In conversation with Lord Sugar

Lord SugarTonight was definitely one of the highlights of Global Entrepreneurship Week for me. Our event in the British Library conference centre In conversation with Lord Sugar was full to bursting.

As time is short and it is now after midnight, I am going to post my notes of his gems and leave it at that.

Is now a good time to be setting up a new business?
Lord Sugar’s route into business was by learning business skills by working in a company and then applying these to his new business.

He is concerned that people wake up one day and decide to start a business, but don’t have the relevant skills or experience to make a go of it.

Opportunities currently exist in the property market if you have the money, but the banks will not be interested in lending.

His move into computers was a natural development of his business selling transistor radios, rather than a revolutionary move.

What is the best piece of business advice he has ever taken?
He used his bank as a barometer in his early days in the 1960’s to find out how fast he could and should develop. This is in contrast to more recent times when the banks give too easily and freely.

He encourages youngsters to start small with their own money and grow from there.

I have not been very successful in investing in the property market. I took all the money I earned from technology and put it into safe and boring properties. There was no rocket science in what I did.

What do you think about MBA’s in entrepreneurship
You can’t train entrepreneurs, you either have the spirit or you don’t. Business training is important but not a substitute for an entrepreneurial spirit.

Has reading business books been useful?
No, not really, I last used one for a wobbly table.

How important is a business plan?
The key point is the business idea any good. For instance if it is a service it is all about the quality of the person providing the service. No excel spreadsheet is magically going to make it work.

There is no point of any business support unless the idea is any good.

How important are work teams?
The team found Lord Sugar rather than vice versa.

Tell us about challenging periods and mistakes made.
Over 40 years in business made less mistakes than good decisions. You learn by your mistakes. He encourages young business to do a weekly health check. What has gone right this week and what has gone wrong?

How do you use sweat equity?
I’m a thick bloke from Hackney, so keep it simple. I don’t understand what you are talking about.

Advice on partnerships
When you need to add a level of expertise to your business you can either add a partner or find a suitable employee.

Can government employees give help to small business when they read them from a computer screen?
Business Links centres have the tools to take some of the burden away from business people with practical advice on employment law, tax regulations etc. They are not giving business advice, but practical help.

Common attributes for entrepreneurial spirit?
(Exasperated) I wish someone would give me an answer to this one.

Have you had a mentor?
Yes. In my business career my mentors were people I aspired to. In my family there was only my uncle. Later on my supplier of electrical equipment became my mentor. Grew beyond them on to the likes of Lord Weinstock at GEC and Rupert Murdoch. Looked, listened and tried to replicate what they were doing.

The role of PR
Differentiates the role of business PR and personal PR. Editorial on a product or service is worth more than advertising. Has a lot to do with connections with media. PR companies who don’t specialise are not as successful as the ones that don’t.

Selling and the art of closing a deal
I the person running the business is not a good sales person then why are they in business. This is another art that can’t really be taught. If you can’t do it, employ someone who is.

How do you like people to communicate in Business?
Very openly in my place, everybody shares the story and knows what is going on.

I admire people who have reached contentment with their lives and know how to enjoy themselves.

How challenging have you found this new Business Champion role?
This is not a challenge, I’m not looking for a headache. I won’t don’t it if I didn’t enjoy it. I wanted to give something back to young people

Do you invest outside of the UK?
We have in the past with electronics. I don’t have any at the moment. There are problems with investing in Africa. It is a difficult market. It needs some African entrepreneurs to create the new markets and some business traffic.

What is the main cause of the 95% of business start-up failures.
Should do a weekly health check. Immediately you know where you business is going. Do not lose track of the basics. Do the simple maths every week.

How do we encourage an enterprise culture in the UK? Rachel Elnaugh – ex Dragons Den
Programmes like Dragons Den and The Apprentice have provided a great service to this country to spread the message that there are no free gifts or free lunches. That you actually have to do it yourself. There is too much of a culture that expects to be spoon fed.

If someone could invent a positive journalist then this would encourage people. Get away from this blame culture.

I don’t like the way we have changed to a knocking culture in recent years.

What could schools do to improve things for business?
We need to make plumbing cool again.

Do you set yourself goals?
Right at the beginning it was just to earn more money than in the job I had just left. If by Wednesday I had achieve £60 of net profit then I had achieved my goal.

I never had a five year plan. In the electronics business this is bullshit. You can’t see that far ahead.

Ideas have to be endorsed by a third party, it is no good getting your friends and family to say how great it is. You need a wake call.

You make people believe in your potential by your past successes.

Global Entrepreneurship Week 2009

global_entreprenuership_weekIn just over a months time it will be Global Entrepreneurship Week 2009. To be precise, it will run from 16 to 20 November and consists of thousands of events around the world, promoting and celebrating entrepreneurship.

This year we are holding a week of special events and workshops, covering essential skills, getting inspiration and confidence, and chances to meet great contacts.

Each day has a different theme, focusing on a particular area of business.

Here is a summary of our activities, with more information on our website pages:

Monday 16 November: Business basics day -The essentials you’ll need to get going in business – finance, market research and business planning.

Tuesday 17 November: Innovation day – Learn how to protect your ideas and make money from them, plus an evening with Lord Sugar.

Wednesday 16 November: Women’s enterprise day – Meet a whole host of female entrepreneurs, from the big names to women that are just getting started.

