Monday, 13 August 2018


As I look back on my life I realise how lucky I’ve been. I’ve a lot of nice, clever and kind friends. My wife keeps a sharp eye on my best interests and is a constant joy. I even get to write a bit which I like especially having discovered that as you get older you may lose some mental agility and memory but one faculty improves and that’s the linguistic one of putting words together.

Recently, when in the course of researching a new book, I’ve been interviewing a lot of young entrepreneurs. They are all so hopeful, energetic and smart. At their age I was; a director of an advertising agency modelling myself on John Thaw’s role as Jack Regan in “The Sweeney” swigging whisky and saying “shut it! You’re nicked.”  It was great fun but I was just an employee.

Now I suddenly have this restless urge to start a new company – not for heaven’s sake an advertising agency which seem hell-hole, data driven places – no, a disruptive, ideas-driven business selling something better, cheaper and faster and tearing apart sleepy, traditional market sectors trapped in traditional supply chains. Think of Harry, Purple Bricks, Casper the mattress people and dozens of others. What they call “Digitally Native Vertical Brands” - brands which start on line and are maniacally focused on consumer values.

I keep on coming across new brands like Ugly Drinks, the Sussex Peasant, Sandow’s cold brew coffee and the Grown up Chocolate company, all bustling pioneers of joie de vivre and a fascination with shifting mindsets. Their owners are typically people around 30 who are not being anchored down by mortgages but are driven by an appetite for life’s possibilities.

Two such – rather older now -  Charles Rolls and Tim Warillow – founded Fevertree 13 years ago  promising the “end of dismal mixers” and have so far trousered over £300 million from share sales. They understandably look pretty happy to have re-imagined a market dominated drearily by ‘Schh…you know who’ for so long.

Money is not the key motive to wanting independence. The constant desire is “I want to make a difference”. Human beings want to look back on a legacy perhaps rather more exciting than a Jack Regan impersonation.

Talking to start-up counterparts in the USA their ambitions are larger, the stakes are higher and the focus is clearer but so too is the sense of reality. “It’s a good idea, we’ve done great work on the product and the brand so it really should work. But it might not. There are factors beyond our control. So if it doesn’t work we’ll do something else.” Like Henry Heinz who went bust and struggled along at first. Persistence and good humour pay off ultimately.

We live in times unlike those that have gone before where entrepreneurialism and innovation are inspiring more and are accessible to more and more people. Back in the day it was harder, slower and seemed more dangerous.

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