The team at Mashable reached out to interview me for the launch of their MashaBiz series on serial entrepreneurship. They quizzed me on topics including serial entrepreneurship, trends of the future, and what we're up to at Reincubate.
The transcript is as follows:
Hello everyone and welcome to the UK premier of MashaBiz. I’m Madi Bruce and, today we are going to be tripping down the road less travelled by us mere mortals into serial entrepreneurship.
Joining me today is Aidan Fitzpatrick. Hello and welcome Aidan!
Aidan has a CV as long as my arm. Certainly very impressive, he's the founder and CEO of Reincubate, a company which helps other companies build value with their data. He's also on the spot on City A.M’s top 100 UK entrepreneurs list and this year was part of Workspaces top 20 inspiring entrepreneurs to watch.
So, like I said that’s quite an impressive CV. I understand you actually started out as a software engineer so, where did you pick up your entrepreneurial flair?
Thank you Madi. Thank you for having me. I had a great pleasure of working with a number of really inspiring entrepreneurs earlier in my career. I really enjoyed building technology and building products alongside them and, I suppose over a period of time, I found that the real challenge and the ultimate reward came from trying to build my own products and I think that’s really what sort of got me here.
Is there anyone of note that has helped you out that we should big up on the stream?
Sure. I guess a lot of people. In particular there was a British entrepreneur, a guy called David Lethbridge who had founded a company called Confetti.
Big up David?
Big up David, absolutely. Thank you David!
What makes a good business idea?
So, during your time as the president of the UK Entrepreneurs Organization, you must have had the chance to work with some pretty major enterprises, what makes a good business idea?
What makes a good business idea? Good question. I think there's enough, a lot to be said about the execution perhaps rather than the idea and often I think this overnight successes can be about a decade in the making.
They don’t always talk about that but I think that tends to be the case. So, perhaps something that’s particularly valuable with an idea is whether it’s something that you can get inspired about and passionate about for five to ten years.
It is a long stretch and there’s a real time cost. A cost to your health, perhaps also to your mental health, to your relationships, the people around you. Is it something that you feel that passionate and strongly about? You can get behind it for that period of time and you can also rally a team of people around.
Yes. With it been so time intensive and taking such a toll on you with just one idea, how do you go about running multiple businesses? As another, certainly one would give me a headache.
Sure. Well, I think stress is a challenge, without a doubt. I think focus is quite important and I think understanding one’s drive, one’s motivation behind it is very helpful. If one has a a clear map of why one’s building the business, and what one hopes to achieve, I think that starts to make it a little bit easier.
Do you get to take any time out from this ideas, this ideation process, I guess?
Possibly not a huge amount. I think work and life perhaps come together a little bit. It’s certainly very important to have a break from the day to day, to help one think, to help one get clarity of purpose. But, there’s certainly a lot to do, I think the trick is to do the relatively few things that matter rather than necessarily to be busy all the time.
So, it’s not so much work life balance, it’s like work life continuum like blurred lines.
I think they are heading in same direction. That’s something I want to do, there are things that I want to achieve, and perhaps work has moved a bit towards life, perhaps life has moved a bit towards work. I’m not sure it’s necessarily one or the other.
Does a passion for technology help?
So, you are certainly more of a serial type entrepreneur, shall we say. How much do you owe your success today to your passion for tech?
I mentioned before, I think it takes quite a while to build this businesses, I think it’s being helpful in my case. As you said I was a software engineer, I spent a long time building a lot of different bits of technology.
Some of it stuck, some of it hasn’t stuck. But I think I’ve being able to maintain that passion and I suppose that’s very helpful, you’ve being at it a good while and you still have a passion for the underlying technology behind it.
Let’s talk a little bit about that tech and the software engineering. What was one of the key things that you built that really got your passion going?
The first product we built for my software company was a bit of software called the iPhone Backup Extractor.
I’ll certainly be in the need of one of those.
Yes. It certainly comes up. I built it originally for myself, I was an early iPhone adopter and I had lost my data. I think when I went to IOS 2, was probably back in 2008.
