Having spent a while thinking about this, I had decided that my immediate future lay in the world of start-ups and entrepreneurship. There were two key things that I thought I lacked:
- A great business idea – I wanted to solve a big problem and have a positive impact
- A great support network – I would need co-founders, help with inevitable issues, and excellent employees
Because I was at the pre-idea stage, I thought I may as well learn the ropes first so I would make fewer mistakes when the big idea came. So, I set about working out how I could acquire these key things. Two options immediately stood out – I could join an entrepreneurial scheme, or I could work in a start-up.
However, I soon realised that the path to transition over would not be easy. This was because I had spent most of my university and graduate days focused on a career in either engineering or consulting, and I had made choices and built my skillset around this. In order to make the transition (i.e., become employable in a start-up), I would have to rebuild by skill-base.
Some of the skills that I had (analytical, project management, basic understanding of programming, business-to-consumer sales) were useful as an entrepreneur. However, I also knew that I lacked many other skills and knowledge of tools (which entrepreneurs and start-ups jobs seemed to require), such as:
- B2B (business-to-business) sales and account management – Tools such as Salesforce (CRM – Customer Relationship Management)
- Marketing – Digital (PPC, SEO), offline (content writing/PR) and social (account management, advertising on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram) – Hootsuite, Google AdWords, Google Analytics, platform-specific ad tools
- Product management
- Basic graphic design (for logos, product images) – Inkscape, GIMP, Illustrator, Photoshop, Canva
I then set about acquiring these skills. Some were easier to acquire than others (I taught myself web development, reviewed marketing notes, etc) while others were less easy (while you can read about B2B sales techniques, you can’t really test what works or use CRM tools unless you are doing the role yourself).
I also realised that “I didn’t know what I didn’t know” so my next step would ideally place me in an environment to gain exposure to some of these new things. Fortunately, some of my school and university friends had begun their careers in start-ups so I spoke with many of them to work out the pros and cons of each option available to me.
After numerous hours of research, I decided to apply to an entrepreneurship scheme. I’d met with university friends and discussed the merits of Entrepreneur First (EF)¹ and, to be frank, I got a pretty mixed response. However, it struck a good balance between risk, idea generation and network so I decided to apply.
Just before submitting my application, I met with a school friend who had recently completed the New Entrepreneurs Foundation (NEF)² scheme (which I had not previously heard of). We chatted about what I wanted from a scheme and how the scheme had helped to provide him with:
- An idea – Car Quids – Advertising on cars (and who, as of June 2016, have just closed a £150k seed round at a ~£2m pre-money valuation)
- A co-founder
- An exciting 12 month placement working with senior management and the chairman as a
productstrategy manager at Travelex
This ticked all of the boxes that I wanted a scheme to provide me with and also came with an extremely positive recommendation. In addition, there were a few strengths that NEF had over EF in my opinion:
- Financial security – The work placements were salaried
- Lower risk – If I found entrepreneurship wasn’t for me, or didn’t have a great business idea, I wouldn’t be job hunting after 3 months (although I don’t think too many EFers are just left with no options after the programme – many join other EF companies)
- Better training – Like an MBA, but taking out the corporate stuff (organisational change, etc)
- Wider focus – EF is very tech-focused and I wasn’t sure at the time if this was what I wanted to go into
Thus, I left my Entrepreneur First application and sent off my application to NEF!
Ed: This actually illustrates the power of word-of-mouth and reviews in helping consumers make decisions between options. Looking back, I am fairly sure that if I had gone the EF route, I would also have had a great (or potentially better) experience. My EF friends chose EF over NEF because of the greater focus on building a start-up versus learning the ropes first, and the belief that you can’t really be taught how to build a business, you just have to do it, which I also agree with.
¹Entrepreneur First are a pre-idea accelerator which accept technical, aspiring entrepreneurs and give them a few months to come up with and build a start-up – I actually became aware of Entrepreneur First because of the photos some of my uni friends posted of themselves outside No.10 Downing Street on Facebook
²The New Entrepreneurs Foundation scheme is a change-making programme that combines real-life business experience in fast growing SMEs with intensive training, business mentoring and coaching. Each year, around 30 young, aspiring entrepreneurs are selected to take part in the 12-month programme which consists of five main components:
• A paid work placement in an exciting, innovative, high growth company working alongside a successful entrepreneur and/or their senior management team, experiencing at close quarters how to run a successful company
• An intensive, immersive and interactive 10-month Fast-Track Programme with workshops from sponsors such as Deloitte, McKinsey and Tesco; business schools such as London Business School, UCL and Cambridge Judge Business School, and other specialist learning providers
• Monthly speaker & networking events featuring established business leaders and inspirational entrepreneurs such as Brent Hoberman (Co-Founder, lastminute.com), Sir Charles Dunstone (Co-Founder, Carphone Warehouse), Nicholas Wheeler (Founder, Charles Tyrwhitt) and Simon Calver (Chairman, Moo, formerly CEO, LOVEFiLM)
• An executive coach
• A business mentor