What I’ve learned about being an entrepreneur?
Google says an entrepreneur is "a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit”
I’m not so sure - to me an entrepreneur can only really be described after the event by somebody else - after all, it’s not a job title, not like a production manager, or an HR Director. And to me - there has to be an element of innovation (so opening a hair salon isn’t in my definition an entrepreneurial move).
Also - other descriptions for those who take on risk in the hope of profit are ‘hopeless dreamer’ or ‘gambler’.
My journey to becoming an entrepreneur started when I was 12 in my first year at secondary school. We had a technical drawing class and everyone seemed to be struggling with the concept of 3rd angle projection against first angle (these are ways of drafting that show the component that you’re describing from different perspectives and with different levels of transparency).
We had a computer at home (a Texas Instruments 16 bit TI994a fact fans) and I was amazed to see that the school had a couple too. I thought I might be able to help others in my class understand how to draw the various components by creating a custom program that we could use in class.
It took me a month of evenings and weekends to write the program and I proudly took it into class for beta testing (which no-one ever called it). I loaded it up and we used it to learn. It wasn’t perfect but it kind of worked and I instantly had ambitions of becoming the next Clive Sinclair. My teacher paid me £5 and promised to help me spread the word to other schools.
I realised pretty fast that I would have problems as a schoolboy mogul after finding out that no other schools in my area had the same computer (RESEARCH!) and I didn’t have the skill or time (or inclination if I’m honest) to re-write the program for the more popular Sinclair ZX81 or BBC micro. Still - £5!
I had the bug though and over the years to come I sold advertising on the side of my radio control car (I was an international competitor) designed and sold a design for a R/C car, set up a painting service for other people’s cars..and plenty others.
There was lots to learn and I probably made a tiny profit but it taught me one really important thing. The key to successfully innovating a business where there is a need isn’t a desire for money, success or fame - it’s active listening (and actually active watching too)…seeing the opportunity for what it is, innovating to create the space around your business….and then executing the plan.
After that I created a range of, ahem, ‘adult toys’, invented and designed Britain’s best selling potato masher (as still sold in the Science Museum amongst others), electronic wings for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, parts for British Cycling, Triathlon, British Bobsleigh and lots of others.
Working within the fitness industry I was acutely aware of the difference between Olympians and the rest of us - they are able to get themselves to a mental and physical state so that they can prepare for their event whatever stands in their way. Their motivation was immense whatever the barrier. Most people do not have that ability but still want to keep healthy.
So the clear opportunity to me was to create a product that motivated people to be active - and the lever was to gamify the challenge. Make the user a competitor, give them a score to beat, make the exercise short and fun and the product visually arresting and that’s a new business sector - interactive fitness. And the product: the CardioWall.
Since then I’ve created more products based on the same mission - making it easier for most people to remain fit and healthy, for longer - and Rugged Interactive now has products for Schools, Trampoline Parks and fitness amongst others.
Recently I’ve been disillusioned by the current growth in Pseudo-entrepreneurialism - to my mind it’s often just about the name “YouPreneur” - “MumPreneur” - and not about creating and innovating a new business.
But I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t matter: These are companies, partnerships and sole traders making money for themselves, the local economy and ultimately the country. More power to their elbows!
by Simon Heap