What’s a more interesting question to pose to business leaders rather than asking them what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur? It’s asking them what it takes to become a serial entrepreneur.
Professor Stefan Allesch-Taylor CBE is the right person to speak to where serial entrepreneurship is concerned. He can tell you about what it takes to develop not one, but a series of successful businesses. A former City financier, he co-founded and invested in more than 50 new companies operating across 15 countries over the past 32 years.
As King’s College London’s first ever Professor of the Practice of Entrepreneurship, Allesch-Taylor is doing his bit to help bridge the worlds of enterprise and education, with the hope to help stimulate a mutually beneficial economy. Let’s meet the man behind all those good intentions…
Real Business, (RB): Tell me about your first ever business endeavour. What did it teach you?
Stefan Allesch-Taylor, (SAT): My first business venture was a niche advertising agency that specialised in celebrity endorsements. This was a long time ago (I was 19), so it wasn’t quite as common as it is now! It went really well from an operational standpoint, we secured the Dime Bar Harry Enfield TV ad contract for example. It ran for years. It coined the phrase ‘Oi Nutter’ across the playgrounds of schools in the UK in the early 1990’s – I’m very proud of that!
RB: You’re King College’s first ever Professor of the Practice of Entrepreneurship! How does that feel?
SAT: It felt daunting, genuinely. Age is not a barrier to great knowledge and having age isn’t a guarantee of having great knowledge either. Most of my time at King’s is a cathartic wander down memory lane … so it feels great!
RB: Why is business mentorship so important to you?
SAT: If start-ups get money and no mentorship then the money will be blown – it’s as certain as gravity in my view. I get increasingly frustrated with organisations making money available and then sending the venture on its way – it’s a casino strategy and it’s bad for everyone involved. I would have benefitted enormously from mentorship – but I wouldn’t be as experienced in the art of surviving appalling decisions if it had been available to me! So thinking about it, I’d be wealthier, happier, less jaded but less useful to entrepreneurs starting out as a result.
You tell me what your plan is to solve a business problem and I say: a) ‘it’s brilliant I have nothing to add’ or b) I say – ‘ohhh – I think you should consider the following approaches and then decide’, (diplomacy for ‘are you crazy??’) or c) I say ‘It’s one man’s opinion anyway – but ask yourself if you are really just trying to take a short cut or sticking your head in the sand – either of those don’t end well, as a rule, keep thinking about it’.
RB: Tell me about a landmark moment you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?
SAT: My landmark moment as an entrepreneur is working with an incredibly dedicated leadership team at the UK water charity Pump Aid, and seeing them prove that entrepreneurship can be used in a way no one tried to envisage. At Pump Aid, we have alleviated water poverty in Sub-Sahara Africa by creating the Self-Supply Model that saw 22 entrepreneurs successfully trained to deliver over 25,000 people with clean, sustainable and fresh water for the first time in over just 18 months.
We won UK Charity of the Year (Aid and Development) 2017 at the UK Charity Awards and millions in funding from the UK Department for International Development. I’m in awe of the team at Pump Aid for delivering what everyone told me for years would be impossible.
RB: What’s your definition of an impact business?
SAT: Now that’s a bit of a reality check question, isn’t it? ‘Practise what you preach’… definitely not one of my favourite phrases. I try to practise what I preach with my tenure at King’s and on my journey in the business world and in the humanitarian world.
In all these things I am held to account by company boards, business partners, and colleagues. I do, strangely enough, have a mental ‘Impact Report’ at the end of each year to consider what was actually achieved as opposed to what I think was or perhaps should have been. A social impact business is one with a demonstrable positive impact on any aspect of society.
RB: Is great entrepreneurialism all about high risk and high rewards?
SAT: This is a great question because it debunks a myth. I don’t believe any businesses aren’t materially affected by dramatic economic change. Property is ‘safe’? FTSE equities are ‘safe’? Government Bonds are ‘safe’? Nothing is safe! There are two types of risk – speculation, and calculation – you need to veer heavily, but not exclusively on the latter. Dynamism is crucial if you want to be a successful entrepreneur. A truly great entrepreneur, however, focusses on high rewards and low risk!