3 Things I have learnt from mentoring entrepreneurial students

Over the years I have mentored numerous students who have the dream of running their own businesses or becoming entrepreneurs in their own right. It would come as no surprise that there are things to be learnt from both sides of the table. As I have helped with marketing, technology and general business advice – I too have picked up on a few things from the students I have mentored and wanted to share with you here 3 things I think to be of interest I have learnt.

Variety of drive

What one person desires and is willing to put into achieving their goals isn’t nearly as much as the next might be willing to do. This can cause some controversy over the word entrepreneur which is being thrown around to anyone who has a web site and an idea to play on, but the real fact is where one person maybe entrepreneurial in the sense of willing to give it all up for greatness – there is (rightly so) those who are only willing to go so deep in the rabbit whole and who still may be entrepreneurial.

A variety of both how far one person is willing to commit vs others – neither is bad – but in a world where people boast of their 20hr days and 4hrs of sleep a night – it is hard not to follow the convention. Those putting in a solid 10hr day may just well outwork their tired caffeine infused counterparts.

Understanding your passion, your drive, your ‘why’ – is crucial. Are you happy to be putting in 8-10hrs a day? Can you commit 14hrs+ a day? What are you willing to put in? There is no right or wrong answer.

Its the latest craze

For a lot of students I speak to often ‘entrepreneur’ has become that ‘cool’ job title or term to use. What was once a label for ‘unemployed’ or ‘still trying to figure it out’ has become a buzz word for many. Since Zucks put on a hoodie and made a few billion and the likes of Dragons Den put ‘entrepreneurship’ in the spot light it has become the one word bio for many.

Not everyone with a web site is an entrepreneur in the same way that not everyone that buys the Ralph Lauren shirt is a model. Its a term that many people are applying to themselves and others incorrectly and is detracting from what the real purpose is.

Far too often I’ve asked the question ‘what do you want to do in business’ and the answer comes in the shape of ‘an entrepreneur’… there is something inherently wrong with that answer in my opinion.

That age/race/background still matters

Its a sad thing to say particularly as we have so many young talented entrepreneurs doing so well, that people will still undoubtably ‘judge’ someone based on their looks, race, ethnicity and even age.

The human race has a tendency to judge people far too quickly – we are all guilty of this to some degree. Having mentored a number of students of different ages, backgrounds and seen first hand how they are dismissed or not taken seriously because of these facts.

I recall being 21 years old and meeting a potential client at an event who would later become not only an influential figure in my development over the years but a great client to work with for several years. Being young, smart and good at explaining who I was and what benefit I could bring to their business, I thought I had it in the bag – only to be largely ignored because of my age. Once my name kept floating around this person decided to bring me in to consult on some projects and after a very short time I was told the reason for the quick dismissal in our initial meeting.

“When I look at 21 yr olds – they have all the talk and none of the action – you proved me wrong” the client said. The fact that we can look at someone and immediately make a snap decision we don’t want to work with that person because of age or cultural background is astonishing.

This particular client grew to be someone I considered a mentor myself and a great businessman – perseverance keeps you going. If you are 18 to 25 (or even older) and regularly get knock backs, or if you are finding it difficult to get those meetings or be taken seriously – KEEP PUSHING.

Patience is GREATLY underrated. You need to be patient.

Culture matters – but so does IQ

It is easy to understand that agency life and the technology world has been largely influenced by those great American firms such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and many other Silicon Valley giants.

So it is not uncommon to walk into startups or agencies that have the fridge stacked with fizzy drinks, the football or pool table, the best of tech, huge multi monitor setups, bean bags and all the other crazy antics that go along with such a young, vibrant and energetic environment such  as the agency I ran for the last ten years had.

The problem is building a fantastic culture will only ever take you so far – you still need to hire the best people possible for the team. Recruitment has forever been one of the most difficult aspects of growing a business.

At my previous company iBox which I ran for 10 years we hired some of the best and brightest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and couldn’t have been more proud of each team member and their empathy, intelligence and drive.

This is not something that is straight forward to find – along side building a team that creates and maintains a culture you want to exist in your company, the fact that each member of the team has to be at the top of their game every day can only exist in an environment where they work well together and operate under a single vision.

You can teach culture, it can be instilled into your new recruits by your existing team – scale the vision. But a good team member needs to have IQ (and EQ) enough so that they can make those sales calls you need, build that beautiful web page or put together the incredibly detailed marketing plan but also integrate within the organisation beyond their basic job description.

A team member that goes above and beyond those ten bullet points set out in their job description is someone that doesn’t need telling on a daily basis how much value they bring to their organisation but realises that they are making a difference every day. A problem solver vs a problem stater makes an enormous difference to an organisation.

iBox had an incredible collective of highly intelligent people and I’m happy to see each one in a role they can continue to develop in going forward.

Becoming a UN Peacekeeper – Alex Webber

I met Alex some weeks ago at the University of Derby and Flint Bishop hosted event – “Network of Entrepreneurs (NoE)”, something I have been involved with since the first event in November 2014.

During the event Alex gave a very heartfelt speech about why his goal was to become a UN peacekeeper and how he intends on going about achieving it. Having spent a lot of time meeting with Alex, and numerous emails discussing this, it is very clear that there is very little standing in the way of Alex and his goal.

Alex, who turns 25 this month, aims to become a UN Peacekeeper knowing that this is no quick process – in fact, it could take him some time. Currently, Alex works as a mentor with the University of Derby and recently sought support from Flint Bishop’s new initiative “Inspire and Ignite” (http://www.flintbishop.co.uk/solicitors-and-lawyers-derby/inspire-ignite/).

