Author: Toni Vicars

A strategic mind with a creative soul, I am passionate and dedicated to building and delivering exceptional, innovative customer-focused marketing. Track record as a highly motivated contributor and proven leader/coach in fast-paced, dynamic environments in both small hyper-growth organisations and global enterprises. Able to adapt & thrive in conditions of constant change while always striving for excellence at every touchpoint.
Pavegen_kinetic_energy_Springwise

Pavegen: Every footstep has power.

An ASPIRE BeInspired presentation from Laurence Kemball-Cook, Founder and CEO

From Failure to Launch. 

One of the world’s leading eco-entrepreneurs Laurence Kemball-Cook is leading the charge on making a difference to the cities we live, work and play in. ASPIRE cohorts were granted an amazing opportunity to have a presentation and Q&A session with Laurence to hear more about the challenges and opportunities he faced when building his startup and insight into his view on entrepreneurship and the green energy movement. Below please find a summary of some of the key takeaways from the 90-minute presentation.

7.4 Billion people, 55% living in cities, many are toxic. Over 2.2 million children in Delhi now have permanent lung damage. But it doesn’t have to be this way; as the CEO and Founder of Pavegen Laurence Kemball-Cook believes, we can make cities beautiful and healthy places. Laurence has a personal mission to change cities for the better through the use of technology. To build our cities for people, not for machines. And the good news is that things are changing; in 2018, only 12% of the world’s energy came from renewables. But in 2019, 33% of the world’s power came from green sources moving to an expected 45% when the numbers come out for 2020. Green energy is starting to have its moment and has the power to change lives as well as cities.

Pavegen was born from Laurence’s passion, and its mission today is to improve the world through the power of a human footstep. Pavegen is now a 40 person company with a strong management team based in Kings Cross and Cambridge with manufacturing in North London, operating in 36 markets.

Pavegen Technology

But this has not been an easy journey. 

Laurence’s start into this world of green and footsteps had a rocky start. Working at eON, he failed at delivering a green solution, and after being fired and at his lowest, he couldn’t stop thinking about his university passion on how to turn footsteps into power. Duck taping a prototype together Pavegen was born. What he quickly discovered is that people were drawn to his invention. They loved jumping up and down and seeing energy being created. What he needed now was to build a product, but without revenue, he couldn’t get funding; without funding, he couldn’t build a product to get revenue.

Five years in Brixton stuck in this circle, continuing to graft for every opportunity and for every penny through demos and competitions, he kept the dream alive. Finally, Pavegen was even given a chance to participate in the 2012 Olympics with a minimal check to keep them afloat. Staying focused on the end goal, Laurence looked to moments like these as well as festivals providing mobile dance floors to gain customer insight and continue to self-fund and step by step improve the experience.

Pavegens first pivot came out of these moments where Laurence realised that it wasn’t just green energy but also engagement that was being generated. A demo at Heathrow airport showcased this shift. The experience where footfall generated a lighting experience was so popular a six months installation lasted five years. This lead to an impactful partnership with Shell, where they installed the technology under a football pitch in a low-income area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where at every game, each step on the field would generate power and light the stadium. This transformational moment cemented the connection of the dream of new green energy from footfall to the powerful emotional engagement and experience of light and joy. On the back of this connection, Pavegen has continued to go from strength to strength and plans on being a critical component of the global green energy movement.

Lessons learned:

  • Funding is hard. Make every penny count and get to revenue quickly to give yourself power in the discussion. As much insight, and awareness as you can gain and have under your belt can make a huge difference when evaluating the good vs the bad deals.
  • New hardware is hard. Over 700 versions of Pavegen have been designed and built and still going. Need to be agile and flexible and scale up and down to handle the fluctuation of a new business
  • Marketing is critical. A new product category needs messaging and a mission so that people can understand the power of the opportunity. Pavegen focused on capturing the world’s imagination to allow partnerships to be created with those holding similar missions. Laurence highlights “work with clients, work with customers and work with celebrities – this triangle is powerful. Capitalise the brand-building piece to establish yourself. Be creative.”

What’s the future strategy?

Quick wins/fast fails. Be agile, discover new opportunities. Try ideas and leave them quickly behind if they don’t work. Right now, Pavegen is exploring energy as a reward. Energy could be a digital currency with your footsteps creating compensations and linking people and businesses through the energy and the power of a footstep. Pavegen’s team are even thinking about how cars could but used to produce energy. Laurence believes that all companies have to be agile in Covid19 times. Businesses need to think about areas of risk how to de-risk through flexibility. For Pavegen, it’s about having a product roadmap that can change and overcome hurdles when things get disrupted. 

