Here’s what meeting the world’s brightest entrepreneurs taught me
Six months ago, Chris and I were fortunate enough to win the EY UK Entrepreneur Of The Year award. It’s been a pretty crazy six months since, the highlight of which was being asked to attend EY’s World Entrepreneur Of The Year competition, held in Monaco last week.
There we were, in one of the world’s most glamorous locations, rubbing shoulders with the winners of the 2017 national awards, which included 56 entrepreneurs chosen from 46 different countries. Each winner was representing their nation and competing for the world title.
We began the forum by pitching to a panel of fellow entrepreneurs as to why we deserved to win the global award, and then spent several days meeting with our fellow competitors, engaging in panel discussions and podcasts and interviews.
We learned a massive amount in a very short space of time, but while the memories are still fresh, I thought I’d share some of my key takeaways with you.
Learning #1: It’s about passion
When someone asks me for the number one quality I look for in an entrepreneur, my answer is always the same. They need to have abnormal, almost inhuman, amounts of energy. Because that’s what’s required to build a great business.
All of the entrepreneurs in attendance in Monaco had it in spades. I saw their eyes light up when they talked about their business, and their passion for entrepreneurship and the difference it can make oozes out of them.
Throughout the week, not a single conversation brought the response “that’s not possible” or “but what about the risks”. The entrepreneurs we met were universally optimistic about their ability to create change.
Learning #2: Having a vision is vital
These entrepreneurs, without exception, think big. They’ve all built very successful businesses in their own countries, and are now spending a huge amount of time working on how to enter international markets.
Technology and the mobility of talent is making this much easier. Capital isn’t considered a constraint – the experience of almost every entrepreneur is that once you reach a certain point (broadly defined as domestic success) capital is a commodity.
Learning #3: Capitalism must have a conscience
The notion that capitalism should have a conscience was high up everyone’s agenda. The definition of success, for every one of the entrepreneurs we spoke to, is shared success. Gone are the days when success for a business is defined by the bottom line. All of the conversations were focused on how to create mutual satisfaction, and how to meet the needs of employees, customers and shareholders (in that order).
Purpose is everything. The businesses that don’t understand this, and which still believe they are the adults and their customers are the children, will really struggle.
Learning #4: Transparency is the new normal
This doesn’t just apply to business, but personally as well. Every entrepreneur we met was willing to share their own journey, and to be open about their weaknesses and their struggles. Mental health, anxiety and loneliness are all topics that people were happy to talk openly about.
The entrepreneurs were similarly open about their business strategies. They’ve accepted (and embraced) the fact that the world is only ever going to become more transparent. Whatever their background or culture, they were all happy to share ‘private’ information on the grounds that it helps them to build stronger, more connected teams.
Learning #5: Trust is a recurring theme
Trust was a big theme during some of the interactive sessions. There was a consensus that we are living through a crisis of trust across most aspects of our lives, whether it’s sport, charity, politics or business.
The entrepreneurs were all focused on ways in which they could reinject trust back into the system. And one great quote will stay with me for months. One of the entrepreneurs talked about the fact that most companies obsess about “outcompeting, outsmarting, or outmanoeuvring the competition”.
In the new world we live in, these companies should be talking about “outbehaving”. Good business will always be about how you make your customers feel.
When we got on the stage as the UK’s representatives, I can’t describe the feeling of pride that we felt. We didn’t win, that honour went to Rubens Menin from Brazil, whose life’s work has been dedicated to creating the country’s largest public housing provider, bringing affordable home ownership to thousands of families across Brazil. But it was an incredible experience and a tremendous four days – a celebration of entrepreneurship in all its senses. I’ve returned from Monaco full of ideas, excitement and energy for the year ahead.