The three most common ‘entrepreneuring’ misadventures

Discover the disconnect between expectations of entrepreneurial life and the reality, with these three common pitfalls

The funny thing about using the word ‘misadventure’ when it comes to being an entrepreneur, and the reasons we believe that everyone is familiar with it, is that deep down we all know that the road to success in business is not a straight line or quite as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. We all know that it’s going to be challenging and it’s going to test us in ways we’ve never been tested before.

Yet… we remain optimists. So much so in fact that we allhope that we might just be the exception to the rule and that although all the evidence points to the contrary, we have got it figured out and we are not going to be the ones to veer off track. Until we do. And despite all of our best efforts, our positive thinking, our painstaking planning, and all of the books we’ve read about how others have become successful – we find ourselves (through no apparent fault of our own) in the midst of a place that we never expected to be. An ‘entrepreneuring’ misadventure.

By misadventure we don’t mean impending disaster. We mean the gap between the perception you had of what being an entrepreneur would be like vs. the reality. It’s the stuff no-one talks about, which we personally find to be extremely unhelpful, left only to feed on a diet of even less helpful advice smacking us in the face daily on social media.

In the interests of being entirely transparent, and infinitely more helpful, here is our guide to the three most common misadventures in entrepreneuring and how to avoid them.

Misadventure 1 – underestimating the impact of your own mindset

‘The most painful mistake I see in first-time entrepreneurs is thinking that just having a business plan or a great concept is enough to guarantee success. It’s not. Business success is 80% psychology and 20% mechanics. And, frankly, most people’s psychology is not meant for building a business.’ Tony Robbins, author of Money: Master the Game (2014)

The first and the most important truth to learn about entrepreneuring is that being a good entrepreneur is not about being good at business. It’s entirely possible to be good at business and be a terrible entrepreneur if you don’t have the right mindset. Being a good, or a great, entrepreneur is about embracing the fact that you are (almost) always both the problem and the solution to becoming great.

If you don’t believe me, think back to the last time you were stuck in your business, or found yourself in a situation you never thought you could get out of. How did you get unstuck? How did you move forward? Be really honest with yourself. Did the situation change, or did you change your approach to the situation? Were you able to see it from another perspective?

Misadventure 2 – believing there is a blueprint for success

If you are a first-time entrepreneur, you could be forgiven for thinking that entrepreneurs are all alike. Like us, you have probably read articles and books, been sucked into the ‘hustle’ culture, watched videos, or even studied entrepreneurial characteristics and determined whether or not you fit the mould.

But the real truth is that there is no mould. Being an entrepreneur is simply the profession you have chosen. Yes, most entrepreneurs will have shared experiences, and yes you will come across similar challenges, or even misadventures. But you will also make your own decisions and approach these in your own way. Yes, you can learn a lot about sprinting from watching someone like Usain Bolt perform, but he also won Olympic Gold after fuelling himself with a plate of chicken nuggets. It doesn’t mean that same strategy will help you become a better sprinter.

‘I think everyone thinks they should be doing this one amazing thing, but no one knows what it is. I’ve realized that it doesn’t exist – there is no roadmap.’ Entrepreneur, Victoria Green.

If you ever find yourself off course, it’s most likely because you’re following someone else’s road map or trying to be someone else, and not being brave enough to do the things that are right for your own set of circumstances.

Misadventure 3 – doing it for the work-life balance

I normally try to purposely stay away from talking about work-life balance with entrepreneurs because I’ve seen so many people start a business with the intention of being able to create a better balance in their lives. Maybe this is you right now? How many times during this adventure have you been able to do that, or do it in the way you envisaged when you first thought that having your own business was the solution?

What I actually believe is that most people are seeking a world where they feel less guilty about how they spend their time. Don’t believe me? Tell me what you were looking for when you decided that being an entrepreneur would give you a better work-life balance?

  • Want to spend more time with the kids? Or feeling guilty for spending so much time at work?
  • Want to spend more time with your partner/spouse? Or feeling guilty for spending so much time at work?
  • Looking to spend more time at the gym? Or feeling guilty for spending so much time doing anything but the things that will make you fit and healthy?

As an entrepreneur, there really is no such thing as a big dividing line between life and work. It’s not a black and white thing that you leave at 5pm. You don’t have work things and life things. Being an entrepreneur is an integral part of a whole life that you choose to create for yourself, balancing everything that you want from that time and that you don’t have to feel guilty for.

Gayle Mann and Lucy-Rose Walker were both involved in the founding, growth and eventual sale of Entrepreneurial Spark – a support system for entrepreneurs. They are the authors of Misadventures in Entrepreneuring: The Truth About How It Feels To Run Your Own Business (Practical Inspiration Publishing, 2020).

Five lessons for budding entrepreneurs

How can you move from entrepreneurial dream to reality? The author of Start. Scale. Sell offers five lessons, from adopting the right mindset to appreciating the real value in having a good business plan

For many people, starting their own company is the ‘itch you can’t scratch’. An idea that simply won’t leave you – an overwhelming desire to take more control over one’s own destiny, or a desire to make vast sums of money (or something in between) that won’t go away.

I’m fascinated by the nature of entrepreneurialism and, in particular, why some people do it while others only ever dream about it. If the least successful business is the one that never gets started, then there is something in the idea of just getting started being one of the main contributors to success.

So, how do you become a successful entrepreneur and more importantly, how do you move from studying business to actually doing business? And once you get going, how do you give yourself the best chance of being successful? How do you give yourself the best chance of success?

In making the transition to entrepreneurship, I think the following five lessons are vital:

1. Getting into the ‘founders’ mindset’

While my entrepreneurial journey started early, I wasn’t one of those kids who made a fortune selling things to schoolfriends. My Dad was a self-employed painter and decorator and I learned one of my most important life lessons from him. Namely, what I earn and what I pay myself are different amounts. Even if you have a job, treat yourself as self-employed. Why is this important? It is the first step towards recognising the variability of your income. I call it getting into the ‘founders’ mindset’.

Many people get trapped in a salary as their lifestyle grows to account for everything they earn. When a business opportunity comes along, they are unwilling or unable to take advantage of it because the drop in earnings would be too painful. No matter how good your idea, it will never be a success unless you actually do it. Being self-employed, or considering yourself as such, allows you to have the right mindset and means you’re able to save up a war chest of savings so that when the right opportunity comes along, you can act on it and deal with the drop in income.

2. Knowing an opportunity when you see it

I was able to act on an opportunity when I saw it but how did I spot the right opportunity? I started my first business when I was 28 and it was sold shortly after my 30th birthday and to be honest, it was a bit of a fluke. The opportunity I spotted was a new thing called the internet.

It came to me when I was walking through the rain to get the tube (metro) home from work and I saw a consultant with whom I’d been in a meeting with only hours earlier drive off in a Mercedes. It wasn’t the Mercedes that made me realise. It was the fact that he was being paid to talk about this new internet thing. People were willing to pay to hear him and I thought I could do that too. So, I did.

3. Spending time with your business plan

I know many people view their business plan as an annoyance – a boring bit of admin standing between them and the fulfilment of their idea. I think that misses the point of a business plan. At its basic level, a business plan forces you to identify and understand how you will deal with things like sales, finances and legal issues. But going further, I think the real value in your business plan is to remove as many risk factors as possible before you start.

Eisenhower said: ‘In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.’ So it is with your business plan – the business you build will bear little resemblance to your plan, but the process of planning will give you a greater chance of success. You’ll have enough to deal with on a day-to-day basis without having to deal with self-inflicted problems you could have dealt with earlier.

4. Not falling foul of the ‘six-month effect’

When you’re planning ahead, I’ve noticed a curious thing that I call the ‘six-month effect’. Six months is far enough away that you can plan, or hope, for things to have developed. What I’ve noticed is that six months pass by very quickly and this benchmark period often isn’t as far away as you think.

Why is this important? So many people allow for six months of money to live on while they get up and running or six months to win their first customers. Suppose it takes a little longer – eight months perhaps? I’ve seen businesses fail, not because they were bad businesses but because things took longer than planned. Self-inflicted wounds that were not necessary.