What does it take to be an entrepreneur or intrapreneur?

Laurence at the Pavegen office

Entrepreneurship is not a linear journey; you will take steps forwards and backwards all the time. It can be a battle every day. For Laurence, he likens the journey to climbing MontBlanc at two in the morning during a snowstorm, wondering why he was doing it; “it’s like pushing a rock uphill in the dark with no oxygen crawling over glass.” There can be extreme suffering, but the competitive nature within yourself will drive you. 

  • Believe in yourself and never give up. But also learn not to worry and not be overloaded. 
  • Be a great ‘story teller’ – your story is all that you have at the beginning.
  • Be able to motivate people. Be good at networking and finding a tribe! But watch out for sharks.
  • Have an eye for the details. It’s the small things that can make the difference.
  • Never accept ‘no’ for an answer – find solutions.
  • Listen to experience. Coaching and mentorship are critical, but stay true to your passion. Sometimes it’s okay to go against advice and listen to your heart. Make judgement calls, not snap panic decisions.
  • Mindset is essential, both in yourself as well as the people you hire. When you bring talent into the business, they are the right sort of people who want to be part of the business and understand your culture.

Laurence’s steps for building something:

Get an idea, and it must solve a big problem and validate and validate quickly with an addressable market. Distil the vertical to a small user group to connect and understand the competitive market while making sure you really understand who you will be selling to.

  1. Self-fund it – don’t raise money too early.
  2. Build MVP as cheaply as possible
  3. Make some revenue quick!
  4. Create a business structure
  5. To build a better product
  6. Raise investment

The future and opportunity for energy

COVID19 is driving a green recovery. For Pavegen, this means focusing on collaborating with governments around the world to believe that the world can eliminate all carbon from coal power stations. There is already a Supergrid working today, which could make ASIA carbon-free. We can make changes. Simple and easy to install solutions like Pavegen should be included in all new initiatives to drive a green future. Laurences’ parting advice is to make sure you develop a business model that suits the times and place and has the flexibility to handle the disruption we now have to live with.

BeInspired Events from ASPIRE

As part of our commitment to provide the most amazing human-centric learning experience in a digital world when possible we look to included opportunities for workshops, thought leadership events and moments to meet people who are challenging the status quo and building new opportunities. If you’re interested in finding out more about the workshops and events that run alongside the digital training, community support and coaching contact us today!

Brand Advocates

Don’t let employees go, let them grow: Creating brand advocates

By empowering your organisation and talent at all stages of the employee lifecycle including when they depart, you create more powerful and loyal teams that can grow with the business, stronger communities and local economic strength as well as drive industry innovation. Creating brand advocates i.e. your biggest cheerleaders.

Creating brand detractors?

Employees, the lifeblood of the knowledge economy, distinguish one organisation from another. In today’s continuously changing business world, the success or failure of a company is largely dependent on the calibre of the talent they employ and attract. A bad employee brand costs.

  • According to a study by Randstad USA, 57% of job candidates avoid companies with negative online reviews. 
  • A bad reputation costs a minimum 10% pay increase to convince a candidate to take a job.
  • Nearly 50% would entirely rule out taking the job regardless of any pay increase.
  • Even a 10% raise would only tempt 28% of them to join such a company.
According to a study conducted by Randstad USA : 57% of job candidates avoid companies with negative online reviews.

Many companies globally have been hit by the pandemic and forced to make unexpected changes. Departure driven by employee desire or a business requirement for redundancy can see organisations losing a tremendous amount of brain trust and insight as well as seriously detrimentally affecting their employee brand.

Existing outplacement programmes can become much more strategic through the use of startup outskilling. The mantra being “don’t let staff go, let them grow.”

By creating startup innovation programmes, you can provide the opportunity to divert talent from your organisation into startups but keep the opportunity within your sphere of influence and more importantly support. A holistic approach to offboarding is a much smarter and successful approach.

“Despite the high rate of churn in the labor market today, many companies pay scant attention to offboarding employees. That’s a mistake, say the authors, who argue that offboarding is an increasingly vital part of talent management—and an opportunity” according to Alison M. Dachner and Erin E. Makarius in their article in Harvard Business Review, Turn Departing Employees into Loyal Alumni.

Or brand advocates!

Effective talent management is a business-critical issue for passionate C-suite teams and Senior HR professionals. Evolving Leadership with Purpose approaches need to include Leadership with Care. 

