Career Spotlight: being an entrepreneur, or, Tucker’s Thirteen Tips for starting a business

Last week’s final Career Spotlight slot was taken by Dr Andrew Tucker, from Mettle Consulting.  Dr Tucker talked through the stages in his career which have led him to the point where his company has just received substantial investment from some new backers.

Career to date:

After an MPhil, Dr Tucker worked for the LibDems for a few years and then joined a start up dotcom business.  He moved to the US for his PhD, researching trust, and came back to the UK to find work variously as an academic and consultant.  He launched one business, Trusted Reputation, which did not work, and then found funding for a post-doc from the ESRC.  Finally, in December 2010, having found a business partner, he launched Mettle Consulting.  His PhD thesis, subsequent book chapters and then the post-doc research, were the basis for the businesses and were crucial in being able to create his own PR when approaching clients.

Lesson 1

Don’t listen to people who are ‘experts’: they are likely to put you off!  Certainly listen to common sense (see Lesson 5 below) but if you believe in something, go for it.

Lesson 2

Work for cash, not sweat equity (share options).  Dr Tucker’s experiences at the dotcom start-up showed that you should value your own labour.

Lesson 3

Do something you enjoy.  Starting a business is almost as hard as doing a PhD: the perserverance required is similar but in both instances you have the feeling that you have actually achieved something.

Lesson 4

Finish your PhD before you start a business.  You’ll need massive amounts of energy and time and the two are likely to be hard to combine.

Lesson 5

Listen to your wife/husband/partner/family.  You might not have to take their advice but they know you and your abilities.  You will need them when, on day 1, you have neither clients nor contacts nor cash: they will help you learn from the awfulness of that to get through to day 2.  Find yourself advisers (Dr Tucker has about five people with whom he talks through ideas).  Again, you don’t have to take their advice but they will help you find your voice, just as you are finding your voice through your PhD.

Lesson 6

Find your USP.  Don’t join the hordes – they have clients and form.  You are the expert in your field – the PhD proves that – so you must be the go-to person for clients.

Lesson 7

Find a business partner.  They should be your mirror image in terms of skill set.  Dr Tucker met his at a conference and was called up by him a couple of years later when the partner had spare capacity to support a new business.

Lesson 8

Be lucky!  Or opportunistic.  Be in the right place at the right time (eg meeting the right business partner).  If something is not working, change it.

Lesson 9

Bin the first business.  Fail fast.  People just don’t make a success of their first business, so get it out of the way quickly.  It will be very painful but you will learn a lot from it.

Lesson 10

Don’t be an accountant (ie don’t expect a regular life!) but do hire one.  Dr Tucker did not pay himself out of his business for 18 months, wanting to ensure that the junior staff had a salary.  Only now is there a reasonable expectation of a good salary.

Lesson 11

Don’t give up your IP.  Find ways to make sure that you hold onto it: it is what gives you value.  It will be hard – a buyer or client might want it – but find other things to negotiate on.

Lesson 12

Play the long game and don’t aim for everything all at once.

Lesson 13

Be a leader.  You will have to turn yourself from a one-man band to someone that other people are turning to for direction.  But eventually you will need to trust these other people so that they can focus on the work and you can focus on the strategy.

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