Starting a business – Can anyone do it?

Last Thursday evening we gathered at Wayra (Telefonica’s amazing incubator space in London) for NEF’s first Speaker event. An amazing panel was on hand to share their entrepreneurial experiences and to answer questions from the NEFers and our other guests. We had the exclusive presence of:

–          Sahar Hashemi , founder of Coffee Republic & Skinny Candy

–           Brett Akker, founder Love Space and Street Car

–          Demetrios Zoppos, founder Onefinestay

–          Giles Brook, founder BEAR and Vita Coco

–          The evening was chaired by our CEO Neeta Patel

Neeta Patel, Sahar Hashemi, Brett Akker, Demetrios Zoppos and Giles Brook

Simon Devonshire, Director – New Business Ventures – Wayra Europe, kicked off proceedings with a brief intro about the main aim of Wayra: help you unleash your entrepreneurial potential. How do they do that? By investing in young entrepreneurs and supporting them with their ambitions. All of this was very relevant considering the theme of the evening was about the possibility of anyone being able to launch a business.

Love: The first tip shared by our panellists was about “being in love”: be in love with your product, be in love with your future potential customers. This is how Coffee Republic started: Sahar was in New York, fell in love with skinny lattes and decided to launch something similar in the UK. Like she said, “be your own customer”. Brett added that you also “need passion” to make it work as the journey will be long and will entail a lot of hard work.

Knowledge: Neeta Patel then asked the panel what they would have like to know before starting their business.

Demetrios highlighted the fact that people have a tendency to reject innovation and so as a young entrepreneur you have to remember that. Do not be demotivated by negative initial feedback. Sometimes you will have to work against the tide, put in a lot of hard work and it all can feel very lonely. Brett talked about it is not always about having all the hard skills but instead a good idea and doing the best you can to get it off the ground. Giles stressed the importance of listening to your customers, their demands and to create a network of people who can guide you.  Another key message was from Demetrios: “Learn about things you don’t know”.

Hard skills: A question came from the audience on what were the hard skills the panellists used the most: the answers were varied and included:

–          Know the value of hard work and consistency

–          Attention to detail, as you need to know the details of what you do

–          Be able to read people will help you in many situations

–          Be able to hire well as this will determine your success

–          Have some sales training as you will need to negotiate with all sorts of people

–          Be able to deal with ambiguity, maintain a momentum and adapt to your environment


The audience keenly listen to our speakers stories and advise
The audience keenly listen to our speakers stories and advice


Jump now or wait and get some work experience?

That is often the question facing young entrepreneurs:  should we go out and gain more work experience or should we launch? The panel gave a mixed response:

–          Sometime experience can be useful but not always

–          Brett mentioned that when he started his business no programme such as the NEF programme existed, so he worked for Mars, but realised he “learnt more in the 3 months lead up to launch than in 5 years at Mars.”

–          Sahar used to be a lawyer before becoming an entrepreneur and talked about the difference between experiential learning versus structured learning, the first being more powerful.


During the evening our panellists also discussed topics such as:

–           Scalability and what in your business will create the tipping point: of course this will depend on your business, each business will have different milestones;

–          The role of competition and as you should not be paranoid of the competition and instead see it as a healthy element. It is all about knowing the DNA of your brand and being able to create a relationship with your customers. “Spend time talking about your product and its merits, rather than criticising the competition.”

–          Lessons : deal with problems early and quickly; make the mistakes and take the risks


Key advice: To conclude the evening, Neeta Patel asked the panellists for one piece of advice they would give to the NEFers who are embarking on their first steps in entrepreneurship:

–          Be fearless, do not fear failure

–          Don’t ever think you have done it but continue to adapt and improve, don’t settle

–          It is the hard work that makes the journey so great, your first year is the most fulfilling

–          Have fun, enjoy it and give yourself some space too.


We wish you good luck in your entrepreneurial journey!