Startup outskilling can create lifelong ambassadors for your business while ensuring your own business continuity. How an organisation treats its departing employees has a direct impact on the consumer relationship and brand.

This approach can create a positive a win/win environment for everyone. We know that innovation from within, especially around industry problems can be incredibly difficult or confining to solve from within but by giving departing talent innovation pathways through startup creation, you can see a significant return for a relatively low investment. Nokia ended up investing in 20% of the startups generated during their Bridge redundancy programme enabling new business opportunities.

This opportunity allows your talent to explore solutions and build companies around issues and opportunities that they feel passionate about. Supporting their development and growth ensures a strong positive engagement even during a redundancy scenario. It turns a potential moment of risk into a powerful transition of positive opportunity.

Discover how Nokia used this strategy. Their Bridge Programme is now considered best practice. By adding a startup pathway they allowed over 600 startups to be created and also built fantastic brand advocates even during redundancy.

Purpose-driven outskilling is a strategic mandate in today’s work. Discover our whitepaper here.

Pavegen Inspired event

BeINSPIRED: Pavegen, from failure to launch.

View our post event overview and video here!

25th March 2021
12.30 PM – 2:00 PM GMT / 7.30 AM – 9:00 AM EST 

Normally only available to our ASPIRE participants and alumni, we are opening up the doors to one of our BeINSPIRED events. With access to leading entrepreneurs or gurus in their field, our BeINSPIRED events are designed to give insight into all elements of the startup journey for those both looking to start their own business or are part of an internal team developing new businesses lines or products and solutions.

Join us for an inspiring presentation and Q&A session with the exceptional eco-entrepreneur Laurence Kemball-Cook, Founder and CEO of Pavegen.

Pavegen is a ground-breaking business that believes in the potential of clean technology to power a sustainable future.

Laurence will share the challenges and lessons learned from the early failures and successes, through the challenges of rapid prototyping, to launching a new tech business. 

  1. Get excited.
    Be empowered by Laurence’s quest. Discover what it has taken to build an eco-friendly business from a leading light.
  2. Tips and tricks.
    Discover some practical tips and learn the shortcuts from Laurence’s incredible entrepreneurial journey.
  3. Get galvanized for change.
    Discover how Laurence endured the highs and lows of building a business based on making the future brighter.

Where

We’re being Covid-19 friendly and running this over Zoom. Join from anywhere!

ASPIRE event Pavegen
Ramboll

CASE STUDY: Ramboll

Ramboll is a leading engineering, design and consultancy company founded in Denmark in 1945 employing more than 15,000 experts worldwide throughout 300 offices in 35 countries.

Despite significant growth since 2001, margins were being squeezed and Ramboll acknowledged the impact of competitors and startups on the value chain of their industry. The sheer speed of change led Ramboll to recognize the need to leverage and systematize their ability to innovate and future-proof their organisation.

To leverage Ramboll’s enormous reserve of expertise, Rainmaking designed the inaugural ‘Ramboll Innovation Accelerator’. Ramboll was able to increase speed to market for commercially viable ideas while eliminating non-viable ideas based on data, much faster and more consistently than had previously been possible.

270+

Applications from across all business units

7

Growth ventures launched in 2018 and 2019

Embedding an innovation framework to test ideas quickly and develop a portfolio of solutions

Recognising the risks of stagnation within their organisation, Ramboll made the brave choice to focus on rapidly improving their innovation capabilities from the inside out.

By combining robust methodologies, including design thinking and lean startup, the Ramboll Internal Accelerator provides a governance, training and communications framework for developing new ideas, rapidly assessing their commercial potential and growing them to innovative businesses that unlock new revenue streams.

It also functioned as a vehicle for cultural change towards stronger client-centric based business development.

Drive an internal culture of innovation

The programme helped Ramboll €1.34m in new revenue in Year 1

Open to all teams globally, the 2018 program attracted 270 applications from across all business units. 95% of ideas were rejected within the first ten weeks. This ultimately left three final teams pitching for follow on investment at demo day.

During the program, the 3 final ideas were able to generate over £300k in revenue and secured partnerships with companies such as Google. By end of the program, the 3 teams all received investment and are forecast to generate over £1.5m in new revenue in 2019.

Discover more from the Galago team who are part of #YouMeEntrepreneur

#YouMeEntrepreneur meet Richard Sams and Ben Blomerley

Richard Sams and Ben Blomerley are founders of MOHARA who help new startups create their technical businesses. They are also an amazing content partner for ASPIRE.

