A guest post this week from Nick Lindsay, founder of Elemental CoSec and an entrepreneur on his second venture who learned there is no such thing as a typical enterprise.
So, what does an entrepreneur look like?
If asked this question, many people would think of someone with a brilliant new product or invention; maybe something that could be brought to Dragons’ Den. Or perhaps Mark Zukerberg is your idea of the successful entrepreneur; someone who designs a new app or program for the digital age. I must admit that when I first started out, these were the images I had, but experience has proved me so very wrong.
I used to be a corporate solicitor working in the City of London. I worked for one of the top law firms in the City, advising on multi-billion pound deals and I got very well paid for the privilege. However, something was missing and rather than advise others on their businesses I wanted to start up my own business. I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
The Failed First Attempt
That image of an entrepreneur was at the forefront of my mind and I had an idea.
The idea was, I still think, a good one. I would find talented furniture designers who produced their own furniture pieces and bring them together on one website. This website would give the designers a place to easily (and cheaply) sell their furniture and it would give customers, who wanted beautifully designed and individual pieces, a place to shop for them. I designed it, I built it and I called it Where the Hat is.
A concept though is not all that you need to create a successful business. Many people have come up with exciting concepts or brilliant ideas and failed to turn them into a successful business. The execution is, if anything, more important than the idea. Many of the most successful businesses have succeeded because they have taken a well-known idea and executed it better than anyone else.
My knowledge of the furniture industry and of e-commerce (selling through the internet) was limited. I had been a customer, but I had never been on the other side of the retail experience and this turned out to be a massive handicap. I created the website but it was never as successful as I hoped. There are many possible reasons for this and I won’t try and go into them now but suffice it to say, entering an industry that I knew nothing about made everything twice as hard as it would otherwise have been.
Take 2 – Professional Services
Not to be deterred though, I decided to go back to what I knew; the legal services industry. Along with a colleague, I founded Elemental CoSec and we now provide company secretarial services to a wide range of clients.
So why did we decide on a company secretarial business? We thought there was a gap in the market for a firm that delivered a top quality and professional service. In many ways, the company secretarial market is quite old fashioned and most of our competitors operate in a very inefficient way. They haven’t made proper use of modern technology or working practices. I also knew from my experiences at a law firm that there were many clients that were unhappy with the level of service they received from such firms. Quite simply, we decided we could do it better.
If you don’t know what company secretarial services are then you are not alone. At its most basic, it is a part of company law and involves helping companies with their legal compliance. Most importantly though, it is very similar to the type of work I had previously done in the City and I knew the business inside out.
The response we have had has been fantastic and the business has been going from strength to strength. We now provide company secretarial services to law firms, large UK companies and clients around the globe. We did all of this simply by taking an existing business idea and improving it.
Elemental CoSec was an idea I originally had whilst working as a lawyer (and getting frustrated with the company secretarial service I received from another firm) yet at the time, I dismissed it. I knew the company secretarial industry and I had the skills to implement the business but instead, I decided to go into an industry I knew nothing about. With hindsight this was clearly foolish, and I can only put it down to my image of what a typical entrepreneur was.
To me, providing services was not what an entrepreneur did, even if the services were provided in a new and innovative way. I now realise that this is absolute rubbish. An entrepreneur is someone who takes a risk and sets up a venture, no matter what that venture is.
I’ve also realised that a successful entrepreneur is likely to be one that utilises their existing skills and experience. Setting up a new business is tough and even with Elemental CoSec there have been a large number of things that I have had to learn ‘on the job’. Yet knowing the industry and knowing the legal side of the work has made the project successful.
So hopefully, when you next think of a typical entrepreneur, you’ll realise that there is no such thing.