Where did your personal inspiration, entrepreneurial/leadership purpose come from – what shaped your views?
This is a question I am often asked and I think there are various answers to it. I would certainly be the first to say that when I started my first company the main motivation was money. I was 14 then and a good friend of mine had made a bet with me that there was no way I could make £500 before I turned 18. Consider that we were 14, so to us £500 was like £500,000; it was to us a stupid amount of money. Through quite fortuitous factors I started a tutoring company which grew rapidly into 65 tutors, which I did certainly for the money I suppose, I wanted to win the bet.
But now, after a few startups, my pure motivation I think comes from solving problems. I think business is the best vehicle for change that there could possibly be and I revel in the opportunity to use those same principles as a means to solve those problems. These problems can range from the digital such as the problem being solved by companies such as Spotify in streaming music or Facebook in really connecting people or they can go to the tangible such as with Doodlar where solutions to tangible issues such as lack of clean accessible water or human trafficking are solved.
It would be hypocrisy to suggest that the money doesn’t also play an important role in motivation however rather than it being the end goal, the revenue we make acts as a point’s system- an indicator to show that we are achieving our goal of solving the problem we set out to. With Doodlar, it's a direct correlation, the greater the revenue, the greater the funds being raised for a cause, the greater awareness we are generating for the cause.
What’s the purpose of your organisation?
Doodlar is a t-shirt company which allows the everyday person to be a social activist. Using design and community we raise funding and awareness for the worthwhile causes.
Every month we campaign for a cause creating fashionable limited edition tee shirts which help to reflect that particular month’s cause. These run for only a month, once the month is over, the t-shirts are gone too!
These t-shirts are promoted online, www.doodlar.com, with £5 from every t- shirt being given to a specific charity that is also fighting the same causes as us that month. This helps raise more funding towards the specific cause-we often choose smaller charities compared to the Oxfam’s of the world to work with because I think they are in more need of the help. More important though is that by purchasing a t-shirt, one becomes a walking talking advert for a cause. Our t-shirts are quite fashionable and subtly incorporate the cause so one can also look good and also do good. I can’t recall the amount of times that people have emailed saying that they have been stopped in the road by someone asking where they got their shirts from and that gives them an opportunity to talk about the cause, it’s a fantastic experience.
“Often when we think about business and commerce we often forget the very definition of a company is simply a group of people brought towards a common purpose”
What have been your critical lessons learnt along your entrepreneurial journey?
Wow, too much to name. Each venture I have been involved in has brought with it its fair share of lessons. I think firstly would be the importance of people. Often when we think about business and commerce we often forget the very definition of a company is simply a group of people brought towards a common purpose. For my first company, a tutoring service, for example, things were going really well. We had a very simple business model where parents would call me, I would then use one of the many fake notes that I had written up to excuse myself from my class and then arrange for a tutor to go and meet the son or daughter of the parent who just called. The basic, fixed fee was £15 from which I would keep £5, pretty simple business model. However you can guess what went wrong here; tutors, people who I had trusted went directly to parents cutting me out and keeping £15 for themselves with me getting 0! Looking back on it, it’s a bit of a “duh” moment but it still shows the important of hiring the correct people.
I am currently running this company with an awesome graphic designer and illustrator Tia Jones and I must say she is a sensational person, someone who I would easily want to go out for a drink with. That’s most important, in my opinion if you want to build an A* company then you need A* people. That is easier said than done of course but that’s what social networks and off-line events are for, go out there and find your rock stars!
Secondly, I think things like hard work and resilience are a given but more important is focus. Not just focusing on reining the ideas in when starting a company, trust me I have had these quite a lot, but focusing on managing the micro tasks of the day. When running a company there are a million and ones things to do and what is going to allow you to do them is having a razor sharp focus on the tasks and finishing the task in the best way possible. Turn off Facebook, close all the tabs in your browser unless you are actively using that, turn of the music! There would be time for that when you are finished with what needs done, but not when you are working and creating a rockstar company.
What are the characteristics that in your experience entrepreneurs require now and in the future?
I think this requires a practical answer as well as less tangible one. In regards to the former I think what is needed are technical skills, or at least a basic understanding of the web frameworks. Evidently tech is the future and in fact is also the present as the great start-ups of the world attest to: Spotify, Instagram etc. Consequently I certainly think a good grasp of tech is essentially for the future and also now, using resources such as CodeAcademy and TreeHouse are very good foundations for this. The former which is free has equipped a good friend of mine in being able to pick up programming in a remarkably short time and now he is building an app creation company, Apptar, with a couple of other people.
In regards to the less tangible characteristics, I think that there has to be a certain love for what you do when you’re an entrepreneur. In my second company, an event marketing company although we were making a lot of revenue, I hated it in the end. Why? Because I couldn’t care less about events marketing, I didn’t get up thinking “oh wow, can’t wait to host this event for Bob over there”, it was at this point that I realised the important of loving what you do-it’s so important. With Doodlar, sure we are generating a profit but what keeps me going is the change we are delivering, real tangible change, how many do you know who can say that due to their efforts there is a child who has been cured of a facial deformity-that’s an incredible feeling and I love that feeling.
I think every entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur should really focus on doing something that they love because when things get rough and trust me they will, it’s that love, that attracted you in the first place-that would get you through.
What would be your 5 top tips for purposeful entrepreneurs?
I don’t know about five, however I can offer the three principles that I try and live my business life by:
- Have thick skin: Entrepreneurship is a battle, it takes so long to achieve any type of real success but the good thing is that you just need one door to open for you to be classed as an “overnight success” People would question you and may even go on to mock you, your friends, your family they may not be meaning to be nasty about it but it may lead to your questioning yourself. When things like this happen, it’s important to grow a thick skin, sure take the hits, don’t dodge them but hit back with much more of a thick skin, much more ferocity and intensity in your work and I guarantee that things become easier.
- Everything started as nothing: Look around you; every single thing around apart from nature was not just there at the start of the world, the laptop or phone you are reading this from was not just there. It took somebody’s intuition and someone’s action to create it. Once you realise this and realise that everything started as nothing, one starts to realise that you, yes you reading this can build something which others can use be it tech based or an actual physical product. It’s an incredible feeling.
- Cultivate the mind-set and habits of success: A lot of aspiring entrepreneurs and even those running companies, I think fail to get to the next step of the success ladder because they do not cultivate the habits of success. Simple things such as changing your thinking from “ what is in it for me” to “ what is in it for them” when approaching clients, or getting up that extra hour earlier in the morning are all ways of cultivating such mind-sets and are all something I would urge others to do.
CEO and Founder