If you ask Alex why it all started – he doesn’t really know, but he can explain why….

“This all started around three years ago when I made the very sudden shift in career change. I was at the time still working on a Princes Trust backed business that was in a ‘prototype’ mode after the second year, which I was looking at leaving as a side project after so long trying to get it going.

I didn’t have a ‘Eureka’ moment unfortunately, that one moment when it all became clear.

It was over the several years that I have been watching the scenes we see in the Middle East and now also Europe ,of international politics and terrorism movements clashing more so than ever. I took an interest in the news headlines from day one and after seeing this day in, day out I began to wonder if I could be involved in any way.

At first I considered simply working with a charity and doing something on a smaller scale, but very quickly it dawned on me that it wasn’t just a passing interest. After seeing a report into Peacekeepers, particularly their civilian numbers, I became fascinated and knew I wanted/needed to be involved.”

Alex is  currently fundraising for an internship in the USA and will ultimately need financial aid to reach his goal.

Alex comments on his fundraising goals:

“Fundraising wasn’t something I ever intended to do in regard to my career ambitions. Having seen the opportunity before me, I simply can’t ignore the chance to find myself at the heart of a Humanitarian operation and unfortunately I simply cannot manage that on my own. The skills, knowledge and networking involved is invaluable to someone in my position. The internship itself, a position within the UN Peacekeepers base in New York, will allow me to survey the other side of working in Humanitarian roles and gain a greater understanding of the paper side of such an operation.

It’s something that not all Peacekeepers, in fact very few, are be able to see first-hand. In doing so, I am able to create connections with a large number of crucial contacts in my field, as well as plan towards moving up within the Peacekeeping and UN system itself. My ambitions don’t stop at working as, or alongside, the Peacekeepers. I fully intend to progress through either the UN system, or another in my work in Humanitarianism. I’m already reading heavily on the use of drone or UAV technology in the NPO sector and the developments within the industry, that we’ll see over the next ten years. The scope for potential involvement that I’ll have with the help of this one internship, and what will come from it with the associated skills, will be massive.

This internship will be the first step on my way into, a hopefully very long and involved career and is the single best step to allow me to pursue it. I fully intend to be working in the field within the next five years within Africa, the Middle East and Asia, helping me in my efforts isn’t a ploy to save me money, it’s verifiable support in helping me to obtain skills, information and abilities that will eventually help to manage to refugee and overall humanitarian supply lines of the future. I’m grateful for any and all support. I sincerely thank you if you’re able and willing to do so, I hope to be able to repay the efforts of others one day myself.”

If you would like to get in touch with Alex you can find him on Linkedin here (https://uk.linkedin.com/in/alex-webber-6bb0ab40) or via email awebber68@yahoo.com

But most importantly the Justgiving page: https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/alexander-webber

Every little donation would help Alex achieve his dream of becoming a UN Peacekeeper.

A decade of agency life and its been fun.

April 2016 signifies eight years since iBox became a limited company – with another two years prior to that running as a sole trader. A decade of entrepreneurship has taught me many lessons and with every passing day to become a better leader, not to mention to meeting some of the most fantastic people in the UK.

It is with this in mind that as much as it will shock most people, the computer security consultancy business I founded a decade ago that grew into an ecommerce web design giant has come to an end.

We have been growing strength to strength and had a fantastic team of expert designers, developers and marketers that made us really shine as a beacon of hard work and what a small Derby business could achieve without the need for external funding, growing off its own successes and ultimately becoming a place many young people in the city want to work for.

Unfortunately it seems all good stories must come to a bitter end as we suffered from a client dispute which would end up costing us a considerable amount of money, more so than we would be able to recover from at our fast paced growth trajectory.

The final blow came when as a result of this tight spot we had fallen behind on keeping up with other aspects of the business leading to an eventual shortage of cashflow.

Having always had a very good success rate of winning over 75% of our sales pipeline I was convinced we could come back from this situation and move forward however it just wasn’t meant to be as cash is king and problems started to occur in the last 6-8 weeks.

Having taken a very serious look at the business, my team and having discussed this scenario with trusted friends and family I have taken the decision to make the team at iBox redundant and wind the business up.

I am deeply saddened that I am going to be leaving some people in a tight spot both friends and colleagues. My intentions are to do right by people the best I can.

For the clients and contacts I haven’t yet had a chance to speak with directly about this – please contact me via my usual work email or Linkedin to discuss anything current.

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone that has helped the business over the last decade – every person from start to finish has contributed towards its successes over the years.

Thanks
Sean

Derby as a city of entrepreneurship

Derby is a fantastic city, there is no question about that at all – we have the big players with Rolls Royce, Toyota, JCB and the like – but we also have some incredible creative industry businesses and small retailers around the city.

From the great team of at The Kitchen on Sadler Gate, triathlon wetsuit behemoth HUUB through to fantastic support from local legal powerhouse Flint Bishop & business coaching from Julian Smith – Derby has a selection of incredible businesses in and around the city that need more focus.

iBox leads the way for digital marketing, software development & ecommerce web design and in 2016 are focusing efforts on helping the businesses small and large of Derby to grow further, develop new marketing plans, improve their online sales, implement better software solutions and ultimately grow the local economy.

Hear some of my thoughts below on Derby as a entrepreneurial hub and how in 2016 our agency will continue to promote the city as THE place to live, work and play.