The leadership challenge of accidental entrepreneurs
Authors: Rajeeb Dey
Rajeeb Dey, CEO of Enternships.com and co-founder of StartUp Britain
28 March 2013
A recent report published by the Royal Society of Arts (18 March 2013) challenged the notion of the “maverick entrepreneur” - one driven by personal enrichment. Instead, it seems, there is a growing focus on alternative drivers of young entrepreneurs, including that of the ‘accidental entrepreneur’. Considering my own experiences, I often feel that is an appropriate description.
At 17, I launched a social enterprise called Student Voice, designed to empower school students. I was just driven by a desire to change the education system so that students (the customers of it) would be put at the heart of education and found support from the Phoenix Education Trust – a charity which took me under their wing and helped me kick start the organisation by giving me support in the day to day operations This meant I was free to be creative, evangelise, generate interest and funding for the organisation – basically all the entertaining stuff – giving me a taste of entrepreneurship without necessarily the administrative trappings of properly running a business. So far, so fun.
I decided to set up Enternships.com while at University. While there were plenty of internship resources for aspiring bankers, lawyers and accountants, there were very few clear paths for those who wanted to pursue entrepreneurship – what were those who wanted to learn directly from company leaders and innovators to do? Enternships.com connects students and graduates to internships and jobs within startups and innovative businesses. I thrived on the satisfaction of watching fantastic young businesses find the talent they need to grow. In 2008 - the year of the Lehman Brothers crash and start of the graduate unemployment crisis - I felt my project could go further. Clearly, young people across the UK were struggling to find their footing when leaving university, and I wanted to continue helping them forge their careers at a very difficult time. I incorporated Enternships as a company in 2009 and settled into a couple of years of quite spectacular mistakes – most of which stemmed from a lack of technical expertise. After numerous battles, we had our first big break in 2011 with Santander Bank, who commissioned us to build a platform to connect their SME customers to the Santander Universities division. My team began to expand, the projects we worked on started to get bigger, and suddenly the realities and challenges of running a business – managing payroll, leading a group, logistical issues around running an office – seemed far more apparent. We were (and still are) learning as we go, but the forward motion of the excitement means that we are constantly striving to be better.
Reid Hoffman (Founder of LinkedIn) described entrepreneurship as “jumping off a cliff and assembling the plane on the way down” and this is something I can relate to whole heartedly. For me, leading a relatively young team of 15 staff, it’s important that I invest both in my own growth and development as a leader but also in the skills and development of my team. At Enternships, we pride ourselves on creating a learning culture whereby everybody can learn from each other (as you can see from our office ‘Learning Wall’), and the knowledge that all of us can always be better.
There are some great resources out there for business owners, and I am fortunate to be part of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Programme – a leadership programme for owners of fast growing businesses over the next 6 months. I will also be spending two weeks in April at the Harvard Kennedy School courtesy of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders Network - sponsors of the course. This growing community of young entrepreneurs is really inspiring and with the government’s increasing emphasis on encouraging more young people to set up their own businesses (including my own efforts through StartUp Britain, which promotes innovation) we can hopefully build a network of like-minded entrepreneurs.
So what advice would I give to other ‘accidental’ entrepreneurs? Slow down and take a step back. It’s very easy to get caught up with running and keeping up with the chaotic nature of startup life but if you’re seriously considering growing your business, take time to reflect on both your own needs as a leader and that of your team. Never lose sight of the bigger picture, even when the smaller one threatens to take up most of your time. Surround yourself with people as ambitious as you are, and together you can make sure that all goals – long or short-term – are never left behind.
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