The phone rang. I answered………“Hello” (pretending I was sitting in my ‘pretend’ new office – not my Kitchen)
A crisp Californian voice answered back; “Hi, its Doug Richard, how can I help?”
I had 10 minutes. 5 questions – including one that Doug called a ‘red herring’. I wished that ten years ago, I had concentrated more in my Media Studies seminars at University as I might have a better ability to interview in the first place. I asked my first question:
How important does Doug feel the entrepreneurial spirit would be to the UK economy in the coming years? Straight away from the language he used, I felt a little under experienced. He was a man who not only talked entrepreneurship – he had learned, studied and breathed it.
But we agreed on the same principle that “without startups and young businesses you cannot have growth in the economy and new job creation.” I agreed, not because I am an authority on entrepreneurship, but with 9 years experience in working in commercial recruitment, you get to look out for new companies, with strong productivity and potential for quick growth. Most established businesses flat-line, in terms of staffing levels, so it makes sense that startups are key to growing the economy, not just keeping it at the same level.
Doug had spent much of the last 10 years investing in business – as a Dragon, angel and investor, but the recession had turned his attention to encouraging entrepreneurship to be taught. Doug set up School for Startups in 2008, and I asked him why.
It tells you a lot about why Doug is a successful entrepreneur that his answer highlighted an opportunity that the recession could bring. “With the financial crisis – I wanted to do something that was relevant, I didn’t want to waste a ‘good’ recession,” he said.
He meant ‘good’ not in terms of job losses, or financial stagnation, but ‘good’ in what could come from it. Always look at the positive, and it might bring you opportunity, and whilst I had been made redundant (and that was a bad thing) it had saved me from stagnation, and mediocrity…
So onto my “red herring of a question”, of whether Doug believes entrepreneurship can be taught. Doug devised the social enterprise, School for Startups as a means to teach and train entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial skills to young and potential entrepreneurs who had innovative ideas but not the knowledge or learnt skills to take their ideas forward. But he cannot understand why the entrepreneurial community gets so caught up in working out if Entrepreneurship can be taught, or if it is just something you are born with, and he a good analogy to explain why:
“You can teach most people the basics of how to play the violin, but that does not mean everyone can become a world class violinist. It is the same as entrepreneurship, you are just giving people the opportunity to learn the skills they need, so they can potentially use the talents they may have.”
Doug has lived in the UK for many a year and I couldn’t avoid asking his about his time on the UK’s
Dragon’s Den – Doug appeared in the first two series and is well-known for only investing in two businesses in the first series and not one in the second. How did he find the experience?
“In the first few series, it appeared much less scripted and to be honest, I didn’t realise how big the program would become. It was an entertaining experience and I enjoyed my time on the show.”
Without putting words in Doug’s mouth, he only invested in businesses that he would have in the ‘real world’ and as we can all probably appreciate, as the show became bigger, it was obvious that investments need to be made to keep the shows overall appeal going.
So what advice would you give to someone right now with a good idea, but no idea what to do next? His advice is to “Always work with others and to partner-up on projects” and this makes sense. Showing that he had listened when I explained my own recruitment background, he compared this to recruiting staff for an office; in that you need to have a team of people around you that have differing skills, talents and experiences to get the most out of each other.
And why had he become an entrepreneur? The answer is truthful and a typical answer for many entrepreneurs: “If I am being honest, I never really worked for anyone else, I am rather bolshy and since my mid 20s was an entrepreneur,” he said. “I am myself – not very ‘employable’”
With that our time was up – I probably talked a little too much about myself, and made a slightly embarrassing “maybe our paths will cross again in the future” blunder (cringe), but Doug was very receptive, interested and aside from being a good talker, took the time to listen to what we are up to with ‘TheEmployable’.
Doug Richard is the founder of School for Startups @DougRichard
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is teaming up with Doug Richard to teach web exploitation skills to 3,500 SMEs across England. The Web Fuelled Business initiative will help small businesses in the UK to exploit and leverage the internet for their business.
Locations for the training sessions include Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Reading, and Torquay.
Go to www.webfuelledbusiness.com to register.