Entrepreneurial Advice from East London Co-Working Space

World Entrepreneur’s Day: Top tips for success and survival from fellow entrepreneurs

To mark World Entrepreneur’s Day we spoke to seven x+why members, asking them to share their most powerful advice on entrepreneurship, innovation or leadership. Their responses were diverse, but unified by some strong themes, and the guts, inspiration, and dedication found only in founders currently in the start-up trenches themselves.

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With more than 400k start-ups launching this year alone, you can’t swing the proverbial cat without hitting at least 17 entrepreneurs and founders.  It is both a blessing and a curse to be surrounded by so many smart, ambitious, and innovative peers. On the one hand there are so many people to learn from and be inspired by, and there is something comforting in the thought that you are not out there alone.  But on the other hand, this is your competition. These businesses are also vying for investment, sniffing out the best talent, and bidding on cool office space.  

The flexible workspace or ‘co-working’ market has boomed in the fertile soil of entrepreneurship - and these hot new hubs of activity are alive with ideas, and potentially the next London unicorn. For some businesses, it’s a nuisance, a distraction, and pain in the bottom line, to be surrounded by ‘the competition’.  For others, it’s a chance to learn. To collaborate, and to grow.  

And it’s this mindset that x+why are seeking out and supporting, at our new flagship space in Whitechapel. To prove it to you, we have asked 8 of our very own members to give us their top piece of advice on entrepreneurship, leadership or innovation.  We have advice from those that have ‘made it’ (raised lots of cash), those that are currently on the cusp of making it (raised a bit of cash), and those that are just starting out (still convinced they won’t need any cash). 

Their advice is varied and heart-felt, categorised into 4 distinct areas of focus, imperative for the success, or indeed simple survival, of any aspiring entrepreneur and new business.

1. Ambition-setting and a dedication to the ‘big picture’ 

It sounds obvious that a clear ambition and objective should be the starting point for any start-up founder, however often this focus is simply overlooked.  Too often people dive straight into their shiny solution ideas, but are quickly knocked off course by world events, new technologies, or any one of a million factors in your industry that are outside of your control.

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Rupert Dean, Founder and CEO of x+why advises entrepreneurs to - 

“Identify a problem, find a potential solution, pick your perfect time, and then dive all in. 

Surround yourself with smarter people and never lose sight of the problem you are seeking to solve”

This point around identifying a problem and developing a solution deserves a little more attention.  It sounds obvious, but many start-ups spend too much time looking for a problem that their product will solve.  In fact, 42% of start-ups fail because they didn’t solve a market need

It doesn’t matter how great your technology, or data, or reputation, or expertise are, if you don’t have a business that solves a pain point in a scalable way.  Your ambition, and your ‘big picture’ thinking should always focus on how the world will be better after people have used your product or service. 

Once the big picture is defined, it’s imperative to keep it front of mind. When you’re starting out, that ambition is fresh and exciting, but it may also appear to be ever so far away. Day-to-day dramas, operational admin, website updates, and the humdrum of HR and finance, can quickly start to loom very large indeed. 

Alexander Clegg, Founder of Brand Studio, Saboteur gave us some advice and a simple analogy with which to remember your ambition and how you are getting there -

“As a small, creative entrepreneur we think it's crucial to keep the ambition and big picture always in mind. We think this is well expressed in the following saying - although we're not actually sure who first said it…We aren't here to lay bricks. We're here to build cathedrals”

Progress and growth require that those bricks be laid - just don’t ever let them obscure the vision of your beautiful cathedral. 

2. Defining your purpose and embedding your culture from the outset 

Faced with the big three challenges of start-up life (investment, talent, and time) many founders are left feeling sceptical about the need to embed authentic purpose from the start. At the beginning, generating economic value is the aim of the game. Achieving a higher, aspirational purpose, and strong culture, is not a priority.  Caught-up in the day-to-day dramas of running a brand new business, it is easy to take short-cuts and forget steps in order to get stuff done. But it’s these corners and forgotten steps which can often define what a business really is; its culture, ethos and beliefs. It’s common for these things to be put on hold until the business is much larger, by which time, much of the initial passion for purpose has been eroded, and it’s far harder to make u-turns and start making new promises that feel authentic. 