Meet Richard Sams

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Rich

Why did you decide to start your business? What was the motivating factor(s) that pushed you into this pathway?

I have always been entrepreneurial, from selling my grandparents summer house contents back to them when I was six to writing a property portfolio business plan in my last year at 6th form college. I entered a career as a teacher aged 22 and loved the people and the profession. Teaching allowed me to teach in New Zealand and Thailand (where MOHARA was born as a concept) for which I am so thankful for. After 8 years in education I just began to feel a little restless, I felt the career I had in front of me was a little too prescribed and I knew it had a ceiling. I wanted to build a legacy, I wanted to build something from the ground up and say “we did that”. I knew I wanted to continue in technology, my degree was in Computing and Education, I knew I wanted to continue working with people, so I thought building technology products would be worth a shot. I guess the overarching motivating factor was ambition, ambition to create, build, collaborate and create a legacy.

Emotionally what sort of process did you go through or did you not think much about it and just jumped? Was it important to get buy-in from anyone?

I absolutely got buy-in from my Mum and Dad, we discussed it at length and Dad, in particular, had a strong influence on the type of business we founded. Emotionally it was a real rollercoaster, I recall many a long email or video call with friends about the idea, hearing all of their thoughts. I am not risk-averse in any way really, I love a challenge and definitely favour optimism as a default. However, the concept of giving up a steady paycheck and moving to a world where you only get paid if you can find the work, you have employees straight out of the box, a limited financial runway and it will only work if you are good enough, took some adjusting to.

Did you try to de-risk the process?

Absolutely… well kind of! Before starting in August 2011, I signed up with a few supply teaching companies haha. Confidence in my own abilities right there! We had enough money to operate for 3 months thanks to the money I had saved teaching abroad and I knew that Patty and the guys in Bangkok would be in high demand if it didn’t work out. Also, I knew I could re-enter teaching should things not work out, so I thought there was little downside to just going for it.

Looking back is there anything that has taken you by surprise in the process of building something from scratch?

I think the number of hats you have to wear at the beginning and the huge gaps I had in my knowledge. I had to learn and I had to learn at a frightening pace. Coming from a teaching career, I had never hired, I had never written a contract, I had never produced cash flow forecasts, I had never set up a business development pipeline, I had never priced work or had to write a brand and marketing plan. I knew tech and people. I had to learn the rest.

What is the best thing about becoming an Entrepreneur? Why would you recommend it? Why would you not recommend it?

Creativity. You can go your own way and build whatever you want. I love this. Freedom to create. There is tremendous satisfaction to be had along the way, from your first deal, seeing your ideas become a reality to the people who join the organisation from all walks of life with their own stories. The career is not without its downsides. The stress can be immense, you have to work very hard, you have to have the emotional strength, grit and perseverance. You may have to sacrifice a lot along the way and be willing to do it if needs be.

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?

Following a particularly tough stretch, both personally and professionally in early 2020, my Dad sat me down recognising my struggles and offered this advice: “It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey. Love the process and the journey and you’ll get where you are going”. I think it holds true for anyone looking to start a business.

Meet Ben Blomerley

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Ben

Why did you decide to start your business? What was the motivating factor(s) that pushed you into this pathway?

I was at business school and had originally thought to go into banking. But I kept going to interviews and the feedback was like ‘it seems you know how to do the job, but it doesn’t seem you want the job’. And they were right. That led to me starting my marketplace start-up (along with a classmate) back in 2011. I guess the motivation was to be doing something for myself, and not just following a treadmill of something I hated, just for the money.

Emotionally what sort of process did you go through or did you not think much about it and just jumped? Was it important to get buy-in from anyone?

I probably should have got buy-in from the girlfriend I had at the time (we split up fairly soon afterwards). I think it places an enormous emotional toll, because of the volatility. I was in an environment and atmosphere at business school where anything felt possible, and it was only the reality of plugging away at something, and being very lonely whilst doing it that I could have thought about first. When I joined Rich at MOHARA it was a relief because I wouldn’t want to do something on my own.

Did you try to de-risk the process?

I tried to de-risk in some ways, and I think that was actually a mistake. I always had a second job, as the part-time CFO at Quick Release. So I always had a little money coming in. That kept me — and therefore the idea — going for longer. I didn’t de-risk where I should have done — much more validation of the idea, much more challenge on my ability to actually build the business, or bringing in a business partner.

Looking back is there anything that has taken you by surprise in the process of building something from scratch?

Not really taken me by surprise — it’s just hard work!

