(L-R): Sarah Wood, Aron Gelbard, Ella Mills, Rupert Hunt and moderator Nadine Dereza, Journalist and TV Broadcaster

Image credit: British Library and Luca Sage

In the interests of ‘paying it forward’, I wanted to share with you the lessons that stuck out most of all, and ones that we can all start being better at. Without further ado…

What does bush craft and the Stone Age have to teach us about business?

Linking up with the live event down in London on 7 February 2017, Newcastle’s Business and IP Centre ran their Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Internet Icons event at The Core. It was preceded by an interesting talk from Jake Newport, owner of Finnmark. Drawing from his experience in a ‘previous life’ when he studied, taught and lived all things bush craft and primitive skills, Jake shared some lessons that he’s applied to his new life running Finnmark and working in a digital agency.

In the frenzy of our digital-led existence, Jake revealed that we need to make the best of our natural abilities in Planning, Patience, Positivity/Persistence, Pragmatism and People management. Little gems emerged, like his reminder for us to S.T.O.P. when things change.

That is, Stop, Think, Orientate ourselves and Plan so that we’re not just being reactive and running off adrenaline. He also highlighted the importance of people and the need to recruit well, trust and collaborate; a theme that ran through the evening’s stories, as it turned out.

Which brings me nicely to my next point…

People are your most important resource

So, on that… all of the online entrepreneurs talked about the role of people in their business. The need to recruit the best people available, as Ella Mills so frankly and endearingly shared; “I had a lack of confidence to start with and was quick to recognise what I wasn’t good at and get help. I’ve since been like a sponge, soaking up everyone’s expertise.”

She and her husband, who she says compliments her skill-set perfectly, have taken a huge step of offering generous equity stakes in Deliciously Ella in order to secure the best expertise available.

Likewise, Rupert Hunt admitted he “waited too long” to bring people into the business, particularly at a senior level. He became a bottle neck in the business and caused himself a lot of stress, trying to do everything himself. Once you have these people, said Sarah Wood, you need to step back, trust them to do the job you hired them to do and let them shine.

Listen, learn and act on what customers tell you

Being a customer insights and strategy professional, this point of course resonated deeply with me.

Aron Gelbard’s business has been built on solving major pain points around buying flowers, “everything should be a joy – to send flowers and to receive them – but there were a lot of pain points like hidden costs, whether your recipient would be in to receive them, the condition they’d arrive in”. In his business they continue this focus on the customer, introducing an app that saves your details and has a calendar function to remind you of birthdays.

Having absolutely catapulted to international fame, Ella Mills still wants every customer interaction to have a response. She has two people helping her now, but she spends at least two hours each day responding to social comments, posts and emails. She’s built her business from being a personal blog shared with a few family members and friends to a growing empire now including a deli, cooking classes and books, by responding to what people want. “When you’re providing something to people, what they think really matters!”

Rupert Hunt turned personal circumstances into an opportunity to become a customer of his own business and, he says, it was revelatory; “nothing beats being ‘on the ground’”. It led him to introduce Speed “Flatmating” events and video on the site so would-be flatmates get an enhanced sense of each other, saving time versus going to visit.

All of the online entrepreneurs echoed that it’s a myth that there’s this big ‘ah-ha’ moment when the perfect business idea comes to you and it’s an overnight success. Instead, the ideas tend to grow organically by listening to what the customer wants, so it’s important to pivot with that.

Learn from your mistakes and keep going!

It was very refreshing to hear these internet icons talking about the mistakes they made early on in their businesses and what it taught them. Aron Gelbard talked of physically going out and measuring letterboxes for his letterbox flower company, Bloom & Wild.

Having done this, to get economies of scale, he forked out most of his savings on boxes for the flowers, only to find that a design flaw (no ventilation) meant he had to get rid of them all. His lesson was “not to be too clever too quickly; take time to learn and ensure you have things right”.

While there will always be problems in business, Ella Mills told us it helps to be a ‘naïve optimist’, because as an entrepreneur, “you have to be the person leading through the problems”. And linked to her comments around the importance of staying close to customers, she said “when you’re succeeding, you’re not learning as much. When things aren’t working out you’re forced to find a way through and grow.”

How do you keep your resilience when the shit hits the fan? Fizzing with barely contained energy, Sarah Wood told us, “Remember you’re here by choice. Be passionate. Love the people you’re working with”. This is a lady who’s clearly loving what she does, despite all the challenges that running a business brings.

An inspiring evening hearing from impressive online entrepreneurs…

What came across loud and clear through everything that the online entrepreneurs said was the importance of people – both employees and customers. The need to listen to and trust each very different group to lead where you want to go.

Keep an eye out on Newcastle Business & IP Centre’s event page for other events you might be interested in: http://www.bipcnewcastle.co.uk/events/