Way back when.
Exactly. Yes, I built it for myself, we put it online just to see what people would think. Originally it was free and we got all sorts of interesting feedback from people. We heard from a user who’d recovered voicemails from a dead grandparent, we heard from people who recovered pictures of their child’s first birthday that they’d lost.
Really emotional stories. That I think is very energising for me, for the team around it. It’s pretty exciting.
Yes. Is that kind of why you decided to dedicate your professional life to helping others? It seems like especially with Reincubate, you’re helping others to succeed. Also as an author, you wrote a book “So, you want to work in tech?". I guess that’s kind of dedicated towards all this as well, so is that kind of where that passion stems from?
Yes. I think, maybe it’s come along the way. An awful number of people have helped me, they’ve been incredibly kind, giving of their time and attention.
Yes. David and a host of others, and certainly I found that it’s a lot easier to help than to hinder people. It’s being great helping consumers and hearing some of those emotional stories that I mentioned before.
More recently, as the company has gone into licensing its technology to businesses, there’s another part of the journey we’ve gone on we're working alongside other entrepreneurs or business owners and they are growing and building their own businesses using our technology. That’s fascinating and rewarding in a different way.
There are some people that are perhaps easier to help than others, are there any roadblocks that you found have been particular sticking points in that journey?
Yes. I think there are all sorts of unexpected things that come up. I think it’s very important to choose your customers quite carefully and not to be afraid of firing your customers if they don’t fit, particularly when you’re licensing the businesses.
When you understand your values and your goals of the product, being able to outline them with the customers is pretty helpful and understanding who not to sell to.
I guess that comes more with the maturation of your own business, knowing when to fire and, when to keep going?
What are the key qualities of a serial entrepreneur?
So, what are the key qualities of a serial entrepreneur?
Key qualities of a serial entrepreneur. Maybe they are three, I suppose the first would be drive, you got to be driven, you got to be able to keep up with it.
I think resilience is a very important one, it is up and down, sometimes the downs come together and that could be pretty tough.
And I think certainly being able to motivate great people, to attract them and bring them on-board is important. I think as an entrepreneur, one has to be able to do quite a few different things and generally one isn’t very good at most of them.
Certainly true for me, so being able to get people who are better than you to sort of come in and take care and say look, get out of the way I’m going to handle this and do it properly, that’s very helpful.
Do you have any horror stories of any of those paint points, the failures along the way, should we call them? I know that some people like to learn from others failures before they make their own.
Yes. I’ve made a tremendous number of mistakes along the way, for sure.
Thank you. Lot of strategic mistakes, mistakes of every kind, but I suppose the important thing has being to learn about them. I think for me a mistake that I’ve made a number of times is being around focus, when you stick to the core versus building other things and I suppose with serial entrepreneurs that is a bit of a common thing.
Do you think you pretty get that nailed now?
I hope so.
It’s a bit of journey.
I think it’s a journey.
I guess it ties into the whole work life thing again. So, let’s talk about the other side of that, what would you say is your greatest achievement till date?
My greatest achievement, I was very honoured early in the year that our business Reincubate won a Queen's Award for Enterprise. That was hugely exciting, we won for International Trade, and we got to see the Queen at Buckingham Palace in July, which was fantastic.
Is she fabulous?
She was, there were a number of the other royals there, and it was great to see them. But I think the most important was that it was a huge testament to the hard work of the team behind the company. They have really built this product, they have really grown this business and it’s incredible to see that recognition.
A reward for everyone.
You say that something that has only being awarded, was it twice in 35 years?
So, the Queen gives out a fair number every year and in each region of the country, the Lord Mayor or the Queen’s Lieutenant gives them up and we had our reward in the City and the Lord Mayor told us he had only seen two given out in the last 30 years. We were pretty chuffed by that.
It’s a real achievement. But that was great for the team.
I think it was.
From the audience: Who would you say is your biggest business inspiration?
