Jim Duffy: New businesses must shoot for the moon

Entrepreneurs who want to 'win big' know exactly where the moon is and how they are going to get there, says Jim Duffy. Picture: Getty Images
Entrepreneurs who want to 'win big' know exactly where the moon is and how they are going to get there, says Jim Duffy. Picture: Getty Images
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Uncertainty can turn into opportunity if we break the mindset that limits us and start to think big says Jim Duffy

When a boxer enters a boxing ring, he does not set out to get beaten. As he looks at his opponent across the ring, and he knows - it’s him or me. He has his mind set on defeating his opponent. He is totally focused and will give every ounce of his breath and being to making it happen. He does not set out to draw the match. He sets out to knock out his opponent. He sets out to win and win big. It’s brutal at times. But then again, so is business. As Adam Morgan famously said: “It’s like a knife-fight in a phone box.”

When I started Entrepreneurial Spark five years ago, I wanted it to go BIG! I knew in my head – that’s what entrepreneurs call a vision of how things could be – that I did not want to be a two bit Jock-accelerator. We started with little or no money. Like most entrepreneurs, I was impatient to get bigger faster and win, win, win. I had an endgame in my head and an itch to scratch. With the help of some great people like Lord Willie Haughey and some initial local authority funding, we got there and opened three spaces in Scotland within 12 months. But like James Bond said: the world is not enough. I wanted my baby to grow. Enter stage left Royal Bank of Scotland.

Two years later with a big corporate partner on board, we have 12 spaces across the whole of the UK - London opens next summer. Royal Bank of Scotland have been immense in powering our social enterprise. They do not get enough kudos for it, but it will come in time, I am sure. Has it been easy? Hell no … we have grown to a team of nearly 50 and we work across all the departments of this big bank as privileged outsiders.

But as Gordon Merrylees, the Head of Entrepreneurship for the bank often says -usually after I have given him a real hard time about something (and hands up, I often do) - it’s healthy tension and it will keep us all on our toes over the next five years. We’ve not stood still and we’ve not asked for permission. I guess my title as Head of #GoDo says it all. It’s non-stop action-taking. And the new leadership team under a new CEO has the bit between their teeth. That is where I feel many Scottish and indeed UK businesses fall down.

I’ll be honest, I seldom see enough early stage entrepreneurs who really have their sights set on creating something big. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few, but statistically they should always exist in any population size. What I see are some great people, with great - stonking even - ideas, but the potential often seems to wither on the vine after about 24 months. I always say to my colleagues as I travel around the country: it’s not our job to motivate entrepreneurs. That should be a given. It’s our job to help them see the light shining through the trees. This light is the interstices of where value can be created. In short, don’t just look at the tree, look at everything that gives it its shape. This is crucial because this is where I believe that Scotland and the UK are falling down in entrepreneurship. We do not create enough people who can think beyond the light and who have the appetite and willingness to grow big.

This week I met Duncan Logan, the CEO of Rocketspace; a Scot who went to Silicon Valley and created something special and is now bringing it back home. Rocketspace opens in London next year and there’s the potential for one in Edinburgh. What I see in Duncan as well as the folks who run Skyscanner, Graze and Dollar Shave Club is a fearless approach to winning. And winning big. They can convince investors that they know exactly where the supermoon is and how they are going to get there. But they didn’t have that space rocket or the astro-physics degree when they pitched and convinced people time and time again.

I got up at 4am this week to see that supermoon over Edinburgh. It looked amazing and it inspired me to think big as it looked 14 per cent bigger and 25 per cent brighter. If that big bit of rock can do it, then so can many more starting and running businesses. It’s a mindset shift that requires even more effort.

Do you know what I see with Brexit, Trump and all the other uncertainty around? I see opportunity. My request of all Scottish and UK business leaders is to ask yourselves: ‘Am I geared up for the space flight ahead? Have I got the right talent in place to take me to the moon and beyond? Am I the right person to be leading my company? Have I got the fuel in the tank for another five years?’

If not, there’s a good chance your opponent will land a knock-out blow and win the bout.

Who’s that opponent on the other side of the phone box? He looks familiar because he lives in your head – he’s you, the only person who can control your own mindset.

Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is Head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark