The 42: An adventure in business
What can budding entrepreneurs learn from Hollywood film directors, Las Vegas gamblers, top London chefs and, closer to home, The Perse’s own Combined Cadet Force (CCF)? Quite a lot according to entrepreneur and Old Persean Nick Pye, who gave a lunchtime lecture on start-ups as part of the School’s programme of ‘42 Society’ talks.
Nick is a consultant and co-founder of recently-established niche spirit and adventure lifestyle brand Albion Racing Club. In his fascinating presentation to students he refuted four common myths about start-ups: that the idea is everything, structure is the enemy, risk is good and failure bad, and that you cannot deviate from the original idea.
It is commonly believed that starting a business requires some sort of ‘eureka’ moment of invention. In fact, while some phenomenally successful businesses stem from the creation of a ground-breaking product or service, very many result from someone taking and tweaking an existing idea and bringing that successfully to market. The ‘how’ can be more important than the ‘what’. Apple did not invent the idea of music on the move; instead they took what was essentially a fourth generation mp3 player and delivered it in a new, exciting and ultimately iconic way.
Nick and his co-founders talked to a range of people to explore the perception that structure constrains creativity, from a Hollywood film director to the Harlequins rugby team. What they found may surprise you: rather than inhibiting creativity, they deemed structure essential to the creative process. The Michelin starred chef striving for an award-winning recipe took more than 300 attempts to get it right, while a comedian tried 6000 comedic ideas to find 100 that worked. Structure, process and the Perse value of ‘endeavour’ are required to make creativity happen. Nick explained “Ad agencies are amongst the most creative businesses, but you will find that they are obsessed with getting a brief. Before they unleash the creatives on finding the idea they have to define the desired outcome. High levels of rigour are required to make the creative process work.”
The team learnt valuable lessons about failure from a professional gambler with an economics degree. On the poker tables of Vegas, it is the number of times you play rather than the quality of your poker face that determines your success. Nick points out “He told us the gamblers prepared to fail and keep playing are those who make the most money. In the US investors expect entrepreneurs to have tried before and failed – it is seen as a good thing as long as they’ve learnt from those failures. Failing to learn is the biggest mistake.”
Nick remembers the CCF motto from his time at The Perse: “Adapt and react”. Start-ups are “essentially an experiment”. Albion Racing Club has recently reached its first anniversary but the team are still learning, reacting and adapting to find out how far their idea can go.
This fascinating lecture gave the audience a valuable first-hand insight into the process of starting a business, and was a great warm-up to the Perse Enterprise Conference next month, which will explore how to secure investment.