Actually we have a few questions from today’s Facebook audience. Hello everyone. So, let’s see what they are saying. We have a question here form Nichola, “who would you say is your biggest business inspiration?”
Biggest inspiration? Elon Musk. I think there’s a lot of fetishization in the media about how hard-core he is and how he just keeps going but. I like him because I think he’s an INTJ, under Myers-Briggs personality type indicator and I love his intensity and I love the way that he’s so committed to what he does.
Are you following SpaceX?
I am. Yes.
From the audience: What do you think makes a strong business plan?
I love him as well. This one is coming from Anna, “what do you think makes a strong business plan?”
I suppose it’s a business plan you believe in, certainly. Hopefully it’s a business plan where there aren’t external requirements that might hold you back. I think sometimes one sees plans where you need a huge amount of money to get started or seemingly there’s immovable obstacles.
If it’s a business plan where you can sort of get going with it, demonstrate progress, demonstrate attraction. I think that’s a very valuable thing that in turn would start to address the things that you need as you continue to build a business.
You mentioned finance and we do have one here from Robert. So, what is the best way to get funding for his business? If that’s a direct ask for you to invest, but what would you say is the best time to go out when you get in funding?
Well, I suppose there are a lot of different types of funding that one can get at a lot of different stages of business. But, I think the best way to find funding is to be in a position where you don’t really need it, where it can be an optional thing to accelerate the business that can be an unhelpful thing to hear.
So, if one isn’t in that position, I suppose the most second best thing is to have amazing attraction, clearly based on what the business is doing, that may be different things. If you getting more users, if you’re getting more visitors, any of this great matrix, that can really help and you can create a position where you’re creating this FOMO. You know this "fear of missing out" often has a hash-tag in front of it, but if you can create that with investors they really want to get in there. That certainly is a valuable thing.
So, say if we are speaking to someone who’s just starting right from the beginning, looking at investors, like angel investors or more of like running to the bank investment, crowd funding, do you have any like stories of success or failure to any opinion on how those kind of figure out?
Yes. Well, I suppose that there’s a different approach with all of them, I think when one is starting, if one can scrape to get a little bit of money from friends and family that could be quite helpful.
I think angel investors are often a good next step, they tend to be sort of wealthy individuals who are looking to invest a little bit of money here and there, in something interesting and exciting. Sometimes they are doing it for fun and for return, that’s normally the case, but sometimes they’re also doing it to learn or as a way to stay abreast with other types of technology.
But a good way to get their interest is to do something very well. If you can approach them and say look we’re only in the early days, perhaps we haven’t fully built the product, we’re doing it manually but look we’ve got this five customers, they love us. This is what they got to say, go and talk with the customers. That can be a great way to get this people on board.
Make sure that they can’t say no.
Which emerging trends should entrepreneurs be taking note of?
So, let’s look towards the future of entrepreneurship. Are there are trends that you can see emerging that entrepreneurs need to be taking note of?
Sure. I suppose there are a number of trends that get talked about quite a bit, there’s bitcoin and block chain, there’s augmented reality, artificial intelligence come up.
For my case I’m interested in data and I think historically a lot of technology companies used to be valued and evaluated based on the IP and the technology they had, but I think increasingly their value is coming more from the data that they have access to.
I think there’s a trend where they are a number of particularly large US tech companies, Facebook is a good example. They are becoming digital extractive industries, they are collating data on people, and they are siloing it and they are producing value from it.
One of the things that we are doing at Reincubate is to democratise access to that data. Our goal is to help people get access to their own data more readily so that they can extract value from it and work with it. So, data, the value and the future of data is what I’m interested in certainly.
So, can you speak a lot more about Reincubate and any examples of how you’ve helped people and built value with their data?
Sure. Essentially, we are providing a platform for people to be able to access data that is stored in systems like that and to help them get it more readily. I talked a little bit about some of the consumer applications but, we also work with businesses, so it maybe market research firms, who are working with panels of people and looking to see how they respond to advertising and how they behave in a particular way. Of course, this is always done in a way with full end-user consent.