5. Building a business is a marathon not a sprint

You are a risk factor in the success of your business. There is a reason why good investors want founders to earn more than a bare bones salary. A business without a founder is likely to fail and it’s going to be a hard slog to get things moving. Allowing yourself a night out once in a while and the chance to blow off steam once in a while is vital. It is important to allow yourself a decent lifestyle so that when things get tough, you’re not tempted to throw in the towel.

***

In conclusion, acting like an entrepreneur isn’t the same as actually being successful as one. Spotting an opportunity and acting on it at a time of your choosing after careful research and planning, while allowing yourself a decent quality of life so that you stay with it for the long term is the best recipe for success. Remember also to keep going, and good luck.

Nick Suckley has launched four digital specialist businesses and sold three of them over a 20-year period. Now a consultant for media and technology entrepreneurs and C-suite executives, Nick is also the author of Start. Scale. Sell – 75 Lessons for Business Success (Practical Inspiration Publishing, 2020).

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Danny Brooks, CEO and Founder, VHR Global Recruitment

Learn the dos and don’ts of running a successful business in your chosen industry before starting out on your own, says VHR Global Recruitment’s CEO and Founder

‘The key to any business is attracting and retaining the best talent,’ says Danny Brooks, CEO at VHR Global Recruitment (VHR).

With years of experience in the recruitment industry under his belt, Danny started his own company in 2003. VHR now trades in 45 countries worldwide and has an annual turnover of approximately £35 million GBP. Headquartered in London, the firm sources contract and permanent engineers for projects around the world and performs executive searches for C-suite roles.

In this interview, Danny stresses the importance of learning the dos and don’ts of running a successful business before launching a startup. ‘Gain some experience of working in a business in your chosen field before starting out on your own,’ he advises.

Can you tell us a bit about your current role and what is involves?

My current role is a combination of overseeing the running of VHR and its global operations together with meeting new and existing clients to gain an understanding of their current and future business plans to ascertain how VHR can support their project and workforce requirements.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and post-graduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

Gain some experience of working in a business in your chosen field before starting out on your own. This will equip you with some invaluable lessons of how, and how not, to run a business.

When you do start out on your own, ensure that you get everything in writing in relation to share ownership, and that you have a good shareholder agreement.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

Richard Branson – he has created a premium aspirational brand that transcends different sectors. His companies are seen as being fun or ‘cool’ places to work which makes attracting and retaining quality staff a lot easier. The key to any business is attracting and retaining the best talent.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’re currently facing, both as a leader and as an organisation?

Challenges: like many businesses, one of the main challenges we’re facing is Brexit. Any changes to employment law either here or abroad will complicate our business, that’s why we have a dedicated compliance team to make sure we’re on top of any changes that may need to be made.

Opportunities: we’re in the process of opening new offices, and now have premises in the UAE, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic and, soon, Ireland. This enables us to engage better with our international candidates, and allows us to be closer to the work our clients are doing.

Danny Brooks is CEO and Founder of VHR Global Recruitment

Bridging the gap between intent and impact

Startups should be looking to solve genuine problems in society, say brothers and Co-Founders of The Startupreneur, Aakarsh Naidu and Adhikar Naidu.

The organisation works with entrepreneurs and incubators with the goal, as Aakarsh explains, of ‘training them and helping bridge the gap between intent and impact’.

The Naidu brothers both pursued master’s degrees abroad, at the London School of Economics (LSE), but always with the intention of taking their experience and skills back to India. ‘We wanted a global exposure and to come back to India and create an impact,’ Aakarsh says.

This impact includes trying to raise awareness of the organisation’s work among new audiences, through a hip-hop music video available on YouTube. ‘It was about reaching out to new demographics in a new format and a new language,’ Aakarsh explains. Read the full interview below to learn more.

Why did you both choose to study in the UK, and why management at LSE?

Aakarsh Naidu

Aakarsh Naidu: Our father has been an entrepreneur for more than 30 years, establishing and running some of the biggest companies in India’s green energy sector, so both of us have always had an interest in pursuing business studies.

