What sets serial entrepreneurs apart? Our latest report attempts to find out

Who are the UK’s serial entrepreneurs, why do they matter, and what sets them apart from one-time founders? The Centre for Entrepreneurs latest reportBeyond the first business: the myths, risks and rewards of being a serial entrepreneur – produced in partnership with Coutts, is our attempt to answer these complex and fascinating questions. The report provides an overview of serial entrepreneurship in the UK, and aims to equip both aspiring and active serial entrepreneurs with the insights to help them succeed.

Among the many insights generated by our research, we found that:

  • Younger entrepreneurs are more impatient to exit, with 63% planning to exit their current business within the next five years, versus 46% of those 35 and over. They are also starting up earlier than previous generations, with 57% having started their first business before the age of 25, versus only 23% of those aged 35 and above.
  • In contrast to conventional employment, where higher education is strongly linked to greater earnings, among serial entrepreneurs we found that a lower level of education was linked to a greater number of businesses and larger turnover. Furthermore, only 42% of the entrepreneurs we questioned saw education as instrumental to their success.
  • Although many serial entrepreneurs have experienced business closure, they are less affected by fear of failing than one-time founders, probably because the experience is less traumatising than expected. This highlights the importance of seeing business failure as a part of the learning curve, rather than a mark of shame. Indeed, our survey found that closure is much more likely with an entrepreneur’s first few businesses.
  • One-time entrepreneurs often worry that they only have one good business in them (37%), or that the passion that sustained their first business will not hold up for their second (31%). But such worries tend to vanish once entrepreneurs go serial (15% believing in ‘one good business’ and 14% in a ‘loss of passion’).
  • On the other hand, serial entrepreneurs can struggle with some of the challenges of starting a second business, such as the pressures of juggling multiple ventures or the difficulty of securing a healthy work-life balance.
  • Serial entrepreneurs are less interested in focusing on one thing at a time, and more open to new opportunities than one-time founders, perhaps explaining why they set up so many businesses.
  • Our conversations with successful serial entrepreneurs led us to define them as not only those who found every single business themselves, but also those people who invest in, manage, advise and mentor other businesses and entrepreneurs.

To complement our survey findings, we also interviewed several successful serial entrepreneurs in depth to hear first-hand how they built up their businesses. Highlights include:

Shamus Husmeer, a serial tech entrepreneur who questions “the classic, self-help book view of entrepreneurship that to be successful you have to be passionate, never give up and never take no for an answer. But in reality this is an awful trait to have, one that will make you waste your own and other people’s’ money.”

Paul Atherton, a serial investor in university spinouts who points out that “many entrepreneurs don’t like acknowledging luck. But when you’ve done it a few times like I have, you can admit it easier. I’ve seen many competent people travel similar paths to mine without getting rich.

Rachel Bell, founder of several award-winning PR businesses and a believer in people power for whom seeing “every single employee reach their potential…is the most exciting and rewarding part of the journey”.

If there is a single, unifying messaging underlying the research, it is that serial entrepreneurs hail from all walks of life and cannot be pinned down to any narrow set of traits. Male or female, young or old, university-educated or secondary school leaver, the adventure of starting a second business is open to all. Those traits that we did find to be associated with serial entrepreneurship (openness to new opportunities, low fear of failure) can be developed over time. And while there are undoubtedly challenges along the way – juggling multiple ventures while maintaining a healthy work-life balance comes to mind – it is up to each entrepreneur to decide whether or not they are ready for them.

For the entrepreneurs in search of a new challenge beyond their current businesses, or those feeling restless after several years of retirement, serial entrepreneurship might be just the answer.