what you love doing, make a difference in the process and be a good example – It is a lot more purposeful than just making money. It is much easier to be passionate about something you enjoy and love doing and that enthusiasm will help you sell your idea, product, or service.
When did you first realise that you were interested in becoming an entrepreneur?
I have always wanted to run my own business and do what I am passionate about. I need to find really challenging jobs to keep me focused otherwise I lose interest. I cannot keep still! I’ve been involved in loads of entrepreneurial projects since high-school, most of them sponsored by the European Union or endorsed by AIESEC. People often say that the entrepreneurial spirit is something that cannot be taught and I like to think it’s innate.
During University, you won the Big Ideas Competition, an entrepreneurial event organised by the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs (NACUE) in collaboration with Westminster Business School. What was your reason for entering the competition and how did the event help your development as an entrepreneur?
Big Ideas Competition provided the perfect opportunity to bring the business idea to light and to get feedback from other entrepreneurs, investors, attendees and others. Back then, Local Spoon (formerly known as TakeMeOut) was simply just an idea. The event helped us validate the concept and we used the prize to build the first MVP of the product.
I went there with an open mind and prepared for many fruitful talks. I very much enjoyed how the event was encouraging all the candidates to showcase their work, decorate their stand and pitch to anyone who was interested in knowing more about their idea. Small events such as Big Ideas are the ones that boost your confidence and prepare you for international conferences and national tech events.
What else did you do/ take part in during University that boosted your skills, knowledge and experience as an entrepreneur?
I really enjoyed my marketing course, but I wanted some experience as well, and for that I joined ConnectiD, a London-based technology startup. When I started, I had a rough idea that I was going to be the Marketing Assistant but shortly afterwards I learned that with start-ups, the job is never done and from purely a marketing position I actually ended up doing pretty much everything. This role gave me a great sense of autonomy whilst I got to explore the global statup scene – attending TNW in New York in November 2015, Wolves Summit in Poland just a few months later.
I’ve done a lot with Westminster and this is what I’ve really liked about the university. I have joined various projects and competition teams including the fundraising scheme for Cancer Research and the UK Universities Business Challenge sponsored by IBM.
Your winning app, TakeMeOut, aims to help users find out about small or new restaurants in town and their best offers tailored taste and current location. What was the process for making the app?
I tried to delay building the application as much as I could and used instead other options to test and validate the concept. I created a simple landing page to gather subscribers whilst connecting students and restaurants by giving out paper coupons during Fresher’s Fairs. I attended the Fresher’s Fair across all campuses in Central London and secured exclusive offers from restaurants around the university to reward our early adopters. By pounding the pavement and speaking to users and businesses, I managed to get an understanding of how the MVP should look like to fit with the customers’ needs and to solve restaurants’ problems.
Then I signed up with a free design software called Justinmind to create some basic wireframes and had a backlog of features that I could move around depending on the work in progress (I used Trello to keep track of the workload, I also recommend Jira).
My former Co-founder decided to outsource the development from Eastern Europe and we worked with two young developers to create the first MVP of Local Spoon. This is how it looks today – app.localspoon.co.uk. Local Spoon is a web application, it runs on any device and works as a native app, but it cannot be downloaded, it lives in browser. To get to know the difference between a web app and a native one and the purpose they serve to your business, I wrote this article comparing and contrasting these two options.
What is the next step for you as an entrepreneur?
First, I aspire to scale Local Spoon to become the ultimate go-to platform for the food industry. Smart tech and APIs will be core to everything we are developing allowing us to easily extend our partnerships and to integrate with new solutions as they become available on the market.
The hospitality industry is just the beginning. We aspire to build a robust and viral business model focused on gamified rewards and smart promotions that could be replicated and applied to the entertainment sector (events, concerts), hotels, beauty and retail.
Now that I completed my Masters, I want to dedicate more time to be actively involved in the startup scene in London and Europe. I am planning to attend more events like the “What It Takes” Alumni Event Series and to pilot new content strategies in my role at Startupbootcamp to support our alumni community and meet with other startup founders and exchange stories.
Thank you to Margaret Mountford, Jenny Garret, Peter Paduh and Diana Florescu on sharing their words of wisdom with us. The What It Takes to be an Entrepreneur alumni event will be on the Thursday 5th October from 6-8pm at our Little Titchfield Street campus in Portland Hall. Register your place here!