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Postcard from Monaco

05 July 2018


If you asked me to define the word ‘entrepreneur’, I’d say it’s the name given to people with the ideas, passion and determination to make things happen and change the world.  

So, it was a real privilege to be part of the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year Forum held in Monaco in June. Not only were we representing the UK, competing against national winners from 46 different countries, but there were guest speakers, panellists and former winners. All of them deserving of the entrepreneur title.  There was an incredible buzz around the place.

We were in Monaco for just a few days, but Simon and I threw ourselves into the activities, attending seminars, panel discussions, contributing to podcasts and interviews and flying the flag for both Octopus and UK entrepreneurship.

Every business needs a purpose

What was clear from our interactions was that everyone agreed that, to be truly successful, businesses need a purpose. You can’t just build a business. You have to think long and hard about what it is you are trying to do, and why. Once you have this as a foundation, you can then build a business that works for all of its stakeholders. 

In other words, the goal of a business should never just be to make a profit or to become valuable. This is a by-product of doing everything else right.

Simon and Chris receiving their letter of congratulations from the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the Deputy Mayor of London of Business, Rajesh Agrawal.

During our time there we got to meet really inspiring people, and I particularly enjoyed meeting the winners from other countries. Like the Estonian brothers Markus and Martin Villiq, the co-founders of Taxify. They set up their business five years ago, when Markus was just 19 years old. Today, Taxify has more than 5 million customers and is active in 30 cities across Europe, South America, Africa and the Middle East.

I really enjoyed hearing about the father and son pairing of Osama and Omar Ali from Jordan. Together they started Petra Engineering, an air conditioning company that has grown into a global leader, employing almost 2,000 people and counting NASA and Tesla as clients. Their big break came when they landed the contract to supply aircon units to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

As with most of the entrepreneurs in attendance, philanthropy is high up on their agenda. They also provide free aircon units to mosques, churches, hospitals and refugee camps in the Middle East.

And it was great to discover the story of Mate Rimac, the 30-year-old winner from Croatia, who set up Rimac Automobili and has built the world’s fastest electric car. His custom-built car has a top speed of 256 miles per hour. He was also the man behind the E-Type Jaguar that Prince Harry drove at his wedding last month, converting it from a gas guzzler to fully electric. Porsche has just taken a 10% stake in his company. Mate’s views on entrepreneurship are worth repeating:

“Being an entrepreneur is one’s life mission. It means being comfortable at the edge of uncertainty. It means sticking with it, even on bad days.
The opportunity to make a true difference makes up for it.”
Mate Rimac, founder of Rimac Automobili

Overall it was a fantastic event, really well organised by EY, and on a scale that you truly had to see to believe. But I couldn’t help but acknowledge the slightly strange dichotomy. We were taking part in an annual event that is increasingly focused on problem-solving and being a force for good in the world. But this was playing out against the backdrop of Monaco, the playground of wealthy tax exiles, with supercars roaring around the street corners and a harbour featuring yachts worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

A worthy winner

Therefore, it was gratifying to see the event won by Rubens Menin from Brazil, an entrepreneur who had dedicated his career to social and economic development. Over the last 40 years, his company has built more than 300,000 homes for families with low incomes, helping them to take their first step on the property ladder. Entrepreneurs like Rubens leave me feeling encouraged that the future is in good hands.

When we founded Octopus back in 2000, we didn’t really think of ourselves as ‘entrepreneurs’. We just wanted to work hard and build a business we could be proud of. We still have this mindset, which provides the backdrop for everything we do. Our trip to Monaco demonstrated that the entrepreneurial spirit can take you farther than you can imagine. And, as we continue to work towards achieving our vision of ‘an Octopus in every home’, the experience may prove invaluable.