Having studied business management at undergraduate level, I wanted to specialise in human resource management at a premier institution that offered global exposure, and LSE’s MSc in Human Resources Management was a top-ranked programme. My brother, Adhikar, pursued LSE’s Master’s in Management and Digital Innovation. He was a finance graduate and was working in the investments division of Goldman Sachs, before he discovered his interest in emerging technologies.

LSE’s Department of Management was the perfect platform for both of us to explore and specialise in our areas of interest. The exposure and the global network for a student at LSE is also one of a kind.

Adhikar Naidu: I used to visit my elder brother, Aakarsh, in London, during his time at LSE. I was always enamoured by the legacy of this great institution and the diversity it brings. My brother used to have friends from different parts of the world, who would ask me if I would join the School one day. I used to say, ‘I will one day’ – without realising that I would actually do it!

What were the highlights of the programmes you studied?

Aakarsh: The top highlights for us were getting a unique global exposure and a cultural immersion with access to some of the most talented brains in the world alongside friendships that can span across continents and memories which will last a lifetime.

For me, the HR management programme I took was interdisciplinary in the sense that it gave me the opportunity to study subjects on management, economics and international relations at the same time. I particularly enjoyed the course on ‘Negotiation Analysis’, which was experiential and gave me the opportunity to work with peers across the globe, helping me understand the business and cultural nuances.

Adhikar Naidu

Adhikar: I had the opportunity to study concepts in emerging technologies like AI, augmented reality (AR) and VR, the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain to name a few. I also received a distinction for my thesis on the VRIO (value, rarity, imitability and organisation) framework for startups in business incubators. The programme and experience as a whole helped cultivate the spark to create an impact through entrepreneurship.

Was returning to India after completing your studies always the plan? Please explain your answer.

Aakarsh: Our reason for studying in the UK was very clear right from the start. We wanted a global exposure and to come back to India and create an impact. We wanted to create an impact in our own country while also being global citizens.

True to this goal, I’ve worked with some top startup incubators and educational institutions, such as, IIM Bangalore and the Indian School of Business. Meanwhile, Adhikar has worked with organisations like Goldman Sachs and the angel investor network, Keiretsu Forum.

Having specialised in our respective fields, we are now pooling our strengths and understanding through our own venture, The Startupreneur, through which we are building a platform to nurture entrepreneurship and innovation not only in India, but also across the world.

You’ve talked about the ‘triple bottom line’ in previous interviews. What does this term mean to you and how does this align with your organisation’s ambitions?

Aakarsh: ‘People’, ‘planet’ and ‘profit’ – these were the magical words that we learnt at LSE while studying the concept of the triple bottom line (TBL). For centuries, the term ‘bottom line’ has been synonymous with money, profit and other monetary markers such as return on investment, shareholder value and cash flow. The TBL approach adds a new meaning to this word by using the combined power of people, planet and profit to measure the health and quality of a business’ impact.

The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little ‘extra’ that can make you stand out as an entrepreneur among the crowd. It can take the form of social impact, issues you take up, or an organisation’s ethics and values. The organisational value for us at The Startupreneur is simple: ‘Startups shouldn’t just be about making millions but also helping millions by solving a genuine problem.’ We want to help startups develop sustainable business models that have a social impact.

What would you say is the biggest challenge facing startups and entrepreneurs in India?

Aakarsh: The biggest challenge for startups and entrepreneurs, according to us, is in moving from ‘zero to one’ [the name of Peter Thiel’s 2014 book that stems from Thiel’s teaching on startups at Stanford] and understanding the concept of product/market fit.

This is a mindset problem and requires first-time entrepreneurs to experience the process of starting up before actually starting up. This experience clears a lot of myths around business models, hiring and funding, all of which are necessary for building a successful startup. This is where Startupreneur directly works with entrepreneurs and incubators in training them and helping bridge the gap between intent and impact.

Can you tell us a bit about the startup you are most proud of being able to help get off the ground?

Aakarsh: Singling out one particular startup would be difficult as there have been quite a few startups that have excited us, and we’ve been committed to nurturing and helping them get off the ground.

A few such startups have been an AR/VR startup looking to make curricula and content more accessible to students, a startup which is developing a pollution-control device, and an app which identifies the quickest routes for ambulances to take to hospitals.