What is the best thing about becoming an Entrepreneur? Why would you recommend it? Why would you not recommend it?

The best thing is when your team has achieved something special, and they’re all inspired by what you’ve all done together, and you think ‘I brought them here’. That feeling is amazing. That feeling that you’re in some way responsible for creating something that wasn’t there before, and that people value, is really special, and I am not sure you can get that in almost any other way. Why wouldn’t I recommend it? Because you’re never sure how much money you’re going to have, and the spaces between the peaks and the troughs are never very long. It’s a rollercoaster!

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?

What I always tell people is to think strongly about the ‘build-sell-finance’. Every business in the world needs to make something that they can sell to customers, and fund it whilst they are getting going or growing. So how are you really going to do that build/sell/finance? Who have you around you who can help do it? And if you don’t know how you’ll do it, be prepared for a long and potentially painful journey…

#YouMeEntrepreneur meet Christopher Bowles and Mike Rawitch

Christopher and Mike work for Ramboll and are currently in the process of starting an internal startup called Galago

Why did you decide to get involved in an intrapreneur programme at your business? What was the motivating factor(s) that pushed you into this pathway?

Chris and I both come from a strong technical background with training and experience as scientists and have always tried to figure out the best way to get work done. At the time Ramboll opened applications for the Innovation Accelerator we were both heavily involved in a digitalization program and we’re growing the adaptation of drone technology within the business. We viewed the accelerator as a way to better understand our technology within a commercial context, find value for our clients, and advance our own careers. How little did we know! The program would completely change our professional careers and interests. It quickly became apparent to both of us that corporate innovation is challenging and fun and we both fell in love with the intrapreneur way of life. Today, more than two years after starting down this path, Chris and I still eat, sleep, and breath innovation at Ramboll.

Emotionally what sort of process did you go through or did you not think much about it and just jumped? Was it important to get buy-in from anyone?

At the time we started our journey, I don’t think either of us realized we were essentially applying for a new job within Ramboll that we were responsible for defining on the fly. We jumped in with both feet somewhat unknowingly! As this realization became apparent it was very emotional to move forward each step of the way and it instilled a sense of pride, ownership, comradery, and competitiveness in the business we were building together. Throughout the process we had to get loads of buy-in from our customers, investors at Ramboll, teammates, and our families supporting at home through a challenging professional and personal journey.

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How has building Galago impacted your lives?

Building Galago has changed our lives in many ways. We’ve made friends all over the world, been connected with some of the most interesting and impactful client projects, and had the chance to completely craft a new career that wasn’t imaginable just a few years ago. There’s plenty of added stress and lots of work, but also the unique opportunity to be a trailblazer of innovation at one of the world’s most impactful companies for society and nature. Our careers have been accelerated by new opportunities and this has turned into a remarkable chance to be the first to innovate in the areas of science and business we’ve been passionate about most of our lives.

Looking back is there anything that has taken you by surprise in the process of building something from scratch

It’s a truly amazing experience to see an idea come to life, change so many times, and grow into what it is as a profitable business several years later. Our first draft of the business plan was sticky notes on a printed business model canvas that we sketched out at a client’s former mine site in the mountains of Colorado. We applied to the Accelerator with that business model, modified it countless times based on our experience with customers and Ramboll, and we have now developed several successful services operating under a scaling business model in the Ramboll innovation portfolio. We’ve already gone places we could barely imagine a few years ago, and we think we’ve got plenty of green fields in front of us for years to come.

What is the best thing about becoming an Entrepreneur? Why would you recommend it? Why would you not recommend it?

Being an entrepreneur allows the opportunity to perfectly mold your skills to focus on your client’s needs in a way that is very difficult to accomplish in many positions. Being an entrepreneur within a larger company comes with some great experiences (e.g., participating in an accelerator and being exposed to the inner workings of your parent company), but it also comes with a great deal of stress and challenges that are not typical of traditional work. Before becoming an entrepreneur, I recommend people consider checking out the first section of the Adobe Kickbox program “Motivations” to lay out what you’re hoping to obtain from being an entrepreneur.

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?

Listen to your clients! During COVID you cannot “get out of the building” as per typical in most parts of the world, but there are still plenty of opportunities to meet clients and learn about them in a remote setting. The more you talk to your clients the better your chances for success as they ultimately hold all of the answers around what value you can provide to them.

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To find out more about how you can evolve your ideas into a business with real startup thinking training both as individuals or as a company wanting to build this critical skill. ASPIRE gives you the tools, mindset and ability to do, create, inspire and amazing things will happen.ASPIRE

ASPIRE is helping create a world full of Entrepreneurs.

