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How to counter imposter syndrome with these entrepreneurs' secrets to success
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Ditch the lies and believe in yourself: Handpicked secrets to success from UK founders

21 Mins

With the Office for National Statistics reporting that the number of registered firms in the UK has risen to 2.72m, it’s evident that Britain is home to some of the most innovative and dynamic businesses in the world. But achieving success isn’t always an easy feat. Some businesses gain momentum instantaneously while others proving to be slow burners.

Here’s what a handful of inspirational entrepreneurs across sectors have to say about their secret to success and ditching imposter syndrome for good. 

Table of Contents

Markus Stripf, Spoon Guru

Markus Stripf, Spoon GuruSpoon Guru is an AI-based food search and discovery company.

“Our mission is to help people find suitable foods for their individual specific needs, whatever the requirement may be,” says Spoon Guru, CEO & co-founder, Markus Stripf.

“We started the company because we observed the frustration, confusion and struggle people with specific dietary requirements encounter on a daily basis. At the 2018 World Retail Awards,  Spoon Guru was crowned ‘Technology Gamechanger of the Year’ by Google.”

Previous job and role: MD, Direct To Consumer – Warner Music International

Company start date: April 2015

Location: London / Los Angeles

What is the book that has most influenced you as a founder and why?

The Lean Startup (Eric Ries) – it gives great suggestions on how to operate on a budget and the MVP approach is by far the best strategy for new product development and paves the way for eventual product market fit.

What is the best business advice you have ever received?

Surround yourself with people that inspire you. Don’t beat yourself up over targets, just show up and give it your best shot. Failure is ok as long as you learn from it – fail fast is our mantra!

Who inspires you the most?

There are a number of great minds that have inspired me but if I had to narrow it down to three it would be – and in no particular order – Daniel Ek, who showed how a single idea can totally transform a failing industry incapable of saving itself; Einstein, but as a philosopher even more so than as a scientist, especially when he said, “When trying to solve a problem you can’t apply the same thinking that caused the problem in the first place.” Last but certainly not least, Gandhi – be the change you want to see in others.

What are the biggest career lies people tell themselves that are holding them back?

  1. You are not good enough. Everybody has a unique gift and contribution to make, every single person on this planet. You just need to work out what your special talent is and then go for it hell for leather. The world needs your flavour.
  2. Better safe than sorry. Most people are motivated by fear or love. If you love what you do, or the idea of what you are going to do, just go for it.
  3. Don’t cave in to all the fears in your head. The worst case will almost certainly never happen, and if it does, deal with it then. Don’t spend your time thinking about everything that might possibly go wrong. Whatever you focus on grows, so you might as well focus on the positives. But don’t allow the fears in your head to restrict you or limit you in any way or form. We are all divine superheroes, take the shackles off and do your thing. Things will always end up ok. And if they don’t, it’s not the end. 

What are the biggest obstacles you have faced and how have you overcome them?

The old classic affecting any startup is cash flow of course. It’s tough to manage on a budget and knowing your runway is finite can keep you awake at night. On the plus side, it keeps you honest and forces you to stay agile, adaptable and super lean so it’s actually a good thing.

Another major pitfall is hiring, of course. In a small company you rely on every single person to carry their weight. If you get the wrong person in it’s bad for the company’s productivity and having to let them go is time consuming, disruptive and stressful. So think three times every time before you make an offer. Getting the wrong person in is much worse than missing out on the right one.

Dr. Shona D’Arcy, Kids Speech Lab

Dr. Shona D’Arc, Kids Speech LabsKids Speech Lab is building a digital health platform for children’s speech and language development. Based on the child’s progress and upcoming expected milestones, we provide tailored training games to help children at all stages of development.

Job title: Kids Speech Lab, CEO & Founder

Previous job and role: Chief Scientific Officer – Neuromod Devices

Company start date: October 2018

Location: Dublin

What is the book that has most influenced you as a founder and why?

