16 Nov Setting up your own business – What to think about as a young entrepreneur
Have you ever considered working for yourself instead of someone else?
Continuing with the mini-series around career decisions this week, I want to share some tips around setting up your own business and what to think about as a young entrepreneur.
This blog shares extracts from an interview conducted with Gavin Howard, a serial entrepreneur who has an inspiring journey involving the theatre, dinosaurs, DVDs and app development. You can listen to Gavin’s full interview by clicking here.
“A big business starts small.”
Let’s talk about setting up your own business
How you choose to work and what you do to make money is fluid. Interests and careers can change, and Gavin is an excellent example of how to follow your curiosity and explore ideas.
Gavin’s current passion is as a media producer and app developer, spending most of his time creating platforms and developing apps for clients worldwide.
“I did struggle with the options [at school] because I wanted to do them all – biology, physics, chemistry, history, geography, music. Having to choose was really quite tough [but] the choices we make at any given point in our lives are for that moment and that moment alone.”
Gavin talks about how choosing certain subjects at school might be the right choice at that time, but when attending college or university, you may find that those subjects don’t suit you anymore. And that’s OK.
“The great thing is that you can change it. Most of the decisions you make are transient and they only last for a certain amount of time. Gone are the days of a lifelong career.”
When Gavin was younger, he was told to choose appropriate subjects that would lead to the appropriate further education that would lead to an appropriate career, such as banking, teaching, being a mechanic – and these decisions would lead to a job you would do forever.
“A small business is an amazing way to serve and leave an impact on the world you live in.”
Careers in modern society
Many of today’s jobs and careers will be non-existent in 20 or even ten years. An app developer didn’t exist 20 years ago because smartphones and apps weren’t a thing until 2008, so how could Gavin have chosen this career when he was at school?
“I find it fascinating. It’s a really interesting shift in the job market. I think we will all need to retrain. You’ll be able to change your mind and do something else. I am often presented with new opportunities. They appear out of the blue … and you sit down and think, that’s a good idea.”
Gavin explains that just because you drop the subject at school doesn’t mean you can’t pick it up later in life as a hobby or career change.
“I trained in technical, theatre, arts and management. It was one of the first courses of its type. My dad was a teacher, so for [my parents], education was very important. I made a deal [and] did two A-Levels at night school while I attended the college.”
During his first higher education studies, Gavin learned many different skills around set design, lighting design, carpentry, and much more across the entire theatre industry. Gavin collected glasses in a bar to earn money and cleaned government buildings during school holidays.
During his first year working in a residency college role, Gavin set up his first business, a theatre company, with four friends.
Why did Gavin set up his first business?
Gavin was 18 when he set up the theatre company. He was inspired by everything he was learning and seeing and had a goal to show at the Edinburgh Festival.
“We needed a business and asked questions about what we needed. We got in touch with the Prince’s Youth Business Trust and secured a grant for equipment. The Cooperative Development Agency helped us to work out what type of business they were.”
Many organisations exist to help young people set up in business. Gavin says it’s essential to work out the type of business and whether you are setting the company up for yourself, shareholders or employees. Choosing a structure that works for everyone involved and thinking about where you can obtain finance from is equally important at the start.
Gavin’s company created its first show about ageism, looking at how others treated older people, younger people and everyone in between. He says it was fascinating to look at the conversations. Gavin’s company performed at the Edinburgh Festival and in front of Princess Anne.
“I trained in social cognitive drama therapy and worked with a company called Geese, accessing prisons and the probation sector. We took some of that learning and operated from the home office for schools looking at bullying, sexual health, riots – all of these things evolved, working from one project leading to another.
One show looked at 37 issues. People enjoyed it because it was an energetic and interactive experience talking about issues we were all facing.”
Gavin says that not every business idea works out and when it doesn’t, it’s a case of asking questions about why.
“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
The evolution of business
As technology developed, Gavin became interested in CD ROMs as a natural progression from the live stage into recording. He created a business streaming video online before the days of YouTube and doing it yourself.
The transition to DVD led Gavin and his friends to develop the digital technology used by the Walking with Dinosaurs exhibition, opened by the Queen in 2000.
“This led to a further opportunity where the museum responsible for developing the exhibition with the BBC decided they didn’t want to continue with the exhibition due to restructuring, so we thought ‘yeah, we can do that.’”
Yorkshire museum wanted to develop the exhibition to teach people about palaeontology. Gavin’s company was asked to create DVDs to show footage on-demand and early stage augmented reality. The relationship with the BBC grew further to creating sea monsters and prehistoric life TV shows and a dinosaur puppet show at Albert Hall Proms in 2009 – where Gavin got to meet his idol, David Attenborough.
“As a kid, I wanted to work in theatre, be a pilot or be David Attenborough!”
A serial entrepreneur
At the time of recording the podcast, Gavin has had 32 businesses, including small and large businesses, niche projects, charitable organisations and multi-million pound turnover companies. Gavin laughs at this, saying, “I think they call it a portfolio career!”
He stresses the importance of going with the opportunities when they present themselves and seeing failures as a lesson to take onto the next business or opportunity.
“People look at businesses as if they are going to be around forever [but many] businesses can be around for quite a short time because they are meeting a particular need at a particular time. You must be ready for the next challenge, business, idea and be open to it. That’s the thing that’s been most exciting for me over the years. Whenever we’ve come up with an idea, we’ve explored it. Sometimes it works incredibly well and sometimes it hasn’t [but you] need to treat them independently.”
Gavin explains that the average length of time for a business now is one year. His advice is to take what you want from a company, learn from it, then move on to the next business. In terms of being an entrepreneur, some companies can run for decades, whereas others can only operate for a few years. The challenge is knowing which one you’re working on. A lifestyle business, as an example, will pay enough money to cover the mortgage and bills etc., and allow for disposable income. Still, it will never become a Google, Apple or Amazon because it doesn’t have the scope.
“It’s very easy to get lost in technical words but at its heart, business is very easy. There is a product or a service that people want or don’t want and are willing to pay. It costs something to produce. You take money from a customer and pay out for whatever you need to create that product. The difference is your profit, that’s it.
The principle in a business is to make a profit. It’s not a dirty word. It’s a great thing because [money] can be used to drive things in the community and employment [etc.].”
Following your passion and purpose
After working with dinosaurs, Gavin wanted to travel. His next venture came after speaking to a friend and asking about creating an accent app for actors.
Gavin has since developed four apps, ‘The Real Accent’, that help actors learn different accents. This business fuelled Gavin’s desire to travel by visiting other countries to record native speakers telling stories rather than having someone put on the accent for the app recording. Gavin enjoyed travelling to the US, England, Celtic nations, Europe and Africa, providing many fantastic opportunities to meet people worldwide.
Gavin’s closing advice to anyone at school who might be considering starting a business:
“I think the decision to [start a business] is as easy as, well I interested in this [but] am I willing to spend a few years on it? It will demand your time. If you have an idea that you want to explore and think it will make a great business, the most important thing is to start looking at how to make that real. Don’t ever be afraid of words and processes because you can always learn what you need, to do what it is you want. You always have the capacity to learn what you need to learn.”
“There is no finish line. There are only mile markers.”
Choose the life you want to lead
I’d love to hear your thoughts about Gavin’s journey and share the business opportunity you would choose with me. Please leave your comments at the end of this blog article and connect with the community on social media:
If you want to find out what your bright spark is and how to explore the careers that excite you or ways that will help setting up your own busines, take our quick free quiz over on the Ignition website here and get your report straight away. Until next time, entrepreneurs of the future, be curious 🙂