Vishal Punamiya, Eduardo Torres and Ian Oestreich

#YouMeEntrepreneur meet Vishal Punamiya, Eduardo Torres and Ian Oestreich

Meet Vishal Punamiya

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I was the CIO of Panalpina and now I am the CEO and Co-founder of SiteMark

Why did you decide to launch SiteMark?

Throughout my professional and personal life, I have always had the drive to build, and if not, improve whatever I was involved in through smart use of technology; whether it was as an analyst 16 years ago to being CIO of the business unit with EUR 3 billion in annual revenue. Entrepreneurship, people, innovation and creativity played a big part throughout and motivated me to go above and beyond the usual call of duty.

What is the best thing about running your own business?

I felt I had reached the peak of my personal development that a corporate career could offer and it no longer motivated me. The only way forward to grow was to start something on my own and that was the beginning of Sitemark.

The journey of entrepreneurship has been incredibly rewarding, the only thing I can compare it to is climbing a massive mountain (incredibly high one :)). It’s about tenacity, adapting and most importantly, being humble to the elements around you. The best part of the journey is being able to surround yourself with people that you enjoy while building something great.

Meet Eduardo Torres

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I was a government officer, in charge of designing housing policies at the federal level. I realized there was a great opportunity in using publicly available data to add value in the home selling process.

Why did you start your own business?

I decided to start my own business, ai360, after being laid off (as it happens in every political position). With over 20 years of experience both at the private and public sector, most of them involved in real estate related activities, I just knew one thing: I loved my job and I wanted to continue doing it for a very long time.

What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?

The best thing is to unleash your creativity and having the opportunity to set your own goals and work until you reach them. To go for your dreams, matter how crazy or far they seem. Literally, several of the projects we have worked on since we started ai360 come from ideas I had at least a decade before.

Meet Ian Oestreich

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I was a fitness coach before I founded Backyard Bicycles and began setting up bike repair pop-up shops all around town.

Backyard Bicycles was also featured in the Wall Street Journal here.

What motivated you to start your business?

I was the child with a lemonade stand on weekends, the kid posting up lawn mower service flyers, the son helping his dad tune up bikes. Entrepreneurship is part of my identity. The gym I worked at closed due to COVID-19, and rather than sit around on my hands and collect unemployment, I decided I wanted to start a business that could support myself and others during COVID-19. With my mobile bike tune-ups, I’m able to help others get a same-day turnaround bike tune-up while allowing myself to make my own schedule.

What do you love the most about being an entrepreneur?

For me, the best thing about being an entrepreneur is the life flexibility it offers. I can take off a weekend anytime, or make a change to the way I do business without consulting “upper management.” There is such a feeling of satisfaction to seeing a business you create thrive, knowing that it wouldn’t exist if you hadn’t taken the leap.

Your tips for aspiring founders

Be an entrepreneur, not a wantrepreneur. Sitting around and saying how you’d like to start something someday, or meticulously planning out every detail before starting is a great way to shoot yourself in the foot before you even get off the ground. Just start SOMETHING. This relates to the concept of a minimum viable product (MVP). Create a barebones version of your product or service, and find any way you can to just get it out there and test it with real people. That initial feedback and learning from mistakes is so much more valuable than any amount of prior planning could ever be.

Ricky Sutton

#YouMeEntrepreneur meet Ricky Sutton, Founder/CEO at Oovvuu.

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Ricky Sutton

I was a journalist. Now I’m the founder and CEO of the largest news video aggregator in the world, Oovvuu, delivering trusted and reliable news to a billion people in 140 countries.

Why did you choose to start your own business?

The media industry was dying because it was being out-innovated by aggressive rivals Facebook and Google. When I looked to my editors and CEOs for a solution, it was clear they were outgunned, and if I did nothing, then my industry faced extinction. I quit my well-paid job as managing editor at what was then the world’s largest media company to take a maternity cover job at a digital news company on a fraction of the salary. I didn’t want the job; I wanted to learn from the inside what they were doing that the media industry was not. I learned a lot and realized that if I didn’t do something even more radical, then the digital companies would fail also, and the world would be left with no news, and that felt like a disaster. I took the insights I had just learned, and the experience I had earned over the years, sold my house and self-funded Oovvuu to try to create the best of both worlds, and build a product where media was the mission and technology was just the tool.

