In March I received an email from my old University (The University of York) out of the blue asking if I would be willing to accept a nomination for the Duke of York Young Entrepreneur Award. I was really surprised to be chosen, especially as I was now a graduate!
The ceremony itself was in Huddersfield and was really exciting: His Royal Highness took an incredible interest in the businesses of all the winners and it was great to hear what others were up to.
Since I was in the Yorkshire area, I took the opportunity to visit my old University and meet with some of the Entrepreneurs currently working with the Enterprise Department which was great fun.
Following on from my work in Sudan last year, yesterday I was given the opportunity to hold a workshop for the three winners of the Mashrouy programme; Houida, Abrar and Maha.
The three were over as part of the 2-week long trip that winners of the Mashrouy programme receive, which as well as a tour of the UK, includes workshops on business practice.
Once again I was struck by the innovativeness of the businesses and how different they were to those in England. The businesses are, from left to right: production of an organic tick-repellant to reduce illness in cattle from local natural resources; software for analysing mammograms with lower cost and higher accuracy; and a substance for tanning leather extracted naturally from tree bark, reducing use of imported chrome and the environmental impact of chrome.
Speaking about any aspect of business when the markets are so different is tough. I was asked to speak about tracking business progress using KPIs and OKRs (a topic we went into great detail on during Techstars) and then on how to utilise mentors. All candidates in Mashrouy work with mentors, but getting the most out of a mentor is a process that requires some planning. We discussed how to write short, punctual emails with clear and concise points and ‘asks’, and the best way to ask for an introduction to somebody that your mentor knows (with the help of a post by Russell Buckley).
A couple of weeks back I was really lucky to have the opportunity to speak at UCL on the topic of “How to Start a Startup” to an audience of a few hundred. The night before my lecture, I met up with a close friend who challenges me regularly, who wanted to challenge me on a simple point that we talk about often:
Never be embarrassed
Apparently I was getting too ‘comfortable’. I had a pink bandana (a long and different story) and she challenged me to wear it for my lecture and to incorporate it to make a serious point. I did (see below – the picture was shared quite widely after my talk…).
But, besides embarrassing myself, what was the point? In startups, you end up doing a whole bunch of things you didn’t expect to when you started out. Last year whilst acting as CTO of pingWHEN, I was surprised by the number of roles I had to fill. Sure, developing the product (a backend application, database architecture, REST API and various mobile app frontends) was a big part, but it probably wasn’t more than 50% of my working hours. The remainder included conversations with our investors and mentors, customer development and administration stuff. But that wasn’t it: as part of the construction of our company, I had to:
Do two Karate take-downs on video
Make terrible visual effects in a product video
Act in a product video
Take photos out in York at 1am in the freezing cold trying to get rid of light from a street bollard with a coat.
Pitch to senior executives at Disney
Attempt to sing (terribly).
The point is, if you hold yourself back, restricting yourself to things you feel comfortable with, you might not fulfil your potential or achieve what you ned to achieve. If you want your startup to succeed, you’ll need to do a few things that make you uncomfortable.
I’m delighted to say that I’ve won the TalkTalk Digital Heroes Next Generation award! After having been nominated early in the year and a month long period of public voting, I was invited to the House of Lords yesterday for the awards ceremony. The ceremony was wonderful, and it was fantastic to meet the winners from other categories in such a special location – the view of The Thames was very special!
Below is a video of me that TalkTalk produced for all the category winners.