Bad Blood (John Carreyrou), the story of Theranos. While this is a story of incredible fraud and deception, as a female founder, I did get a few things out of this. Firstly ambition! As an ex researcher I tend to err on the side of caution when talking about my company but I realise that to be taken seriously, I need to be proud of the ambition I have for this company. Of course, the other major lesson was to be able to back this ambition up with results.

This book also makes me consider the team I’m going to build around me and how not to treat them. I want to bring in the best people and empower them to solve problems and make great decisions.

What is the best business advice you have ever received?

In new startups there are big highs and even bigger lows. One of my jobs as founder, particularly at the early stage, is to moderate my responses to the ups and downs of starting an ambitious company. Don’t dwell on the rejections, they are just part of the journey and don’t focus so much on the wins that you take your eye off the big picture. Secondly don’t make it personal, this is about business.

Who inspires you the most?

I tend to be inspired by people I can relate to that have done extraordinary things, so it’s people who have built successful, innovative companies from the ground up that really inspire me. There is a great group of female founders here in Dublin and each of whom inspires me in a different way as I try to build Kids Speech Labs. To name a few: Patricia Scanlon – Soapbox Labs, Ciara Clancy – Beats Medical, Roseanne Longmore – Coroflo and Rena Maycock – Cilter.

What are the biggest career lies people tell themselves that are holding them back?

‘I am only good at this job.’ I know several people who don’t like their current role but because they have been in it for so long, they don’t see how their skills can apply in different industries. I know several people who only look for jobs in companies similar to those they currently work in but their dissatisfaction is likely to be the same – they are looking for a new challenge, not a new office. If they don’t see their exact title/role in the job description, they don’t even apply for it. They struggle to see how their skills can enhance those being requested in the role.

What are the biggest obstacles you have faced and how have you overcome them?

One of my biggest obstacles has been my own head. It can be very isolating at times, building a company from scratch, particularly for someone who was in secure employment for 20 years. Imposter syndrome sneaks in all the time, however talking to other founders, people in the same phase, really helps and in my experience, women are far better at admitting when they’re struggling and supporting each other. Just hearing that someone has gone through the same thing and is still going is hugely reassuring.

Mark Turner and Charles Clowes, Bud & Tender

Mark Turner & Charles Clowes, Bud & TenderBud & Tender is a UK cannabis supplement company which specialises in researching, developing and producing high quality CBD Cannabis Oil. Bud & Tender® was founded by Mark Turner. BSc and Charles Clowes upon witnessing first-hand how the benefits of cannabis supplements can literally change people’s lives for the better.

Job title: Bud & Tender, Founders

Previous job and role: Founding partner at Happy Hemp, Director, EVersure Charging

Company start date: November 2018

Location: UK

What is the book that has most influenced you as a founder and why?

Charles Clowes: Cannabis for the Terminally and Chronically Ill, Nishi Whiteley & Dr Ethan Russo, MD

Mark Turner: Jack Herrer, The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Fantastic book that highlights how hemp could help save the planet.

What is the best business advice you have ever received?

Charles Clowes: Always keep your customer at the heart of your decision-making process.

Mark Turner: Fly by the seat of your pants, enjoy the ride and be ready to adapt to anything. You can plan everything to perfection and I guarantee it will never happen as planned! This is especially true in the cannabis industry. The market is changing constantly, so you had better be ready to adapt.

Who inspires you the most?

Charles Clowes: Those within society that make a small contribution each day through their actions to help improve the wellbeing of others, and nature.

Mark Turner: My father Mr. Brian Turner BVSc, DVR, Cert SAO, MRCVS. He is a veterinary surgeon who emigrated from New Zealand to the UK. He set up his own surgery and ran it very successfully, more or less from word of mouth alone. This taught me the importance of skill within your craft – be good at what you do and always put the patient before profit. A very inspirational man to me.

What are the biggest career lies people tell themselves that are holding them back?

