After reading your column and having a look at some of your books I have noticed that you have a very positive approach and I think us Brits are guilty of being pessimistic in terms of setting up a business. How can there be a change of attitude?
It happens in the US as well, and with entrepreneurs there tends to be two extremes. There is the camp who think they're going to get rich quick and then there's the really pessimistic bunch who believe in stats like '50% of businesses fail' and that you'll work 125 hours a week and won't make enough to survive on. I've been talking to entrepreneurs for 20 years and my approach is to be 'positively realistic.' What that means is we are reality based on what the challenges are and there are challenges, but there is the opportunity to succeed, and to fail, as well as fail and succeed again. I think the issue is how do you tell the true story, that's it challenging but its possible? That's the message I try to give out, as well as giving entrepreneurs the tools to be the success story.
How does Dell supporting female entrepreneurs tie into your philosophy?
One thing I've realised about many female entrepreneurs is that they want to feel that their product or service is intrinsically satisfying. I also think women can be more willing than men to challenge their ability to succeed. It comes down to the fact that in our society women have had to be better to succeed at the same level as men. I also appreciate that there can be a few more work/life balancing issues with women than there is with men, especially when you're starting your own businesses and your income isn't secure.
There is a real push at the moment for CEO's to start writing their own books. How did you begin writing and do you have any advice to budding entrepreneur authors?
I was a very successful consultant when I was approached by a publisher and the book that I wrote is still my flagship book and has been used in 700 business schools around the world. I have to say though it was never used as a platform for me to get a job or speaking engagements. I had been doing business plans for high growth start-ups for over a decade at that point and it was based on the company I had. The books we now create through my own publishing company are designed to sell, not as a platform. It gives me credibility but that's not the purpose, if we are looking at books to publish its not about the press. The second thing I would say is that if you are starting up I wouldn't waste time writing a book - its a waste of time and money in most cases, everybody has a book now, everyone is self published and it's not a distinguishing factor. If you want to write because you have something you really want to say thats different but you most certainly shouldn't write a book thinking you're going to make any money.
Could you give 3 top tips on what a start-up needs to think about in this climate in order to be successful?
I think the number one thing is focus. Entrepreneurs have alot of good ideas and it is easy to get distracted by all of these ideas but you have to focus on one business at a time. Second, planning and research. Do your research because you'll waste alot of time and money if you don't do this first. Thirdly, spend your money wisely. Entrepreneurs spend alot of money early on but you need to put money into the things that really make a significant difference to your business.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
My team. The office is a lovely place to be, we're supportive, smart, energetic and I can come to a conference like DWEN in India and know my team will be running the company and moving things forward. The one thing people don't talk about in entrepreneurship is how great it is to create jobs. I pay my people well, they stay with me a long time, my average employee has been with me for 5 years and tell me they want to spend their career with me and that is incredibly rewarding.
I appreciate the people that work at the ground level of the company too, because they are often the people that meet the customer face to face, they are the people in the shipping department deciding what goes in that box, or if that order has been fulfilled correctly. They are the people answering the customer service line. Training, pay and retention are important and you need to make sure your employees love working for you. Not only that, there are a dozen review sites online and people talk and your employees need to be representative of the company, as well as genuinely want the company to succeed. My employees treat it like their own business.
I also say thank you alot because what that is actually saying is 'I recognise your efforts and I don't take it for granted', even something that is mundane. Even the absolute ordinary still deserves a thank you.
It's important for me to have an impact as well, and I know that when my employees go home they feel good about themselves. Their not angry or bitter or resentful, and that means they can treat their family better. If I can make a difference to someone's life that beats everything
This interview originally appeared in Entrepreneur Country Magazine. To read the digital e-zine, click here