Thursday 18 November: Social enterprise day – Start thinking about how you could make your business more ethical or take the plunge and set up a social enterprise.

Friday 20 November: Home enterprise day – Find out more about working from home, watch our free online seminar, and meet other home workers.

The Wattson goes global

wattsonIt was great to hear from Richard Woods (one of the co-founders of DIY Kyoto) last night at our Going Global event on the continuing success of the Wattson energy monitor. I first mentioned their product back in February of this year, soon after it had beaten the iPod nano into 10th place in the Stuff Magazine cool gadgets of the year awards.

They are now moving into the global market place with the help of ethically manufactured Wattsons from China. This has enabled them to reduce the price to a very attractive £99.95, which means they now have a three week waiting list.

It was interesting to hear how some of their customers have become addicted to the product with a couple of weeks, and become devoted to getting a blue glow (indicating a less than average use of electricity). Some use it to check to see if they have left any unnecessary appliances switched on as they leave the house.

One surprising change they had to introduce to their marketing was to include a light bulb in their photos for scale. It seems some some customers wanted to order a Wattson to replace their coffee table. Perhaps this could be a niche expansion of their product line.

Although Richard explained that the key to their success was to design a product that would be so desirable people would want to buy it, and then find out what it would be used for (the Apple iPod approach), I like the way they have very simply spelt out what this new product has to offer for the customer.

* I can save you up to 25% on your electricity bill
* I’m good for the environment
* I’m quick and easy to install
* I measure electricity in the whole house
* I can go anywhere in the home
* I use up to four watts and cost £4 a year to run

Bravely Going Global at the British Library

global_entrepreneurship_weekI’m just back from our ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurs’ event Small companies, global ambitions with Brent Hoberman,, co-founder of, launched online interiors site mydeco; Asif Rangoonwala, founder of baked good suppliers Eurobuns; Dawn Gibbins, founder of Flowcrete flooring and the Barefoot lifestyle brands, and Richard Woods a co-founder of DIY Kyoto. who sell the ‘wattson’ energy monitor.

Once again the chair Matthew Rock managed the tricky task of giving everyone a say and finding time for lots of good questions from the audience.

Highlights of the evening were:

  • Noticing how punctual the audience was tonight compared to our event on Ethical Fashion. Something to do with the credit crunch or the nature of those attending.
  • Meeting both existing clients and entrepreneurs such as Ed Wray, designer of the BarbeSkew who had some revealing insights into the entertainment that is Dragon’s Den.
  • Hearing how important it is to understand how your product benefits your customer and also their customers.
  • Thinking of sections of a larger company as kingdoms, and giving the ‘kings’ freedom to manage without interference.
  • Employing mavericks as managers (that one came from Dawn Gibbins, who was an amazing speaker. So much enthusiasm, energy and honesty.
  • Meeting an entrepreneurial librarian, Jennifer Smith the co-founder of OneIS.

Are you ready to start your own business?

starting_a_businessWell, according to the new Enterprise Readiness quiz on the SFEDI web site I am, as I scored 9 out of 10.

Your score is: 9 points out of 10
Looks like you really do have what it takes to be an entrepreneur… you’ve considered what’s involved in running your own business and you’re ready to take the leap. Contact your nearest SFEDI Centre of Excellence to find out how we can help you achieve your goals.

Enterprise week 2009 preview

enterprise-week-logoNext week will be the third Enterprise Week the Business & IP Centre has been involved with.The first coincided with the my first blogging activities (Enterprise Week 2006).

And it is going to be another busy week in the Centre with lots of events going on as you can see below:

Monday 17 November
10.00 – 12.00 Going Global
13.00 – 17.00 Knowing your Market
14.30 – 16.30 A Beginner’s Guide to Intellectual Property

Tuesday 18 November
9.30 – 13.30 Business Plan Services – the Perfect Business Plan
10.00 – 12.00 Rasheed Ogunlaru – Making it as an Entrepreneur
10.00 – 16.00 ideas21 – Advice clinics on intellectual property
13.00 – 17.00 CENTA – Let’s Start Talking in Business
18.00 – 21.00 Striding Out – Celebrating Successful Social Entrepreneurs

Wednesday 19 November – Women’s Enterprise Day
10.30 – 13.30 Invention Intelligence – Female Inventors Rising to the Challenge
10.00 – 16.00 London Business Support Service – One-to-one advice sessions
14.00 – 17.00 Looking to go International?
18.15 – 21.00 Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Small Business, Global Ambitions

Thursday 20 November – Social Enterprise Day
10.00 – 13.00 Red Ochre: Starting a Social Enterprise
14.00 – 17.00 Red Ochre: Plugging the skills gap

Friday 21 November
10.00 – 12.00 Going Global
13.00 – 17.00 Knowing your Market
14.30 – 16.30 A Beginner’s Guide to Intellectual Property

I am particularly looking forward to hearing Brent Hoberman and Dawn Gibbins at our Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Small Business, Global Ambitions event on the Wednesday evening.

Brent Hoberman is one of Britain’s best-known entrepreneurs who, with co-founder Martha Lane Fox, built the iconic online travel site,, into an internationally successful business that was sold in 2005 to a US travel giant. In 2007, Brent launched interiors website

Dawn Gibbins MBE is one of the UK’s most flamboyant and inspirational entrepreneurs, who built Flowcrete into a global business with offices in 30 countries. She is a former Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year.