We’ve seen Aakarsh’s Startup Song video. What were the reasons behind taking up the mic in support of The Startupreneur’s goals?

Aakarsh: The reasons for coming up with the Startup Song are quite simple; it was about reaching out to new demographics in a new format and a new language (vernacular content). We wanted to create awareness about ‘startupreneurship’ and democratise the concept of ‘starting up’ to different parts of the country.

To our surprise, it achieved what its goal – the average age group of people watching earlier videos from The Startupreneur was about 25-35. However, viewership for the Startup Song was primarily in the age range of 18-25 and was spread more widely across India, thereby reaching new demographics. The best compliment we have received was a startup founder mentioning that her three-year-old was also singing ‘startup, startup, startup’ after listening to the song. That was heartening to hear!

Aakarsh Naidu is an alumnus of the London School of Economics (LSE), Startup Ecosystem Enabler, and is Co-Founder and CEO of The Startupreneur. He has led initiatives at IIM Bangalore’s startup incubator  (NSRCEL) and is a mentor at the Founder Institute, World Resources Institute (WRI), and Catalyst for Women Entrepreneurship (CWE).

Adhikar Naidu is Co-Founder and COO at The Startupreneur. He previously worked at Goldman Sachs in India and the US, and has been a speaker at national and international events, such as Google for Startups and Esprit Entrepreneurs. He holds a master’s degree in management and digital innovation from the London School of Economics (LSE).

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Leyanis Diaz, Founder at Major Marketplace

A Cuban-American master’s in entrepreneurship graduate on how Business School has helped her company to support minority-owned businesses

‘I felt like I was more equipped to become someone else’s CMO than my own CEO,’ says Leyanis Diaz, who launched her own company on the back of a distinguished set of experiences in communications.

When Leyanis enrolled at Business School, she said she, ‘felt like I had no support or help in building my business’. However, by the end of her programme, she says the experience was, ‘the best thing I could have done for myself and for the business’.

That business is Major Marketplace, a platform that aims to change the narrative regarding minority business enterprises (MBEs) by providing them with support, marketing services and brand growth.

Read on to learn more about Leyanis’ work, what she took from her time at Business School and why she believes Oprah Winfrey, ‘is a champion for women and for people of colour everywhere and an inspiration to us all’.

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and what is involves?

I am the Founder of Major Marketplace, which connects small minority-owned businesses with those who want to support them. It is a unique programme that is on a mission to keep more minority businesses in business by showcasing their innovative and cutting-edge products to a global audience while providing them with the support, connections and education to scale.

Currently, I am a solo founder, which means I do it all: marketing, operations, customer service, human resources, sales, finance, and so on. But I love what I do, and I know that I am making an impact on those who need it most – minority businesses are the heart and soul of communities like the one I grew up in [in Miami, Florida].

Did your Business School experience help get your business off the ground? If so, how?

My Business School experience gave me the tool box I needed to run Major Marketplace. I started the company before attending University College London’s (UCL) School of Management master’s in entrepreneurship programme.

Before attending UCL School of Management, I felt lost and felt like I had no support or help in building my business. Enrolling in the entrepreneurship programme was the best thing I could have done for myself and for the business. The School gave me access to experts, advisors, mentors, resources, funding, support and a global network that I can tap into today and in the future.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and post-graduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

You do not need to know it all and don’t be afraid to ask for help or to ask what you might think is a dumb question.

My background is in communications. During my undergraduate degree, I studied marketing, PR, television and radio and after graduating, I went on to work for companies such as Nike and Ford. While I was good at what I did, I did not know the first thing about business when I first started my own company. I felt like I was more equipped to become someone else’s CMO than my own CEO.

When I first started, I spent a lot of my time focusing on what I did not have instead of what I did have. [I now appreciate the importance of] understanding what your strengths are and more importantly, what your weaknesses are so you can build a team around you to fill those gaps and seek the help that you need when you need it with more clarity.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

My dream mentor has always been Oprah Winfrey because she is everything I am working to be, a media maven, a philanthropist, an activist, and a businesswoman. She faced many trials and tribulations during her childhood and early on in her career as a black woman in media, but she had a choice to make, she could give up and go home, or keep going and face her obstacles head on.

