Finishing off our interview, I asked - What advices would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start their own business? He said:
The theory of evolution claims that only the strong will survive, may be so. However the theory of competition states that even the strong can get their arse‘s kicked!
This is the Interview.
Hi Louis, Its great to finally have you on YHP, how are you doing today?
I am good thanks; excited to get things moving after the Christmas and New Year break.
Before we move on, could you quickly give us some background information about yourself so that the YHP audience can get to know you better?
Sure, I am a 22 year old recent graduate from Royal Holloway (University of London). When I was 12 my families moved to America; so for the last decade I have been flip flopping between the UK and the US. I consider myself very lucky to have grown up on both sides of the pond. Also I am a sports nut! I enjoy all sports however I particularly love going to watch Rugby on Saturdays and then playing Tennis in the summer.
So Louis, tell me how you got into entrepreneurship, what was your motivation?
I am very dyslexic and entrepreneurship always came more naturally to me than English, French or Physics etc. I think at school I really enjoyed the human element that business studies had over other subjects. Business Studies/ entrepreneurship at school motivated me because I was so rubbish at other subjects! I was the worst in the class at the traditional subjects (religious studies use to bore me to tears) then suddenly I was the best in the class at business studies, a lot of people say improve on your weakness; however I prefer to build upon my strengths.
What was your first business, tell us about your experience running that?
Well I went to boarding school when I was 13 and I was always flying backwards and forward from the UK to the US and vice versa. As a result I use to buy stuff in the US and then sell it at school. Typically the UK is about 6 to 9 months behind the US on trends so I would see what my US friends were wearing or using e.g Ugg’s, Abercrombie clothes and iPods; I would then go and buy some, then sell that stash at school for tuck money, If I bought it forr $100 I would sell it for £100, that’s not bad money when your 14!
After that business, what else did you get involved in?
I got involved with Young Enterprise (a national student enterprise competition) at school and was given the lofty title of ‘Director of Sales’. One of the big YE regional competitions was the Somerset Christmas fair. The intention was that each team would make their own products to sell at the fair however I searched and found a local craft store that was going out of business so I bought their Christmas stock. Needless to say our stall had loaded full of really nice handmade Christmas gifts compared to the other stuff the others were selling. My team had the highest sales but however we lost the competition because we ‘did not compete in the spirit of the YE’ I remember thinking this competition just does not get what enterprise is all about.
So you attended Royal Holloway University? what was the experience like, a lot more people are deciding to go into entrepreneurship straight after school rather going to university, what made you realise that this was the right choice for you?
Well I think entrepreneurship is all about calculated risks; the way I saw it was if I got a University degree that would provide me with a safety net should I ever need to get a “real job” in the city. University is great for serendipity you never know who you will meet or listen to. These random meetings plant the seeds of idea and who knows those ideas might just become successful business. University is a great place to start a business because the down side is so minimal. When suppliers would ask me for personal guarantees I would always say of course. This was because I knew that I owned nothing - what’s the worst they could do, take my dorm room off me! Also University is a lot fun, you can’t beat a boozy nights at the SU dress as a Smurf!
You also studied abroad at University of Georgia, how was that experience, why did you decide to do that?
One of the best experiences of my life! UGA was vote the number one party school in all of the US, so that was a big influence on why I decided to go there.
What would you say were some of the key things that you learnt from that experience?
If you’re determined enough you can make anything happen. I think there is a great quote that summarises this school of thought from Tom Hanks in the movie Apollo 13 “it's not a miracle that man walked on the moon, we just decided to go”.
Is this something you would recommend to other students at the university?
Yes 110%, everyone needs to get outside their comfort zone.
Tell me about how VEO started, how did the idea come about?
Well when I was studying in the US I heard of a company call TOM’s shoes and how they were championing the one for one business model. one for one means every time someone purchases a product a similar product is donated to people in need. I though wow that is really cool! TOM’s were successfully proving that you can utilize the purchasing power of consumers to deliver social change! Then I though how could I make a dent in the Universes through social enterprise.
What is VEO? Tell me more about it?
VEO was a social enterprise sunglasses brand. Every time someone purchases a set of VEO sunglasses, VEO donates a pair of Adjustable Eyewear to a person in need. As I am sure few people will know what Adjustable Eyewear, let me just take a moment to explain the incredible/bazaar/very fun invention. Adjustable Eyewear were created by Professor Josh Silver as a way of distributing prescription eyewear to people in some of the most remote parts of the world, where optometrists do not exist. These somewhat Harry Potter-ish glasses have syringes on the side, and with a few simple twists the recipient then has working prescription eyewear. Once they have found their prescription the person then simply cuts off the syringes and they have normal working prescription glasses.
What kind of challenges did you face when starting the company and how did you deal with it?
We had loads of challenges such as cashflow, balancing uni workloads, writing business plans etc…you just find a way to get it done because you believe in what you are doing.
Talking about balancing your university work with business? How were you able to balance your time on both of them?
I guess I was lucky because I studies Business Management at University; so a lot of my work for say accounting or marketing I used VEO as the case study. I thought of it as killing two birds with one stone.
What would you say was some of the key things you learnt from that experience?
Businesses consist of three parts those are 50% people, 25% idea and 25% business plan if you don’t get the balance right you’re in trouble.
Tell us about NEF, why did you decide this was the next step for you, what was the process?
It sounded like a cool program, so I thought what the heck. It was one written application a few 100 words on your favourite entrepreneur. Then two phone interviews. After that there was an assessment day. In groups of 5-6 you had an hour to come up with a business and then pitch it sort of like dragons den. Then if you get through the assessment day you are interviewed by successful entrepreneurs (these are potentially the guys that you will shadow) to see if there is a personality match. It’s along process however it’s worth it in the end.
What company are you currently working with and how’s the experience been so far for you?
I am currently working for Talk Talk PLC(TALK) the UK’s third largest Telco provider with 5Million customers and £1.7 Billion in Revenue in 2010. It has been like drinking from a fire hose! There has just been so much to take in.
What are some of the key things that you’ve learnt so far from working at Talk Talk?
Look for disruption points that are occurring around you (The PESTLE framework is useful for this) and then consider how to take advantage of them.
If you can’t add value you can’t add margin!
Working capital is a very important thing to get your head around.
Why did you choose Talk Talk?
Maybe a better question is why TT chose me… only Lord knows why they took a punt on me! Haha! I got a great vibe from the CEO Dido Harding and the Founder Neil McArthur. I also like that TT is a challenger brand that it’s never scared to stick two fingers up to established players.
Is this something that you would recommend to other aspiring entrepreneurs? What’s the value in it?
NEF? Yes NEF is a great way to learn from the best! Also everyone on the program are ballers. NEF is loads of fun it’s sort of like a cool entrepreneurial fraternity.
What would you say has been some of your most memorable moment so far?
Meeting Richard Branson was really cool or when we had an innovation work shop from McLaren F1. I never met an organization (McLaren F1) with such a clear focus “we are here to win” plain and simple. I LOVED IT!
What advices would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
Here’s the thing that makes life so interesting, the theory of evolution claims that only the strong will survive, may be so. However the theory of competition states that even the strong can get their arse ‘s kicked! All successful entrepreneurs will tell you that the odds are stacked against you however they will also tell you that entrepreneurship is not a maths test! Entrepreneur is a different type of test where passion has a funny way of trumping logic. "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." Mark Twain
What can we be expecting from you in the future?
I will hopefully have some fun and make some money.