Opened by Julie Meyer the founder of Ariadne Capital, while opining the vision that capital follows ideas, stressed that it is indeed ‘belief’ in an idea or concept that differentiates an entrepreneur from everyone else. How else for example could David have beaten Goliath? Julie segmented success into two categories, net-takers: those who understand how the system works thus benefit themselves, and net contributors: those who want to build something bigger than themselves.
The next speaker, Chris Bowden grew up surrounded by entrepreneurs. Despite this, his parents encouraged him to pursue a traditional route with the view that it would provide greater stability. Indeed as a banker this was the case for a short while. Later he founded Utilyx, delivering a new model for electricity pricing and purchasing. As the company grew, he realised they had reached a plateau and having read an article in the Harvard Business Review, identified the exact conditions he found himself in. The publication suggested three solutions: to sell the company, to change the founder/ceo or to retrain the founder/CEO. He eventually opted to step back to work on the business, not in the business. Not an easy thing to do by any measure.
Perhaps my favourite speaker of the day was Sir Peter Bazalgette who shared a number of his experiences and delivered key messages, such as when investing, expect to double your money and double your time. He encouraged entrepreneurs to focus on the benefits delivered by a technology-solution opposed to it’s features, a subtle and important distinction. Crucially, he launched a scathing assault on the domestic investment community where, despite having access to large swathes of capital, many opt to drip-feed entrepreneurs. Sure, they will generate return by squeezing the entrepreneur – and thus parts of the their vision, however, if better resources were made available, instead of seeing a 2x return, investors could see a 5x or more return.
Another of the day’s speakers, Clare Rayner, spoke on the retail revolution which we are currently experiencing on account of new technologies. She stressed that mobile isn’t the cause, rather the enabler for this shift, with 300+ years of shopping changed in just a handful of years. She spoke of a video available on TED talks on the subject of Trust in business, and how relationships are changing, where the consumer expects to buy a product or service using a newer set of criteria. Amongst the facts shared were that there are over 338,000 shops in the UK, 66% of them are independent, that 92% have less than 10 employees and that 50p in every £1 is recycled into the local economy. It is through technology that local is the new international, and with an estimated 20% of all Christmas shopping this year expected to be done via a mobile phone, it is the ability for a single supplier to reach a national/international audience directly at a low cost, which is driving the changing retail business model.
Entrepreneur Jo Malone shared a beautiful sentiment during her speech. Having successfully launched and then sold her first business to Estee Lauder, she fought cancer and has recently begun her second offering, JO LOVES, stating: “One was my past, one is my future.” Like many of the other entrepreneurs on-stage she spoke with brutal honesty, saying that she made every mistake in the book. Yet despite this she found success and is looking to repeat this with her new business Jo Loves.
No forum would be complete with a strong legal presence, and so David Willbe of Crowell & Moring spoke on the dangers of digital contracts. He shared a legal case where a spread betting company lost to a customer who made substantial losses. In their defense they cited the terms and conditions on their website, but in summary and I am quoting David’s speech he said, “tl;dr” – too long, didn’t read. Indeed, few if anyone ever reads lengthy T&Cs on a website, and so he opined that in the future below the generic T&Cs a handful of additional points may be made focusing on key points raised in the speech.
In deciding which was the more comical speaker, I’m torn between Richard Watney currently with Bin Weevils (an online virtual world for children), and Charlie Mullins of the famed Pimlico Plumbers. Richard delivered the rather entertaining example of how he invested in a hotel on the grounds that he loved food, they served bad food, so he bought the hotel to deliver better food; suffice to say, it didn’t quite go according to plan. While Charlie spoke rather candidly on many subjects including his encounters with Prince Charles, the Prime Minister, Sir Alan Sugar, etc. and, when prompted by a member of the audience, what he would do if he was Prime Minister!
Amongst the success stories was Rene Rechtman, currently the head of AOL Advertising International, who spoke on the success of the company he co-founded, Goviral. Video on the internet, according to Rene, will be big. Youtube is just the start. On a personal note I could not agree more: as mobile phone data speeds increase with the arrival of 4G/LTE, we will witness a video led content revolution which many cannot begin to understand.
Closing the speeches to a rapturous audience was Bruce Dickinson, the lead vocalist of Iron Maiden fame. Before scurrying over for an autograph and photo (it had to be done) one of the projects Bruce spoke of caught my attention. Fending off competition from some of the world’s leading defense contractors, with a more expensive bid, he has invested in an eco-friendly cargo airship that will carry large weights over large distances. Personally I am more interested in consumer orientated tourism airships, relaxing flights past major cities and landmarks – in an age where everyone is in such a rush, it would be nice to ‘cruise in the skies.’
The days proceedings delivered a wide selection of insight on what it is to be an entrepreneur, with stories shared, knowledge gained, and more importantly, lessons learned. The honesty and integrity of many of the speakers was refreshing to hear, and for those aspiring entrepreneurs, perhaps the best words of wisdom come from Professor Simon Best of Aquapharm Biodiscovery who balanced the controversy surrounding cloning and genetic engineering with the example of the GM sweet potato that has saved more than 30 million children in Africa. His advice, “Don’t make the same mistake twice.”