(Pt. 4) Chat with Sir Charles Dunstone


When the entrepreneurial founder of a business goes over to his team with a big new idea, and I mean a BIG new idea, one that will take a lot of effort, a lot of change and disruption to the day to day work going on; how often do they get push back and friction from those around them?

All the time! That was Charles’ simple answer from his experience!

Charles’ re-iterated a story for me to help illustrate what he often comes up against himself. There’s a thing said about Richard Branson which is that… first time he has an idea about something, they (his team) all just ignore it, the second time, its “ah shit…” so then they go away and work out how they would do it… if they had to, and the third time he comes asking its “ah right we’re going to have to do it”. Regardless of what his proposition is Charles believes adamantly that if it makes life better for his customers, then his team and business should be working hard to get it done. Whether the new product or service offers better value, better choice, better service, better whatever – that has to be the overriding motivation, not money or personal gain, though those things will often fall into place as a result. This way of thinking resonates well with a quote I heard from Richard Branson recently, something along the lines of “Do Good, Have Fun, and the success will come”.

We then talked a little bit about my own ideas and current ventures, and I voiced some concern that I’ve always got a handful of ideas and side projects on my plate at once. Charles’ guidance on this was that I’d be better to pick one idea and really work on it hard for a while. I think I agree; the idea of having too many on the go at once is too hard to juggle. My one big idea is always going to take more time, be more difficult than I’d thought, and require my undivided passion and commitment to really give it a justified go and make it work. I guess this all just harks to that saying “You can either do one thing really well, or a lot of things, really shit!”

I wanted to know, when he set out (back in the days of selling mobile phones out of his flat), where did Charles see his career going? Had he thought it would ever take off and be the success and adventure it has? In his response Charles was very modest, he recalled that his early motive was only to really make a living, and if his venture into mobile phone sales had failed, he’d have likely returned to his previous job in sales. Turns out he wasn’t one of those super ambitious young entrepreneurs who maybe have their heads in the clouds, or rather, stuck deep in an excel spreadsheet which maps out in intricate detail how they’ll go on to make their millions! It seems Charles just fell into his entrepreneurial adventure. Charles might modestly say he was lucky that mobile phones then took off in the way they did, but I genuinely think that you make a lot of your own luck. I think to his credit, here is someone who saw an emerging technology, embraced it and took a chance, having the foresight that he might well be onto something.

Nowadays, Charles says the same things are still driving him today as were over two decades ago. For him it’s all about making things better, better for his customers, better for his people and staff, and better than his competitors. It’s this mix of competitiveness and a motivation to strive for better for others, which I think are key to a long and successful career as an entrepreneur.

ME: “so if you had to round-off… any advice for me as the young aspiring entrepreneur?”

CD: “You’ve got to find your thing, don’t wait till it’s perfect… and then you’ve just got to be unbelievably resilient and committed to (the) fight. Simple as that!”

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