Opinion

Charlie Mullins: Entrepreneurship doesn't have to be coming up with something new

4 min read

16 November 2015

Former editor

When people talk to young, aspiring entrepreneurs they often ask what innovative and new-age idea they’ve masterminded, expecting a revolutionary response that breaks the mould and changes the way we see the world.

If you’d have asked me that question 36 years-ago, the chances are you’d have been left slightly underwhelmed. There’s a stereotype associated with entrepreneurs, which brands them as people who push the boundaries, are attached to an assortment of Apple products and, god forbid, would never think inside of the box.

I’m no Luddite, and accept that in industries that rely heavily on technology that this assumption may not be far from the truth. However, more often than not, an entrepreneur, like myself, simply takes a service or product and does it better than anyone else.

Plumbing has been around since 2500 BC, so when I started out with my bag of tools I knew I wasn’t about to create the then equivalent of Google or The Kindle, yet I’ve still managed to build a business that turns over more than £25m and employs more than 300 people.

This week Thompson Reuter’s released its latest Top 100 Most Innovative Businesses list, which doesn’t include any British companies. As you can imagine, there have been countless articles criticising our lack of forward thinking – which is ridiculous when you consider the success of Dyson and software design company ARM.

Even if this was true, and we didn’t have innovative companies on the same footing as our rivals, is it really such a bad thing? The UK is full of exceptionally successful businesses based on relatively straight-forward concepts. 

My friend, and fellow entrepreneur, Duncan Bannatyne is prime example. After cutting his teeth in the ice cream and care home industries, he’s established an empire of health clubs that span the country. Is the idea of a health club an idea that requires a patent? No. But does he do it better than any other operator in the country? You bet.

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Sometimes, as Terry Leahy wrote in his autobiography, clever people mistake “simple” for “simplicity”. Aspiring business owners don’t need to go to university and study IT or coding to make the next best thing.

When Leahy guided Tesco to what seemed like world dominance, his mantra was simple and on the face of it didn’t seem that impressive. Tesco listened to customers, involved them in processes and build their trust and loyalty. In effect, it was his common sense that changed the face of Tesco.

British entrepreneurs should embrace the fact that they’re hard-working and have the ability to enter an already competitive market and create multi-million pound businesses by improving on established models.

While I’m quoting the great and the good, Mark Twain once said, there’s no such thing as a new idea. That may be true, but we’re pretty good at shaping these ideas into something better and more profitable.

Promotion of entrepreneurship is great, but not everyone is cut out to run a company