I earned a lot of money and appeared to have a lot of power in my previous executive positions within corporate businesses. Still, the truth was that I was just a seat-filler in a better suit. If it weren’t me, it would be someone just like me, and I wanted to be more than that. I also recognized that I was spending the most productive years of my life, making one company successful while my industry was dying, and I felt compelled to do more. I knew in my heart of hearts that my tiny company stood no chance. Our first HQ was my front room with a hand-drawn logo on the door, and we were going into battle with Google and Facebook, two of the largest companies the world has ever seen. But my dad used to say that in life, you need to p*ss or get off the pot, and the time had come for me to do something meaningful. Now, my work every day helps the entire industry, and every success is a blow landed on my industry’s rivals. I have never felt more energized.

Has it been easier with a co-founder?

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I have two, and both were colleagues and friends for years beforehand, so we had a shared sense of purpose and bore the same scars from the outset. I believe it’s impossible to be a founder unless you have a North Star for your mission and a total desire to be authentic. You can be big and unauthentic, but people eventually see through that, and it will never last. Look at Facebook. We proved our authenticity because we gave up huge salaries to work for nothing at the beginning. That beginning lasted four years, during which time everything we earned we gave to the staff and used what was left to hire more. After four years without a salary cheque, we finally found an investor, during which time we ate through our savings and did board jobs to cover the bills. His first question was: “What’s the biggest problem you have right now as CEO?” I told him it was asking my friends and co-founders to come to work for no salary. The next day he moved $400,000 into our account. I learned authenticity counts.

What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?

I can finally find out if the ideas I have for my industry are a good idea. When I had an idea in my corporate roles, it went one of two ways. If it worked and was a success, it was your boss’ boss’ idea. If it failed, it was yours, even if it was your boss’ boss’ fault. That felt dishonest, especially given my desperate desire to help my industry. I pitched an idea around this time to my then company’s board that had the potential to be transformational for the media industry as a whole. Their response was to say no because it would benefit another media company down the road they viewed as a rival. I pointed out that their companies had thrived alongside each other for decades, and Google and Facebook were the real risks to their survival. Their response was that they would be fine because they were the best company in the world. Google’s offices were right across the road, and I pointed out they weren’t even the best company in the postcode. It was time to go.

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Your tips for aspiring founders

If you are on the fence, don’t do it, you’re not ready. If you think you’re ready and want to ask another entrepreneur’s advice, you’re not ready. When you wake up in the morning feeling physically sick and incapable of lifting your head off the pillow to go do that job you hate because you are wasting your life, then you are probably still a year from being ready. The energy, resilience, and out-and-out fury you need to stand in front of a monolithic competitor and know without a shadow of a doubt you have it in you to beat them, that’s when you know. It’s not a decision. It’s a physical reaction from the core of your DNA. It means that when people doubt you, you don’t hear them. When they laugh at you, you laugh with them. Still, when that rival decides to come after you, that’s something exceptional because you will find an inner strength you never knew existed, and you will know, with huge personal satisfaction, that win or lose, you’re authentic to what you stand for.

Hector Hughes, Bella Arcari-Bowler and Andrea Severino

#YouMeEntrepreneur meet Hector Hughes, Bella Arcari-Bowler and Andrea Severino

Meet Hector Hughes

I was burning out from working for someone else and so I needed to be able to “Unplug” — I’m now the co-founder of Unplugged

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Why did you start your own business?

I quit my job to launch a startup just one week after arriving back from a silent retreat in the Himalayas.

I was burnt out at the end of my third year working for a tech startup; at the recommendation of a friend I attended this silent retreat, which in hindsight was truly life-changing.

Nine months later, mid-pandemic, I launched Unplugged with my now co-founder, Ben.

What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?

Empowerment.

Prior to launching a business I never quite felt comfortable in myself; always dissatisfied, always concerned with what others would think.

Launching a business unexpectedly helped me find my voice and for the first time in my adult life I feel like I’m living on my own terms.

Any words of wisdom for fellow founders?

In a word? Luck.

On leaving university I reached the final interview stage for four very different jobs:

1. A High-Frequency Trading company

2. Teach First

3. An accountancy firm

4. A tech startup

I came close with all four but ultimately the startup (not my first choice!) was the only one which offered me a job. If I’d taken any of the other paths my life would be wildly different and I likely would not be an entrepreneur today.

When I came back from the silent retreat I felt like I could do anything. The question then became: what did I most want to do? I am fascinated by the way tech and the growth of the digital space have changed our lives and so that’s what I chose to focus on.

Unplugged is my effort to contribute to that conversation and help shape where humanity is headed.