She did the latter and became the person we all know and love. Today, she is a champion for women and for people of colour everywhere and an inspiration to us all. With Oprah as my mentor, I would have grown as both an individual and as a businesswoman.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’re currently facing as a leader?

As a leader, some of my current challenges include being a solo founder and managing my time effectively, filtering through the advice and feedback I receive, and managing my expectations and the expectations of others.

However, my opportunities include graduating from a world-leading university, my background and perspective as a Cuban-American immigrant and as a woman of colour, and the relationships I have made through my work in the community.

Please outline the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to your company’s strategy and why you feel it is important to business approaches as a whole today.

CSR is of great important to Major Marketplace. Corporations’ ability and desire to support initiatives, projects and businesses that align with their interests and values and that have an impact are both interesting and potentially fruitful for us.

CSR is important to business approaches as a whole today because our companies have an effect and influence on people and our planet. To me, CSR is about understanding that what you do has consequences, whether they are good or bad, and about trying to do right by others not because it makes you look good but because you care.

Which three words best describe your approach to leadership (or your management style) and why?

The three words that best describe my approach to leadership are ‘transparency’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘collaboration’.

‘Transparency’ because as the Founder of Major Marketplace, I have to be honest with my team, the minority businesses we work with, and our partners, customers and other stakeholders.

‘Empowering’ because I have to empower those I work with, so they can empower and encourage minority businesses that, in turn, empower their communities.

‘Collaborative’ because I know that there is no ‘I’ in team. In order for us to make the biggest impact on the world, we have to work with others who understand what we are building and are passionate about building a better future together.

Leyanis Diaz is the Founder of Major Marketplace, an online marketplace that works to support minority-owned businesses by providing them with education, merchandising, and connections to a global audience. An extended version of this interview has previously been published on Medium.

Why female startup founders find it harder to secure investment

Venture capitalists don’t ask male and female founders the same questions when making investment decisions, and hold a number of preconceptions, says the founder of a network aimed at empowering women

We hear a lot about getting more women on boards, more female CEOs, more girls to study STEM subjects. But there is another significant gender gap much less talked about.

It is the one affecting female entrepreneurs. Several reports have shone a light on this. For example, a 2019 study by the British Business Bank found that for every £1 GBP of venture capital (VC) investment in the UK, female founders got just 1p (£0.01 GBP). Mixed gender founder-teams got 10p (£0.1 GBP), and the rest? It went to all-male founders. That’s equates to £5bn of investment going to all-male founders.

The situation in the US is no different. One study, by Pitchbook, showed that companies with female founders only raised 2.3% of VC funding in the US.

As a two-time startup founder myself, I was invited to 11 Downing Street for the unveiling of the British Business Bank research, commissioned by the UK Treasury. It was also attended by VCs, so to my delight I got to ask that key question: ‘why don’t investors put their trust in women?’

Implicit bias and preconceptions

Their answers were honest, but brutal. Some confessed that when they see a young woman, they assume that her incentive to start a business is to leave the rat race to juggle a bit of work with the real job of being a mum. This is essentially labelling any women within a 20-year child bearing window as a ‘mother with a hobby.’

This is compounded by the inconvenient fact that the average age of founding a business is 42, according to researchers from MIT, the Kellogg School and the US Census Bureau. Among the fastest-growing tech startups, the average age is 45. This age is for men and women, so clearly it has nothing to do with wanting to make time for school runs. It takes life experience and industry expertise to run a successful business – 42/45 seems about right to me.

Another VC partner admitted he always sends a junior 20-something trainee to interview the female founders but is inclined to send someone more senior to male founders.

I’ve been in that pitching chair myself when I started to seek funding for my first startup in 2016. It was around the time that the #MeToo movement was gathering momentum and I thought, ‘it’s time to get big or go home’. Yet, when I started early conversations with investors, or people who knew about investing, I got a distinct feeling of doubtfulness. Their questions seemed to be negatively slanted: ‘don’t you think the bubble might burst?’ instead of the more positive ‘where do you see your business in X years.’ Other women have said similar things.

