Real Business found out how eight UK founders ended up in the world of entrepreneurship, what the transition to company owner was like, and what they wanted to become before embarking on said journey. We’ll let them do the talking:
(1) Jenk Oz, iCoolKid
“The concept of iCoolKid formed when I was eight. I have always had broad and varied extra-curricular interests, and my school friends were keen to learn what I would be trying next. To streamline this my mum and I put together a weekly email, letting them know what I had planned so they could join in if they wanted to.
“I presented the idea of placing all the coolest, on-trend and interesting things to do in one place, during a show and tell session at school. iCoolKid officially launched three years later! Since then, it has grown into a digital publishing, media, consulting and production company, creating content aimed at a Generation Z audience.
“I never imagined my idea would turn into a business – it’s crazy to think it all developed from a simple email. Becoming a CEO – the youngest in the UK – was certainly something I didn’t expect to happen. I’m also a professionally trained actor, singer, dancer, model, presenter and musician. I imagine if I wasn’t working on iCoolKid I would be focusing my attentions in this area even more – as well as my studies of course!
“The transition to being my own boss has been strange! I find it exciting and challenging to lead a team. I learn so much every day and am grateful for the support I get from those I work with. I really enjoy the variety of projects I get to work on. One minute I’m in an editorial meeting deciding on the day’s content, the next I’m on my way to interview a celebrity for our ‘Cool Cast’ page.
“The work is always different, which keeps things exciting, fresh and relevant for our audience. I also love learning new things about running a business. I find it rewarding when I overcome something I haven’t had experience with before. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging to juggle everything, alongside my other commitments and studies. I wouldn’t change a thing though. I thrive on being busy and am fortunate to have the opportunity to develop and grow a business at such an early age.”
(2) Chris Vincent, V4 Woodflooring
“I’m probably not the archetypal entrepreneur. I left secondary school with no qualifications and a burning desire to be a racing driver. This was a dream that almost came true as I successfully competed in F Vauxhall and F Renault competitions, including racing for ex-Formula One driver Martin Donnelly’s race team. But it became clear I wasn’t going to be the next Michael Schumacher.
“So I made the difficult decision to walk away from the profession. That left me, at age 23, without a clear career path. My father and grandfather run their own flooring businesses, so it wasn’t too great a leap to move into the sector. This led to the birth of V4 Woodflooring 15 years ago. I started out with ten pallets in a small rented warehouse distributing flooring to a single Austrian brand. Now we supply products to a network of over 1,500 dealers across the UK.
“I always have been business-orientated and as a schoolboy would buy sweets and trading cards, which I sold to fellow pupils for a profit. Some may see my dyslexia as a challenge. However, I have found it an advantage as I tend look at things differently. This has been beneficial for the business.
“Becoming my own boss has brought many more rewards and challenges. A fire in 2011 destroyed one of the company’s four warehouses and burnt half its stock. It was a tough time, but with determination, focus and hard work, and the support of a fantastic workforce, the business was soon back on track.
“The entrepreneur ‘bug’ is very powerful and I am always looking for the next opportunity. I have already invested in an estate agency business, a long way from flooring. The adrenalin rush might not be quite the same as driving round a race track at 120mph but the buzz of being my own boss is undeniable.”
(3) Alexandra Wall, Xandra Jane
“Having only recently graduated, my focus was on gaining experience under a more established brand. I saw, however, an awful and common side to the industry that takes advantage of our consumerism society. I ended up moving home to Cardiff from London with an exhaustion breakdown and the little money I had after working as a full-time graduate in an unpaid position – which is illegal.
“Some 18 months on, and without borrowing a penny, I am running my own company, Xandra Jane – a sustainable streetwear company that explores gender fluidity through zero waste processes and up-cycled luxury. I love running a business that exercises the morals and ethics I care so strongly about.
“Entrepreneurship was not my immediate plan. As a graduate you are told to gather as much experience as possible, but when the industry is hell bent on free labour, something has to give! Did you know fashion is the second most polluting industry? Or that it takes a fast fashion brand 12 years to recycle the same amount of textile waste it produces in 48 hours?
“What really attracted me to entrepreneurship, alongside design, was the need and ability to problem solve. My GCSE in business studies has almost been irrelevant and moving forward as a sole trader I have learnt so many lessons, being quick to adapt to these has proven to be an invaluable trait.
“I would offer advice to any young founder that it takes grit and a level of determination that can only come from within. You can only rely on yourself, that includes family as ultimately what you put in is what you eventually get in ROI. It’s also important to cut your losses, the niceties with money talk and finally, be at peace enough to know that not every idea is a good one.”
(4) Simon Douglass, Curated Digital
“Initially I just wanted to do something I would a) be good at and which b) others would find helpful. Digital marketing – the sector in which Curated Digital sits – can be so niche, confusing and at times labour intensive. It’s no wonder many get it wrong or employ unscrupulous companies to do it with extortionate costs and limited ability – a concept which tempted me into entrepreneurship.
“I’ve only really done digital marketing for the last 14 years, so I don’t know anything else. If I am completely honest though, I wanted to run a collective, rather than a company. That is, being surrounded by nice, interesting people with similar interests – make money, but in the right way, and for it not to be the only thing.
“Actually, three years in and it still doesn’t feel like I go into ‘work’. Some of my team feel the same, yet it’s still the most fun, fulfilling job I have had. And the transition into entrepreneurship was surprisingly smooth. Bizarrely, I was more worried about paperwork – like, who would do my accounts. I discovered you can hire people who know about this stuff who can do it for you.
“I started a business based on something I knew how to do. But now it was all on me – I was making the decisions, not someone else, and that was empowering to be honest.
“We started the business with a handful of clients, and the work we did got us noticed by other clients. Slowly but surely we grew, and are still growing. It’s not been easy – it’s a lot of work, but when I reflect on previous jobs, I’ve always put the hours in. This one is much nicer though, because nobody is telling me what to do. I must admit I do wake up some days wishing that somebody would.”
Read on to find out how a violin professional stumbled into entrepreneurship.