Martin is a communicator – the former Editor at Large of the enormously popular tech web site/magazine the Next Web, he is the Community Editor of Tech North – where he tells the story of technology in the North of England. He is also a judge for the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards.
He also has a nine-month old daughter, and as I spoke to him, he confessed he had been thinking about her future. “How many changes in skill sets will she need throughout her life?” he pondered and added “The idea of being adaptable, resourceful and then the desire to change and keep learning is so important, and that may mean becoming an entrepreneur, but people need that for their careers in general in the 21st century, so I would hope that schools are teaching that as a real skill.”
He explained further: “I also think you can be entrepreneurial, not just in setting up a business, but maybe entrepreneurial in terms of your career. It is easier to get involved in things that are not necessarily to do with your job, and to expand your experiences. It is a lot easier these days, due to the internet to discover new avenues, new ways of working, new areas of interest, that can enhance your career. There is career entrepreneurship as well as actual traditional entrepreneurship.”
So, it seems that people need to be entrepreneurially minded, even if they don’t actually become an entrepreneur.
For Martin, it may boil down to one word: technology. The UK is more entrepreneurial than it used to be, why? Martin explained: “A completely different, more entrepreneurial mindset, has emerged and which is starting to filter into the wider population now. It is not just a club that is accessible to a few people. I think there is a new spirit of people finding their own path in their careers, and I think this is due to the increased pace of change, with technology and the work market, it means that people can’t necessarily expect to be in the same job for many years. People have to learn to change their careers a lot and sometimes that means finding their own path, rather than finding a new job, because there might not be a job that is perfect for that person.”
So, maybe we all need to be more entrepreneurial in this age of accelerating technology. In that case, what is the single most important quality an entrepreneur must have? Martin says “Vision, a singular vision and the drive to achieve it.”
But what about setting up a business, what piece of advice would you give? Martin’s answer may surprise you, but it’s a good idea, and very much one that fits with modern collaborative thinking. “Don’t be scared to talk about your idea, because it is about execution rather than the idea, and most people will happily give you feedback on your idea without copying it, because copying it is a lot harder, and you probably have a lot more drive than they do.”
So, let’s say the UK is becoming more entrepreneurial than it used to be, why is it that the big techs are all American, or even Chinese? Why is there is no European Facebook, for example?
“People forget this, but the size you can get on your home turf is a limiting factor.” He explained: “The US domestic market is enormous, even with the EU, at the moment, there is still localisation issues in terms of expanding – whereas in the US you can grow to an enormous size before you need to think about international expansion.”
But he concedes there may be another factor. “But there is an innate sense of ambition in the US, and that relates to the spirit of the founding fathers, and the early days of the frontier spirit. It is built into American culture in a way that we traditionally haven’t seen in the UK, but the growth of UK entrepreneurship may see this change, over time.”
We then turn to the issue of raising money. Martin talks about ‘initial coin offerings,’ explaining, he says: “UK style crowd funding is illegal in the US, so one way people have found around this is to release a crypto currency, and they sell coins in that currency, which can be used by the people who buy them in the future to buy goods and services from the start up.” But, he says “I am not keen on the idea, some companies have raised insane amounts of money via this route, and I think people will get burnt.
“It does show how the investment market around entrepreneurs is evolving. There is less talk about what high street banks can offer entrepreneurs. So, I think the banks may need to look at what they offer, and how they support entrepreneurs.” We talked briefly about the NatWest collaboration with the Entrepreneurial Spark incubators that are cropping up around the UK, as a potential way forward for banks.
And now we may need to turn to schools, the era we are entering is going to see incredibly rapid change. And to flourish in such times, people are going to have to be adaptable and take a more entrepreneurial approach, as Martin said, you can be entrepreneurial without necessarily being an entrepreneur.
The UK is indeed emerging an entrepreneurial success story – but more needs to be done, and one way to achieve this is to shine the media spotlight on entrepreneurs, their challenges, their failures and of course their successes.
The NatWestGreat British Entrepreneur Awards are currently open for applications, and entrants can apply here.