What can we learn from entrepreneurs who’ve been there and done that? We asked five leading business founders about the best advice they’ve ever received, what their biggest obstacles have been, and how they’ve over come them. Here’s what they said.
Markus Stripf, CEO and co-founder, Spoon Guru, the AI-based food search and discovery business:
The best business advice I have ever received is to surround yourself with people that inspire you. Don’t beat yourself up over targets, just show up and give it your best shot. Failure is ok as long as you learn from it – fail fast is our mantra.
As for obstacles, the old classic affecting any start-up is cash flow. It’s tough to manage on a budget and knowing your runway is finite can keep you awake at night. On the plus side, it keeps you honest and forces you to stay agile, adaptable and super lean so it’s actually a good thing.
Another major pitfall is hiring. In a small company you rely on every single person to carry their weight. If you get the wrong person in it’s bad for the company’s productivity and having to let them go is time consuming, disruptive and stressful. So think three times every time before you make an offer. Getting the wrong person in is much worse than missing out on the right one.
Shona D’Arcy, CEO and founder, Kids Speech Lab, which is building a digital health platform for children’s speech and language development.
In new start-ups there are big highs and even bigger lows. One of my jobs as a founder, particularly at the early stage, is to moderate my responses to the ups and downs of starting an ambitious company. Don’t dwell on the rejections, they are just part of the journey and don’t focus so much on the wins that you take your eye off the big picture. Secondly don’t make it personal, this is about business.
One of my biggest obstacles has been my own head. It can be very isolating at times, building a company from scratch, particularly for someone who was in secure employment for 20 years. Imposter syndrome sneaks in all the time, but talking to other founders, people in the same phase, really helps and in my experience, women are far better at admitting when they’re struggling and supporting each other. Just hearing that someone has gone through the same thing and is still going is hugely reassuring.
Mark Turner and Charles Clowes, co-founders, Bud & Tender, a UK-based cannabis supplements company
Our best advice is to always keep your customer at the heart of your decision-making process. Fly by the seat of your pants, enjoy the ride and be ready to adapt to anything. You can plan everything to perfection and I guarantee it will never happen as planned. This is especially true in the cannabis industry. The market is changing constantly, so you had better be ready to adapt.
As an example, we had a big cannabis contract for supply fell through – we had a fantastic deal lined up with a product that was going to be really good. However, it was the best thing that ever happened to us because it forced us to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate our direction. The result is that we ended up in a way better position with a superior product that we made in-house.
Rebecca Oatley, managing director and owner, Cherish PR
The best advice I have ever received was: “Earn more than you spend, and consider every challenge as ‘business as usual’.
My top three obstacles would be first, balancing my family with work and not feeling a failure at one thing or another; second, finances – people assume that if you own a business you have lots of money but I am always scraping the pennies at the bottom of my purse; and third, keeping true to what success means to me when everyone around me is screaming that it’s about scale, triple digit growth and a 100- strong workforce.
Overcoming each obstacle is fundamentally built on discipline; to achieve the work life balance I’ve had to set clear time boundaries to stop work creeping in when I need to switch off, and ultimately the realisation that I cannot be all things to all people. With regards to finance, transparency is key – I monitor cash flow and profit closely, and only ever take money out from the business when absolutely needed. To block out the noise from outside influences, I always keep in mind why I started Cherish and what I set out to achieve; it was to build a highly profitable boutique agency with a great team that is a happy place to work.
Mario Coletti, managing director, Nextatlas, the market research business
“Positive is a lie” was good advice – in essence it’s not about being positive, but instead it’s important to focus on what is possible, depending on resources and capabilities.
As for obstacles, we had a culture clash that prevented integration within an organisation. It was solved by acknowledging that you can’t always win and accepting the need to move on to new pastures.