Making it Big: Advice from the UK’s most successful business owners

Startup Success

This post is the second in a series in which we’re exploring how location has influenced business success across the UK’s 50 biggest cities in the past two years.

Starting your own business is exciting and invigorating but it’s also scary and challenging. That’s why you need all the help you can get. So what could be better than advice from people who have been there, done that and put their company name on a t-shirt?

Here are 25 quotes from some of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. They’ve all made it in their respective fields, with some even becoming global household names. So, it’s well worth taking their advice, about both success and failure, on board.

Jonathan Cridland, Founder, Lumie

“Real problems result from setting cost and overhead structures based on wishful thinking that fails to materialise – it’s great to have plenty of optimism and set high targets but plan based on very realistic assumptions then anything achieved over and above will be a bonus.”

Iain R Duncan, Retired Technology Entrepreneur and Mentor

“Understand that communication is a two way process. All too often entrepreneurs fail because they failed to listen to and understand feedback to their ideas and actions. Communication, good and frequent communication, is the key to success in any venture.”

Erik Fairbairn, Founder, POD Point

“Money isn’t the main motivator. Start a business because you have a mission, something you believe in, and something which will motivate you for 10 years; something which will change the world. Making money follows that.”

Rob Hill, Founder, The Eventa Group

“It can be very exhausting and time consuming trying to do everything within the business. You have to realise that you can’t do it all on your own and that there are people who are better than you at certain things and who have specific skills which will ultimately profit your business.”

Anthony Fletcher, CE, Graze

“The first idea you might have, even though you might be really passionate about it, might not be right. You’ve got to be agile, you’ve got to be quick, and you’ve got to listen to your customers. You’ve got to be quite resilient, ready to move onto Plan B, Plan C, or even Plan D.”

Major Robin Cope, Founder, British Military Fitness

“We tried to grow too big too quickly, opening too many parks and hiring too many managers. We thought British Military Fitness was such a good idea we were scared of other people taking it, but it was hard to get going on a big scale.”

Jeremy Torz, Founder, Union Hand-Roasted Coffee

“Don’t listen to the naysayers and don’t let anyone tell you your business idea isn’t good or won’t work. Or rather, listen politely, check your numbers again, and then do it anyway.”

Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

Cecile Reinaud, Founder, Seraphine

“My advice for budding entrepreneurs would be to do a three year plan and have a very clear vision of where you want to go, and set yourself goals, because it’s very easy to try and change path constantly. You need that very sharp vision of what your objectives are and how you’ll fulfil them in order to get to the goals that you’ve set.”

Mike Collins, Owner and Managing Director, Tropical Sky

“Entrepreneur does not mean big risk taker. Yes of course there will be some risks along the way, but be measured in your actions – don’t lose your speed of decision making – but don’t just shoot from the hip for the more important decisions.”

Jessica Earl, Founder, Earl’s & Co.

“Step back and analyse the situation. Step back in and trust your instinct. It’s your brain-child, you know how to do this, just be bold and follow it through. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Karen Adams, Co-founder, Clever Acorn

“Be bold but not rash. You need confidence in your idea to get it ‘out there’ but you need to do your homework first.”

Tim Dunton, Founder, Nimbus Hosting

“Location is very important to Nimbus Hosting. This has been demonstrated by very recently centralising our new office closer to our staff’s homes to improve their quality of life. My tip for running a business is making sure you can learn from your mistakes and adapt with a changing market.”

James Dyson, Founder, Dyson

“I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure.”

Adam Amor, Director, Buffoon Film and Media

“Research; it really can make the difference in the first few years. Doing your homework is critical to making sure that you have a solid business plan to take your business idea forward. Think about why people would buy from you rather than a competitor? Would you prefer to buy from a new or established business?”

Edwina Dunn, Co-founder, dunnhumby

“When you hire and pay the first person on your team make sure they’re the very best person you can find, as they’ll define everything else in the business’s future.”

Gareth Williams, Founder, Skyscanner

“We really got going when we were featured on Radio Two as website of the week. From that we kept pursuing a product focus and relying on PR, word of mouth, and repeat visitors. One of the proudest moments for me was when someone recommended Skyscanner to me! The key advice I’d give to a budding entrepreneur is that tenacity over power wins in the majority of cases.

Renaud Visage, Founder, Eventbrite

“My main piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs is to stay curious and keep thinking about the solutions you’ll bring to the market.”

James Hind, Founder,

“In the early days of carwow, before we secured our first Angel round, we weren’t able to afford the luxury of dedicated office space. Whilst building our initial product I even held business meetings in my parents’ attic. As the company has grown we’ve gone from sharing a cramped office with other startups and SMBs, to now securing two floors in a prime Central London location.

Picking a good location for your business is an important consideration that can almost certainly have an impact on success. In the early stages, your customers are far more likely to take you seriously if you are based in a major business hub.”

Martyn Gannicott, Owner, Pace Business Solutions

“Never be afraid to ask questions, especially those that you think are silly or that you think you are expected to know the answers to. Often these are very important questions and are a building block to your success.”

Alastair Douglas,

“Starting a business is hard enough as it is, but doing it in isolation even harder. Being part of a community can provide inspiration, support and strength in numbers. This is why many businesses choose to locate themselves in places such as London’s TechCity (such as our business) where there are hundreds of startups and growing businesses. Our staff can take advantage of ad-hoc meetups, conferences and exchange days to develop their skills, which ultimately helps our business grow.”

Joe Govier, Managing Director, Connect 2 Cleanrooms

“Develop a business plan setting out your goals, then work at the very highest standards that are needed to achieve them.”

Alan Sugar, Entrepreneur

“There is no shame in looking at your competitors or reading up on what new trends and ideas are around. By all means spend valuable time at exhibitions.”

Jaco Kent-Ledger, Founder, eventVISUALISE

“I would always say believe in your brand and put the effort in at the start. If people don’t believe in you, they won’t believe in the brand or product so make sure you do your homework and become better than your competitors.”

Richard Reed, Founder, Innocent Smoothies

“Naivety can be a great asset in business because you challenge the status quo.”

Dominic Ahern, Director, Best Suited

“Entrepreneurs will regularly need to make decisions outside their area of direct expertise, tune into your gut instinct and don’t be seduced into making decisions that don’t feel right. Learn to be decisive and follow your intuition.”


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