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Phil Nevin, Co-Founder of x+why urges new businesses to change their outlook, and prioritise their ‘why’:

“Put the time and energy in at the beginning to figure out and articulate your ‘why’. Having your purpose nailed down gives you and your people something to gather around and aim for, it makes decision making more fluent and it makes the journey more meaningful.” 

In support of this, evidence shows that purpose-driven businesses thrive, and with it follows profit and performance. It's estimated that B Corp certified businesses grow more quickly than their non-certified counterparts, and joint research by Harvard Business Review Analytics and EY's Beacon Institute shows that companies focusing on purpose to drive performance see higher profitability.

And it’s not just about profitability, but also about your ability to build an effective team.  Millennials are increasingly discerning about who they work for, demanding more than just a healthy pay packet.  They want to work somewhere that matters. Somewhere that says something positive about them, and gives them the social currency they crave. According to a PwC study, millennials who have a strong connection to the purpose and culture of their organisation are 5.3 times more likely to stay. 

Patrick McCrae, CEO at Artiq, supports these assertions, summarising -

In an organisation, culture happens whether you like it or not, so spend time with your team to define the culture you all believe is best and stick to it.  Culture principals can even become a guiding light for decision making, helping you ask yourself on a regular basis what is more important, why you are taking a particular action

3. Surrounding yourself with the right people, to fuel your passion 

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely place - working at your kitchen table, or side-gigging at the weekends.  But even as a solopreneur never underestimate the power of the people who surround you. Whether it be friends, family, advisors or investors, and as you grow, your team. 

This is where a collaborative co-working space, filled with like-minded businesses becomes invaluable.

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Ariana Alexander-Sefre, Founder of Sweat & Sound and Rapitation, is a co-worker at x+why and advises entrepreneurs to -

“Surround yourself with a like-minded community; other people who passionately believe in their projects, are ambitious and creative, and strive to make a positive difference in the world.

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Your passion is your strongest tool, it’ll set you apart from the crowds and like a butterfly effect will inspire others to do great things too.”

Motivational speaker and confidence coach, Nissy Tee, is also a firm believer in the importance of your tribe -

“Surround yourself with people you can learn from. As an entrepreneur you make a lot of mistakes... A HELL OF A LOT OF THEM.

But you can avoid making so many if you just surround yourself with people that might have done it before, and equally those that are also on their journey of entrepreneurship. There's so much power in your horizontal network as well as your vertical.”

No matter what your skill-set, or what you personally bring to the table of your business, you will soon realise that you simply can’t do everything alone.  Visionaries like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, might appear to be superheroes, single-handedly steering the ships of the world’s most exciting companies - but the truth is that it takes a village.  And a village filled with positive, like-minded, but diverse individuals, with a range of skillsets and a growth-mindset, are more likely to succeed than an isolated, sparsely populated, and analogous community. 

4. Having confidence and conviction in yourself, and your vision

Finally, something that should never be underestimated is the importance and power of having confidence and conviction in yourself.  As we mentioned, it’s a competitive world out there, the stakes are high, and there will always be setbacks. You will face adversity.  You will be rejected. You will lose customers. You will lose face. Your success will be dependent on your resilience and your belief in yourself and  your product. And this belief will be buoyed by what we have previously discussed - your ambition, your mission and culture, and the team you have built to support you. 

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Ebadur Rahman, Founder and MD of Muslim Giving, spoke to us about the risks involved in  starting a business - giving up your whole life savings, your friends, your family, your time - you have to believe in it to do that. His advice?

“Never ever give up. You have come far to give up. You will face a million obstacles and you will get negative thoughts but always remember that tomorrow is a new day and always think positive thoughts”

And finally, Nissy Tee, poignantly reminds us that we “are all innovators’” but that being an innovator “requires guts, and having to use them”.  She reminds us that we should “never be afraid to do things differently, and should never wait for permission, otherwise how will you ever know if you’re the Einstein of our time”

So there you have it, entrepreneurial advice from the entrepreneurs who are currently in the thick of it - setting their ambitions, defining their culture, building their tribes, and learning what it takes to truly have conviction in yourself and your vision. 

x+why is a new flexible workspace in East London dedicated to uniting, inspiring and amplifying the successes of purpose-driven businesses. We have a community of inspiring and innovative members, spread across co-working and dedicated office spaces. For more information or to book a tour, click here