We work with some companies that are in the family protection space and they are looking to safeguard children, say from cyberbullying or threats like that. So, we’ve licensed it to company that they are doing interesting kinds of AI on top of the data to see if there are signs of bullying for example.
What are five key piece of advice that all serial entrepreneurs need to hear?
So let’s get down to some advice. What are five key piece of advice that all serial entrepreneurs need to hear?
Okay. First one is contrarian then, which is that I think advice can be unhelpful so my first would be perhaps, don’t take so much advice.
What I found is there’s a lot of people around you as an entrepreneur who have an opinion, your team, your partner, your family, and they don’t necessarily have the same sort of level of insight and access into business that you do. And they don’t also necessarily have to deal with the consequences of the decision.
You mentioned that I’m involved with the Entrepreneur Organization, one of the things I found very helpful through that has being to work with non-competing peer entrepreneurs and to share experiences. So, rather than to say, "what should I do?” to say, "you were in this situation before, how did it go?”.
Number two, I think about focus. It’s very easy to be busy, all of the time, it’s not very easy to just do the couple of things that matter, I think this very important.
Yes. For sure.
I’ve thought about that sometimes.
Busy-work, you can be ruled by checklists.
There’s one I like which is thinking about being “in" the business versus “on" the business and I think at an early stage, it’s a generally good idea to be “in" the business.
So, that’s where as an entrepreneur, it’s as if you’re an employee, you’re carrying out a functional role, the business is critically dependent on you. But there are times when you need to move to be “on" the business and typically that’s when it’s sort of a couple of million or maybe more in revenue.
But you’re instead thinking about what the future is for the business and helping it to get there. So, the business is critically reliant on you carrying out a task day to day.
Fourth thing I’ll go for would be resilience, coming up with ways to build and understand one’s own resilience, very helpful. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint.
Learning to not take things personally.
Yes. There’s an element of that. I found reading and writing has being very helpful. I found yoga, meditation, massage, things like that, anything that can help you sort of get clarity for and get through is certainly valuable.
Then finally, values and principles are very important, understanding what they’re for you. There’s a great book it’s actually called “Principles" it’s by Ray Dalio who was the founder of a US hedge fund called Bridgewater and I think when you understand these things, the kind of rules behind your behaviour. It becomes a lot easier to make lot of decisions, a lot of angsty moments tend to fall away.
There’s a mentor of mine, a guy called Warren Rustand, he’s a truly remarkable entrepreneur, and he talks about there being three defining moments in a person’s life. First being when they commit to figure out what their values are, the second been when they figure out what they are and the third when they finally live in accordance with them.
I think we’ve got one more of them to come.
I think certainly being able to work with and motivate a team of people that are better at carrying out whatever it is, better than oneself, I think that’s a very important thing.
Yes, We’ve spoken a little bit about the team. Are there any key attributes of the team that you’ve built around you that you think are essential to your business?
I think cultural fit is very important, the business has its own culture, there’s no getting away from the fact that I’m part of it, but people certainly bring stuff to the table and add to it and the culture isn’t just about me.
I think it’s very important that the team balance out who I am, all better than me at doing whatever it is they do and that certainly a very important thing.
What are three characteristics of a successful enterprise?
Indeed. They are very useful tips, I will be sure to send you my own business plan. Before we wrap up, this is similar to what we’ve being discussing. So, let’s pin down three characteristics of a successful enterprise.
I suppose the first is a focus on the user need. I think businesses are generally underpinned by solving a problem for people and I think if a business is very focused on that, on making the user or customer's life easier, generally through how they built the product, that’s very valuable.
I’ll say the second one is accessibility. It really helps if your users or customers feel that they can interact with the product, with the business, with the brand and that over time it grows with them. It’s not as transactional necessarily being able to talk to customer service, but about feeling that they are part of it.
Then, finally all great people are dependent by great people and great culture. There’s no getting away from that, it’s all about people.
I’m sure we’ll all be keeping those in mind, so thank so much for joining us today. You’ve left us with plenty to think about. So, thanks for watching everyone. Have a great day.