“I’ve had more things go wrong than go right!”, says Qasim Majid – Cas, Judge at the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards, “but the things that have gone right, they’ve gone big!”
“The world is built on the two-letter word – ‘No’! People love to say ‘No’. It is the way we are programmed, be prepared for ‘No’. As an entrepreneur, you have to seek out the ‘Yes’. You will get knockbacks, so you need persistence, you will need to be consistent. You will be demotivated at times, so surround yourself with positive people” says Cas.
He set up his first real business in 2002, which was a software development business, which he sold. Simultaneously he set up a business called WOW Internet which then became Wow Zone – which is a digital marketing Agency. He says, “I attribute my success to all of the failures that I have had,” that and “being persistent.”
Then he turns to the question of why the UK appears to be more entrepreneurial these days.
“People are trying to take control of their lives, some people have no choice,” no alternative but to set up a business. He cites the case of “mum in her bedroom who has set up an online business. . . Dad can’t get a job because of his age, he has no choice, what else can they do?”
Throw into the mix, the 2008 crisis – what he calls the catalyst – this has compounded these pressures.
And then Cas adds: “When you look ‘over the pond’ and see the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Bill Gates, it has had a huge impact on people. It has filtered through the education system, and now universities are becoming more entrepreneurial.”
And for these reasons – the 2008 crisis, lack of alternatives, and inspiration from the US, reckons Cas, is why the UK is more entrepreneurial than it used to be.
It is the people who set up against the odds that Cas says we need to celebrate: “The mum who has to feed her children – she has gone out there, been brave, been bold and courageous. . . it is the people who step out of their comfort zone, day in and day out, trying to strive – they are the real heroes and they are the people that need to be celebrated!”
But Cas can now look back at his adult life, and with the benefit of hindsight, see his mistakes, and the ‘what ifs’. And he has this advice, something that he was told too, but he didn’t listen to the advice at the time: “Whatever you have projected, whatever the timescale, whatever your estimated costs, multiply it by five, and then you will be about half way there.”
But is it too hard to raise money? “I think setting up a business and raising finance is not supposed to be an easy thing” and whether you are successful “comes down to your powers of persuasion and understanding, and making sure that you have the answers to all the questions, including the apparent stupid ones.”
Cas is a Birmingham man, and often the topic of conversation returns to that city. “In Birmingham, there are more start-ups than anywhere else,” he says and talks about the Silicon Canal.
There is one more question, if Cas found himself in a lift with Theresa May, heading up to the tenth floor, what would he say she could do to help entrepreneurs? “The government’s job is to create certainty, which creates confidence which creates a good atmosphere and that creates jobs. We need to focus on creating a certain outcome. Go easy on the businesses that will get her out of this mess, cut out the red tape, encourage apprenticeships, make it easy for employers to grow their businesses in a structured manner, give funding, if available. There are grants available, especially in regeneration areas, keep pushing that and don’t pull them. Ensure that as a nation that the business community understands that you want to help us.”
Listening to Cas is an inspiration, it hasn’t always been easy for him, but he showed persistence, and a refusal to take no for an answer, and yes, the result has been a success, budding entrepreneurs can learn much from him.
The UK is 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.