Nominated for two awards at last week’s Great British Entrepreneur Awards, Michael Kent is a FinTech powerhouse.
His first company, Small World, was launched in 2005 and is now Europe’s largest independent money transfer business, moving £4 billion a year. Azimo, his latest digital finance venture, was created just two years ago and already operates in 198 countries and 73 currencies.
Here, Kent gives his top ten tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.
1. Get a business partner
Launching a new venture is a nerve-wracking and often lonely experience, and having someone to sound ideas off is an invaluable way to keep your sanity. “Building a business is often a mix of exhilaration, terror and ridiculous amounts of work. All are better with someone along for the ride,” says Kent.
2. “Just do it”
“This is something we often say in the Azimo office, although perhaps with more risqué language, and it’s an important phrase,” says Kent. “Get going on your venture as soon as you can – there will never be a perfect time to launch a business and the risks are less when you’re younger. Start-ups, mortgage payments, families and school fees are a tricky mix!”
3. Do as much as you can before you quit your day job
… Hotheads beware! Just doing it doesn’t mean throwing all caution to the wind, as Kent explains: “If possible, try and do as much as you can on your venture before you quit your day job. It’s far easier to take risks and be disruptive when you have minimal costs to cover as a boss is paying your bills.”
4. Find a mentor
Why learn from your mistakes when you can learn – at least in part – from someone else’s? “It’s incredibly helpful to find a couple of early mentors,” says Kent. “Experienced entrepreneurs love to give advice, and write handy top ten lists, and some of these mentors will end up helping more than you ever imagined with ideas, connections and capital.”
5. Ignore other people’s advice
Controversial? Yes. But, while Kent doesn’t advocate total arrogance, he does believe in recognising that you sometimes have to listen to your gut. “While a mentor is important, no one will understand your business context as well as you do, so listen to the advice but don’t always follow it,” he says.
6. Don’t go and see the venture capitalists too early
Make sure that you really are ready before you seek investment. “The UK Venture Capitalist scene is a tiny group of people and you only get one chance to make a good impression. Perfect your pitch on the people who matter less (friends, family and angel investors) and only hit the professional investors when you’re super polished and can tackle the tricky questions,” says Kent.
7. Embellish the truth
This doesn’t mean lying, but it does mean projecting yourself as experienced and professional – clients will be wary if you seem too green. “It’s a fine line but in order to get up and running fast you’ll need to be able to sell your business and ideas from the off. Its fine to sounds more advanced than you think you are, but ensure it sounds credible,” advises Kent.
8. Discuss with friends and family
Insights can come from surprising places, so get a second, third, and fourth opinion from those you trust to be honest. Making sure those close to you are involved and engaged in what you are doing can also diminish tensions further down the line.
“Discuss what you’re doing with your life partner or family and keep talking about it. You’ll be stressed enough without a stressed relationship. Remember that if you’d taken that corporate job instead of following your entrepreneurial dream you’d be working just as hard but to someone else’s timetable,” Kent explains.
9. Build diversity into your team
Why surround yourself with people just like you, with the same background and outlook on life, when you could be getting invaluable, alternative perspectives from those who bring something different to the table? As Kent puts it: “If you can get past the extra time it will take to get to work together well and the conflicts that may come your way, it will be much more innovative and successful environment than a bunch of British white blokes.”
10. Create an innovative work environment
“Don’t be scared to run a business in a different way to how you think a ‘traditional’ business should look like,” says Kent. “Creating a more enjoyable workplace for your staff will allow them to be more creative and innovative. Every member of staff at Azimo is given a free day every quarter to allow them to get involved with work in the community. Through this, Azimo’s employees work with local and national projects and many take part in a wide range of fundraising activities.”
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