I recently hosted the annual Sunday Times Fast Track 100 event at my Oxfordshire home. It brings together leaders from the 100 fastest-growing private companies in Britain, a number of other leading entrepreneurs, and a few aspiring entrepreneurs from the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship in Johannesburg, and from the British government’s Start-Up Loans scheme, which Virgin administers.
We spent the day listening to each other and sharing stories of achievement and innovation. There was lots of laughter and some great conversations. Looking at the people gathered around our dinner table, I had a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what makes a successful entrepreneur. I found myself going back to basics: the three key attributes that can make a real difference to a person’s career.
While I’ve touched on these points before, some of the entrepreneurs’ stories highlighted them in new ways. If you have these basics down, you can give your risky idea a go with more confidence that you’re prepared to ride out any trying times ahead.
1. Keep it simple.
The best and most successful ideas are those that improve people’s lives. Their founders often have a simple plan focused on a single product or service – one that is prompted by frustration.
Paul Lindley, the founder of Ella’s Kitchen, started his business because he could not get his daughter to eat. He wanted to create a convenient product that would make mealtimes fun for babies and young children, along with their parents.
Paul came up with the idea of producing colourful, tactile pouches filled with organic meals. The innovative recipes wowed parents and toddlers alike, and took market leaders such as Heinz and Hipp Organic in Britain by surprise, since their rather stale offerings relied on glass jars and traditional flavours. Ella’s Kitchen has captured 19% of the market in the United Kingdom and copycats are packaging their products in pouches.
As he told his story, it was clear that Paul truly loves his work. He turned his momentary frustration about the difficulty of feeding his daughter into something that is making mealtimes more enjoyable for families.
2. If at first you don’t succeed…
Few first ventures work out. It is how a beginning entrepreneur deals with failure that sets that person apart. In fact, failure is one of the secrets to success, since some of the best ideas arise from the ashes of a shuttered business.
If you are an entrepreneur and your first venture wasn’t a success, welcome to the club! Every successful businessperson has experienced a few failures along the way. In the United States, most investors will look at an entrepreneur’s past failures before making a decision, not because they are worried about it, but because they want to see that that person can withstand the occasional knock. Resilience is one of the hallmarks of an entrepreneur who stays in business in the long term.
Talking with the team who runs the Branson Centre in Johannesburg, I was heartened by Dylan Jonsson’s story, as it shows that our entrepreneurs are learning from their mistakes and building new ventures. Dylan is a trained chef who started a restaurant, which then failed because of poor planning.
However, he has since launched his next venture, A Thyme to Dine, which is a catering business that also sells four types of chocolate balsamic reductions he developed while running the restaurant.
This skill in identifying a winning formula despite his despair at seeing his restaurant close marks Dylan as one to watch. Some of his sauces and drink powders have been picked up by two national chains in South Africa; he is looking to start international sales soon.
3. Are you having fun yet?
If you don’t like being an entrepreneur, you’re doing it wrong. When you can’t wait to get to work in the morning and you are generally having a good time, there is a far greater chance that you’ll create a positive, innovative atmosphere and your business will flourish.
Keith Bete, a Branson Centre entrepreneur, epitomises this attitude perfectly. He founded Ubuntuism, a clothing venture based on Ubuntu, an African humanist philosophy that focuses on building a peaceful, prosperous community where riches are shared and people are treated with respect. His passion and enthusiasm is infectious: Everyone he met at the conference wanted to buy a T-shirt and learn more about his company.