Lines of enquiry at investor interviews

My suspicions of this negative interview bias have turned out to be substantiated. A 2017 study by researchers at Columbia University and Harvard Business School looked at 189 videos of presentations to investors (of which 12% were given by female entrepreneurs). They found that 67% of questions to the male entrepreneurs were ‘promotion-oriented’, such as, ‘do you think your target market is a growing one?’ For female founders, 66% of questions were ‘prevention-oriented’, asking them questions along the lines of how long it would take them to break even or how they’d defend a business challenge.

Investors are supposed to be good at spotting trends. So you would think that they’d have taken notice of the many reports that show that female-founded businesses end up being more successful. Linked to the British Business Bank research, the UK Treasury also commissioned the Rose Review, looking at ways to promote female entrepreneurship. One of its conclusions was that female-founded businesses could be worth £250bn GBP to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as UK men.

Eliminating doubts

I can see why. I’ve had three children over five years, while running two businesses and I never took maternity leave. My businesses grew the most when I was pregnant. People joke that when women are pregnant they go into ‘the nesting phase’ because they are programmed to get their house in order but actually it’s a hyper-efficient state which applies to all areas of life, including their business. Think about it, you’re not likely to be attending parties or socialising in bars. You’re not distracted by anything else. Pregnant women get things done!

We can’t fully blame the funding gap on ‘old boys network’ bias though. Women themselves need to put themselves forward more. In the same way that women don’t ask for pay rises as much as men, on average, they also tend to harbour more doubts that they have the skills to grow a business. They can suffer from imposter syndrome and worry themselves out of things. If nine people say ‘yes’ and one says ‘no’, a sizeable proportion of women will listen to the one ‘no’.

Start early

So how can we address the problem? It should start at grassroots level, with teachers and parents. Gender biases stem from the messaging we give to children as they grow up. We need to instil in them the belief that they can make something of themselves regardless of gender.

Take the cringeworthy example of the covers of recent editions of teenage publications, Girls’ Life and Boys’ Life. The former flashed headlines that include ‘fall [autumn] fashion you’ll love’, ‘wake up pretty’ and ‘your dream hair’. The latter featured one bold headline, ‘explore your future: astronaut, architect, firefighter, chef?’

It will take time to fix this skewed messaging. But in the meantime, the VC industry could do a lot to help address the problem by educating their teams. They could put on workshops and seminars to hear from female founders, or invite successful female entrepreneurs to give talks that allow them to share their expertise and inspire others.

That’s what we are doing with the Sistr network, a platform to enable women to impart wisdom and offer advice, free from bias and judgment. My vision when I started the network was to harness untapped female talent by connecting strong, successful and knowledgeable women. Perhaps investors and VCs could learn something from this approach. They might even pick up some star-performing portfolio companies too.

Emma Sayle is the CEO and Founder of networking platform, Sistr.  

Leaders and entrepreneurs in focus: Barry Moore, Cofounder at Party Hard Travel

When is the right time to launch a company? Ideally, it’s when you’re still a student, says Barry Moore, Cofounder of UK travel agency, Party Hard Travel.

‘While you’re a student you probably have more time than you’ll ever have once you graduate and have work commitments,’ he reasons. 

Barry set up his company (while still at university) in 2014 alongside business partner, Nathan Cable and Party Hard Travel has since been able to expand and take on new recruits, particularly during those all-important summer months. In this, Barry has found great value in personality tests: ‘We get every new hire to complete the Myers-Briggs test when they start. We’ve learnt from experience that what you think you’re good at isn’t always what you’re actually good at.’

In the following interview, Barry [pictured below, right] also outlines how his own role has evolved over time and why he believes mentoring should be a two-way street – ‘think about how you can make it beneficial for your mentor too,’ he advises. Read on to learn more.

Can you tell us a little bit about your current role and what it involves?

My role has evolved a lot from the early days. When we started Party Hard Travel, we fell into work tasks and I worked on social posts while Nathan [pictured above, right] dealt with details. It wasn’t working well. Doing the Myers-Briggs test [a questionnaire designed to identify differing psychological preferences] helped push us into the right areas with Nathan focused on sales and marketing, while I concentrate on operations.