Meet Bella Acrari-Bowler

I worked in venture capital and now I’m the founder of Shiftling

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Why did you start your own business?

I wanted to be in control of my destiny. I was in a male-dominated industry and felt frustrated at the lack of opportunities for growth. I decided that if I failed or succeeded, I wanted it to be on my own merit.

What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?

The best thing about being an entrepreneur is the chance to be multi-dimensional every day. You need to constantly solve problems, challenge yourself and acknowledge your weaknesses. It’s a constant journey of personal development and self-awareness. My other favourite thing is growing a culture that I believe in that fits with my values and finding team members, partners and investors that share in that.

Meet Andrea Severino

I wanted to pursue dreams in my own way and with no compromises. I wanted to make sure I could put all of my efforts without wasting them because of the burocratics and politics that normally blocks companies from their potential of growth. I’m now the founder of Healthy Virtuoso

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Why did you start your own business?

When I was 19 years old, I left home with a one-way ticket to London, at that time I spoke only Italian and had no special skills.

I worked as a barman for a few months, until I got my first internship at Betclic (one of the leading European online gambling start-ups at the time) Six months later I was hired as the Marketing Executive, and the following year I was named Affiliate Manager for the Italian market.

At the age of 23, I wasn’t happy, so I quit my first ever job and I moved back to London where I was hired as the General Manager for Antevenio UK (a digital marketing agency).

Two years later (2015, at the age of 25) despite making double the money, I still was unhappy, so I quit my job again and I moved back to my beloved Italy.

Here I joined Filo Diretto to launch DOC24, a leading and thoroughly innovative telemedicine platform which together with Johnson & Johnson OneTouch 24, launched one of the first tele-monitored assistance services for Diabetic patients. A great step ahead in my life.

Money earned was great, and so were the associated benefits (car, food checks, bonuses), but I was still unhappy about the way I was building my future. For this reason, when I turned 27, I quit my job for the third time, and with no money on the side, wage or benefits, I founded Healthy Virtuoso, a fantastic startup that incentivizes and motivates people to live a healthier lifestyle.

Today Virtuoso collaborates with some of the major firms such as KPMG, Zurich, RGA, Intesa Sanpaolo, Pulsee, and Mediolanum. It has reached more than 130.000 downloads, raised more than €750.000 from various strategic investors, and reached an evaluation of € 3,5Millions.

Even if I haven’t been so lucky to be named in Forbes U30, what makes me really happy today, is the opportunity to do the job I love, with an incredible team and in the way in which I believe it must be done. This is the fuel of my life and the secret to pursuing my dream day after day, with the same passion I had 12 years ago when I had just started working.

What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?

The freedoms of learning and growing through your own choices and mistakes

Abdul Aziz Omar and Mauro Moglianetti

#YouMeEntrepreneur meet Abdul Aziz Omar and Mauro Moglianetti

Meet Abdul Aziz Omar

“I was a Head of Strategic Planning at the Unclaimed Assets Authority and now I am the Co-Founder of MPost”

What lead you to start your own business?

After completing my master’s degree, I was waiting to hear back from my dream job after being shortlisted in the top 30 candidates. I was supposed to receive the feedback via postal service in Denyenye, Kwale County. After three months and no feedback, I decided to visit the local post office to check if there was any mail. To my disappointment, I found a mail saying that I had passed the interview, and my appointment letter was in the mailbox. Unfortunately, I lost my dream job since the letter had indicated that if they don’t get word from me in a week, they would assume I am not interested. Since innovation was born out of the professional disappointment, I co-founded MPost, a product that would save people the hustle of walking to the post office to check their mail and the frustration of finding out about important letters too late.

What’s been the best benefit of starting MPost?

It is being able to solve people’s pains and having a positive impact on society. We have already created Pata Ajira an initiative that created almost 3000 jobs in just 6 months. We are helping to change people’s lives.

Meet Mauro Moglianetti

“I am the CEO of HiQ-Nano and inventor of iBlue, the first antioxidant test kit. I am a researcher in chemistry, nanotechnology and materials engineering. I am really passionate about science and his “sister” innovation.”

Why did you think about starting a company?

I always wanted to drive the process of innovation from the lab bench to the market. In particular, I always wanted to see my scientific ideas get translated into disruptive innovation, improve lives, and increase knowledge. Our main product, iBlue, was born with the hope of giving people a key and scientific parameter.

What motivates you?

Being part of a startup is so exciting as you see the idea growing fast. This strongly motivates me to move on and deliver a great product to people looking to a scientific approach to their daily routine.

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