Monday, 23 January 2012

Start It Up

At the end of 2011 I was trying to weigh up the pros and cons of accepting investment for my company, Little Riot. I didn't fully understand the ins and outs of such an undertaking, so my friend at Shell LiveWIRE, Paul Lancaster suggested I checked out Luke Johnson's book, Start It Up.

Like the keen bean that I am, I ordered it from Amazon. You can too, if you want, for only £8.60 of your hard earned cash. I know book reviews are generally something most people stopped writing after primary school (literature journalists excluded) so I'll try and keep this brief. In a sentence: if you're running a start up, or thinking about starting a company, read this book.

If you're still reading, I'll tell you a bit more. If you don't know who Luke Johnson is (I have to admit, I didn't either) I can't really sum his business achievements up in a paragraph, so all you probably need to know is that he took over Pizza Express and grew it from a collection of 12 restaurants, to 250. He's also a chairman of the RSA and the former chairman of Channel 4. And somehow, he has effortlessly channeled his many years of experience into one book.

The content is spot on. There's no messing around; the mix of guidance and practical advice is easily swallowed because it is peppered with real-life situations Johnson himself has navigated. His writing style is conversational, direct and down to earth. He doesn't throw around all those big words that strike fear into even the most budding of entrepreneurs.

I primarily read the book for for the financial advice, and it was a great place to start. There is a succinct but clear rundown of the common sources of finance available to most start-ups. At the time of reading, I felt the chapter was quite short, as realistically I was probably looking for a bit more detail... but then afterwards, I realised most of my confusion came from not really understanding what each of my options actually involved. So in hindsight, it was a great starting point - I found out what I needed to know and therefore which one I wished to research further (angel investment, if you're wondering).

My other favourite thing about the book is the way it addresses the "are entrepreneurs born or made?" debate; ie. can you teach someone to be entrepreneurial and business minded, or does it come naturally to a certain 'kind' of person. Johnson reckons the most important characteristic to have is the ability to make decisions, in a term he calls 'a bias for action'.

"They are not the same as other people. They have an ambition, a competitive urge and a lust to take risks that is way beyond the norm"

However, he then goes on to agree that nurture can too an entrepreneur make. He believes the key ingredients of a good businessman/woman emerge from a mixture of hard work, their upbringing and hands-on experience. Overall, he puts forward several compelling arguments for both sides of the endless debate, leaving the reader to ultimately make up their own mind.

Overall, the book was a good read and probably one of the better business books I have read. It was interesting, engaging and actually quite hard to put down. It serves its purpose as a motivating, all round  business book. If you take nothing else away from it (unlikely) - you will at least learn some interesting business facts. Did you know that KFC's "Colonel" Sanders' founded his chicken empire at 47, but it didn't take off until he was nearly bankrupt at the ripe old age of 66?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

My 2011

I am aware that today, the 3rd of January, is decidedly past the date unto which 2011 year summaries are deemed acceptable. Fortunately, I don't mind being unacceptable, and I've had a pretty stellar year, so I've decided to blog about it anyway. Sorry :-)

- Saw in the New Year in Dundee with my best, Scottish, friends; Jen, Keiran, Carol and Paul
- Started developing Pillow Talk's first prototype after winning £25,000 at the end of 2010
- Was interviewed and accepted onto Cultural Enterprise Office's "Starter for 6" programme

- Went to Dublin! Few personal dramas.
- Secured £3k of funding to conduct an IP Audit on Pillow Talk
- Met Ben Folds in Glasgow

- This was a very stressful month, with subcontractors letting me down and lots of deadlines
- Finalist in Newcastle University's 'Enterprise Challenge'
- Did a pretty cool project with Newcastle Council looking at how to raise awareness of public art in the city

- Went to London to compete as a finalist in the "Disruptive Enterprise" category of NACUE's National Varsity Pitch Competition... and won! :)
- Won a scholarship to MEX Conference in London

- Pitched to an auditorium of people at the British Library as a finalist in the National Varsity Pitch Competition and won £10,000!

- Won a Shell LiveWIRE 'Grand Ideas' Award
- Got a pretty insane amount of press thanks to Shell LiveWIRE and Jonathan at Wave PR
- Found Meso, my amazing, amazing new product design company who have been a breath of fresh air in Pillow Talk's development process

- Reached the end of the six month 'Starter for 6' programme and pitched for funding
- 2 years with John. He was at sea, naturally.
- Went to T in the Park with Jen

- Went on holiday to Lanzarote
- Found out I'd secured £10,000 of funding after my pitch at the end of Starter for 6
- My car came back from a BMW service, started making a funny noise and they tried to get me to pay over £3,000 to fix it. Still haven't won that battle.

- Busy month!
- Won a Smarta 100 Award and hung out with Deborah Meaden at the awards ceremony in London
- Headed to Sheffield for MADE Festival
- Won 'The Pitch' competition at aforementioned festival
- Gave my first ever proper, teaching-y lecture at Dundee University

- I turned 24 and celebrated in Scotland with a nice meal with my closest friends
- Found out I was a finalist in the Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards
- Worked with Snook on a project for people with Dementia

- Definitely the most exciting month of this year! Got so much press and publicity including three radio interviews.
- Travelled to London and spent an amazing few days being judged as a 'young entrepreneur' and experiencing Shell LiveWIRE LIVE!
- Also went to London to speak on a panel of young entrepreneurs during Global Entrepreneurship Week and met some pretty awesome contacts
- Pillow Talk was featured on CNN and my inbox reached a whole new level

- Pillow Talk properly entered its final phase of product design, the end is in sight!
- Inbox hit 20,000+ unread emails.
- Full page spread in the Daily Record
- One of my best friends, and the guy who introduced me to John, got married and I photographed his wedding.

2012 is going to be my year. Pillow Talk is going to launch and I'm going to go from running a small start-up to being in charge of a global, internationally-exporting company. This is the beginning of something incredible and I can't wait.