Operating in such a competitive industry means constantly innovating. My preoccupation has been how we can adapt our operations to improve them and drive the business forward, and I’m forever reading business books and podcasts, all of which can spark ideas. The one thing we don’t want to do is stagnate or become stale.

We get every new hire to complete the Myers-Briggs test when they start. We’ve learnt from experience that what you think you’re good at isn’t always what you’re actually good at. Our growth so far has been phenomenal and we’ve taken on a number of new staff to help drive this period of growth. Nowadays, most of my role is helping to build systems and structures to enable the rest of the team to work as well as possible.

What single piece of advice would you offer undergraduate and post-graduate students of business and management who plan to start their own companies after completing their studies?

Get started as soon as you can, ideally while you are still studying. We set up Party Hard Travel during our second and third year at university.

You might not realise it at the time, but while you’re a student you probably have more time than you’ll ever have once you graduate and have work commitments. It’s an opportunity to explore ideas and do the laborious research and planning stages for your business. There’s also a huge amount of support on offer from universities for students wishing to set up their own businesses. Get all of the advice you can while it’s there.

Mentorship schemes in business are becoming increasingly popular. Who would have been your dream mentor when you were at the outset of your career and why?

At the outset of my career, my dream mentor would have been Duncan Bannatyne. He’s from a working-class (lower socioeconomic) background and started out with a single ice cream van, which became a fleet, before moving into care homes, nurseries and health clubs, building progressively more valuable businesses. After seeing Bannatyne on [UK TV programme] Dragons’ Den and reading his autobiography, what really impressed me was how he has built his businesses from nothing. Today, it’d be Elon Musk – what a legend!

Nathan and I have had a number of great mentors over the years. Portsmouth University set us up with our first mentor when we were starting out. Then we met Paul Stanyer, who set up Holiday Taxis and previously worked as a rep in our industry, and his advice has been invaluable. Gary Lewis from the Travel Network Group is a current mentor and we have Richard Woods from [UK TV programme] The Apprentice as a consultant.

If you’re starting out, a mentor can be hugely beneficial for you, but also think about how you can make it beneficial for your mentor too. For example, we offered Paul a stake in the business, and our time to assist him with a new startup.

What are some of the challenges you’re currently facing, both as a leader and as an organisation?

The biggest challenge we have is when our team more than quadruples over the summer. From our core team of eight, we take on around 25-30 resort hosts between June and September. Party Hard Travel has been built on the product and the service and that means that each and every temporary resort host needs to buy into us as a company.

Yes, our customers will liaise with the head office team when they book their holiday and through other touchpoints, such as social media, but the majority of their customer experience will come through the resort experience delivered by resort hosts. In effect, we’re setting up mini businesses across Europe, and giving our resort hosts the skills and tools they need to deliver that optimal brand experience.

Please outline the importance of responsible management to your company’s strategy and why you feel it is important to business approaches as a whole today.

Responsible management is really important to us as a brand. We give great opportunities to everyone working for us and try to help them to develop new skills rather than just hiring people who already have the skills but might not fit our culture.

A good example is when we hire resort hosts to work for us over the summer. We give them the opportunity to develop skills and experience in a particular area, such as social media marketing,  supply networks, finance or event management, as well as real responsibility and influence.

It’s hugely important to have team members that fit your culture and believe in what you’re doing. If you just see people as a resource and don’t care about them, they’re going to be extremely unhappy in the office and/or they’re going to leave as soon as they get a better offer.

Which three words best describe your approach to leadership (or your management style) and why?

I went to the team to answer this one and the three things they came back with on my approach to leadership are honesty, positivity and independence.

Honesty allows staff to understand how their efforts are impacting the business as a whole. Nothing is off limits; the financials are there for everyone to see and we’ll even train staff to understand them better. This creates a culture of honesty.

A positive culture is paramount, both in work and personally. We have professional targets for staff based around the future growth of the company, but also personal targets like receiving a monetary bonus for hitting fitness goals. Positivity is also about [fostering the] belief that any task is doable and showing that each staff member can achieve their goals.

For me, it’s also important to lead in a way that enables each team member to work independently. It’s good for motivation, engagement and professional satisfaction – and ultimately, that’s good for everyone.