Written by Simon Rogerson
Octopus is currently sponsoring a video podcast series called ‘Humans of Business’. This series offers a look at what goes on in the heads of some of the UK’s new breed of entrepreneurs, specifically focusing on the role of humanity within business.
The series is hosted by Charlotte Pearce (who as the founder of Inkpact is an entrepreneur in her own right) who does an outstanding job of getting people to open up and talk frankly about themselves and their attitudes towards business, entrepreneurship and life.
It’s a fascinating series, well worth watching. We managed to get some genuinely inspiring interviews from the founders of today’s most exciting new brands. By any measure, this is a highly talented and successful list of some of the UK’s brightest entrepreneurs:
- Gina Miller, CEO and founder partner of SCM Direct
- Giles Humphreys, the co-founder of Mindful Chef
- Ade Hussan, founder of Nubian Skin
- Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen
- Aaron Gelbard, co-founder of Bloom & Wild
- Susie Ma, founder of Tropic Skincare
And as Octopus is the sponsor, I was also put forward for some time under the spotlight. Here’s a link to my episode.
Everyone loves talking about themselves – don’t they?
First things first. It’s not your typical interview. It was personal in a way I find uncomfortable. I’m not a big fan of talking about myself, particularly when the spotlight is pointed at me personally rather than as the founder of Octopus.
But the questions made me think about a few things – how my upbringing and family life influence what I do, why I chose to become an entrepreneur and what’s most important to me.
My motivation as an entrepreneur was the most thought-provoking bit for me, largely because things have changed quite a lot since we set up Octopus back in 2000. I regularly read about entrepreneurs who had big, inspirational missions from the very start. Octopus wasn’t like that.
While we thought the financial services industry was broken, we were too young and too inexperienced to believe we could change the world. For us, it was all about survival. It was about moving from one little milestone to the next – getting regulated, raising money for the business and finding our first customer (thank you, Mr Gower).
Finding a purpose
But ten years into the journey, things changed. By then Octopus had become quite successful and we were able to look at the world through a very different lens. That’s when we saw a much bigger opportunity – an opportunity to inject humanity and compassion back into the world of business.
The human aspect of business is something I care about deeply. Great businesses, to my mind, are all about how they make their customers feel. This, by implication, is about behaviours and values. It’s about building businesses with a soul, something that is needed now more than ever.
So by being part of the Humans of Business series, it has been great to watch people like Gina, Giles, Ade, Paul, Susie and Aaron – who have each built businesses because they wanted to make a difference to the world they lived in – be given the opportunity to articulate and share their own experiences.
The search for meaning
Most of the entrepreneurs from the series are very candid about the way technology has helped them to disrupt traditional business models and helped them to grow their business in ways that simply wouldn’t have been possible in previous generations.
As much as the last 20 years has been characterised by some amazing innovations, I think business is increasingly losing its way. The obsession with efficiency and value creation (for the shareholders) means that companies have lost what makes them human. They’ve become self-interested rather than interested in the needs of others.
And people – both customers and employees – have had enough. They’re no longer marvelling at the technology revolution and the impact it’s having on them. They’re now taking this for granted.
As the power shifts back to the end customer (ironically as a result of technology and the radical transparency that this creates), companies will be held to account in ways that have never happened before.
Customers and employees will expect companies to behave like their friends. They’ll expect them to have a personality, to do the right thing and to recognise that they have an obligation to all their stakeholders and not just their shareholders.
Here’s why humans of business matter
Companies are the most powerful agents of change in the world today, but they’ve lost their way. The response is not to put larger ticks in the corporate social responsibility or environmental, social and governance boxes.
It’s about changing the fabric of your organisation – the very thing that makes you different to everyone else. It’s about personality, values and culture. I think the revolution of the next 20 years will be far more powerful. It will be a human revolution, driven by people who want to change things and really care about making a difference.