Charles Clowes: Not enough research has been done and you don’t have the experience.

Mark Turner: You need a tonne of investment to start a business. Sometimes having too much money can cause a person to lose focus and make them take unnecessary risks. If something goes wrong, their attitude is, ‘just chuck some more money at it.’ This is not the way to go because you still haven’t solved the underlying problem.

What are the biggest obstacles you have faced and how have you overcome them?

Charles Clowes: A big cannabis contract for supply fell through – we had a fantastic deal lined up with a product that was going to be really good. However, it was the best thing that ever happened to us because it forced us to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate our direction. The result is that we ended up in a way better position with a superior product that we made in-house.

Rebecca Oatley, Cherish PR

Rebecca Oatley, Cherish PRCherish is a boutique PR consultancy that works with some of the UK’s biggest and best known digital brands. As an independent agency operating at the heart of the digital economy, Cherish helps clients to shape communications for the digital age.

Job title: Cherish PR, Managing Director and Owner

Previous job and role: Managing Director Gnash

Company start date: 2003

Location: London

What is the book that has most influenced you as a founder and why?

Unfortunately I don’t have time to read anything other than books that relax me and take my mind off work.

What is the best business advice you have ever received?

Earn more than you spend, and to consider every challenge as “business as usual”.

Who inspires you the most?

I would have to say that my clients inspire me. They’ve done amazing things in business but they’re all wonderfully human.

What are the biggest career lies people tell themselves that are holding them back?

You’re a fake. You’ve been riding on people’s coattails for your career and you’re going to be found out. People also sometimes think to themselves, “How come they’re not going through what I am?”, when the reality is they most probably are, and then there’s always the classic “That’s never going to work”.

What are the biggest obstacles you have faced and how have you overcome them?

The top three would be:

  1. Balancing my family with work and not feeling a failure at one thing or another;
  2. Finances – people assume that if you own a business you have lots of money but I am always scraping the pennies at the bottom of my purse;
  3. Keeping true to what success means to me when everyone around me is screaming that it’s about scale, triple digit growth and a hundred strong workforce.

Overcoming each obstacle is fundamentally built on discipline; to achieve the work life balance I’ve had to set clear time boundaries to stop work creeping in when I need to switch off, and ultimately the realisation that I cannot be all things to all people.

With regards to finance, transparency is key, also I monitor cash flow and profit closely, and only ever take money out from the business when absolutely needed. To block out the noise from outside influences, I always keep in mind why I started Cherish and what I set out to achieve, and keep sight of that; which was to build a highly profitable boutique  agency with a great team that a happy place to work!

Mario Coletti, Nextatlas

Mario Coletti, NextatlasNextatlas is an industry disruptor in the space of market research, analysing social media data to identify emerging trends and understand future consumer usage and attitudes towards products and services. The company also applies AI to crunch quantitative data in a faster and more efficient way enabling brands to innovate and engage with consumers. “Our startup has doubled its size year on year by building long term relationships with global clients with a global footprint,” says managing director, Mario Coletti.

Job title: Nextatlas, Managing Director

Previous job and role: Principal, Capgemini Consulting

Company start date: January 2017

Location: London / Munich / Turin

What is the book that has most influenced you as a founder and why?

Only the Paranoid survive, Andy Growe – because seeded forever in my mind is the need for constant change and constant improvement

What is the best business advice you have ever received?

‘Positive is a lie’ – in essence it’s not about being positive, but instead it’s important to focus on what is possible, depending on resources and capabilities.

Who inspires you the most?

Underdogs, as they’re the people who are able to create from an idea, driven only by their passion.

What are the biggest career lies people tell themselves that are holding them back?

The idea is not strong enough or I cannot risk my permanent job.

What are the biggest obstacles you have faced and how have you overcome them?

A culture clashing that prevented integration within an organisation. Solved by acknowledging that you can’t always win and accepting to move on to new pastures.

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