“What would give me valuable skills even if I failed?”
Welcome to the beginning of another programme at Warwick Incubator. To start us off we talked to one of the recent founders whose enterprise idea began in the Incubator — Alec Gehlot.
His start-up website Summi provides quick, comprehensive summaries of a huge range of books, from popular science to productivity learning. In Alec’s own words, “Summi gives you all of the best bits of the best non-fiction books so that you maximise learning in minimal time.” He describes the process of forming his start-up idea from scratch while studying at Warwick.
What idea did you bring to Warwick Incubator when you first arrived?
My first idea was supposed to let brands advertise on your car. A smaller equivalent of the posters on the side of double-decker buses. It didn’t go anywhere. However, letting go of this idea set me up for asking the question: What would give me valuable skills and enjoyment even if it failed?
Summi was my answer.
Summi lets you acquire the knowledge of the greatest thinkers in a concise and entertaining style, without jargon and boredom. I started Summi because reading changed my life and I feel it could do the same for others.
What did you expect from the programme and how did it lead you to Summi?
It was quite clear early on that Warwick Incubator was simply a great opportunity to meet some like-minded individuals and talk about creating some cool things. It would then be up to me to make the most of it.
I think a defining moment for Summi was at a pitching session at Warwick Incubator. While I was still mourning over the death of my last start-up idea and pondering my future as part of the Incubator, I volunteered to pitch Summi in front of everyone. I had 60 seconds and it felt so natural that I knew I had to take the idea further.
What most surprised you about the process of starting up your own business?
How much you can learn from the process itself. In the early stages you are doing everything, you are the CEO, CTO, CMO and CFO to name a few. It really broadens your skillset and at 21 it’s not like I can walk into a company and say ‘Hey, I’m the CEO now!’ but with Summi I can be anything I want. There’s the responsibility that comes with that of course, but loads of fun too.
What was the most helpful thing Warwick Incubator offered you?
Connecting me with aspiring entrepreneurs at Warwick created a strong sense of community. I keep in touch with many people from the Warwick Incubator team and cohort.
Lots of people worry about starting their own business while keeping up with their university work — do you have any advice on how to maintain that tough balancing act?
Make the balancing act easier for yourself by maximising productivity in your studies. Learning how to study is crucial. Being able to reduce the amount of hours I was studying meant I had plenty of time to work on Summi. Cal Newport is my go-to expert on this topic, I have written about two of his books (Deep Work and How to Become a Straight-A Student) which explain more about getting the most out of the time we dedicate to studying and learning.
Unfortunately, there will be many occasions when you do feel overwhelmed and that’s why I believe to truly excel there has to be something personal that drives you. When it gets personal, you can’t just avoid it so you have to find ways to make time.
I get a huge amount of personal satisfaction from Summi. I hold the principle that even if nobody reads my articles, I am still practising valuable skills that will serve me well throughout my life. I even go back to my own articles when I am having difficulties.
Of all the books you’ve read and summarised on Summi, which has been the most useful to you personally? Did any change how you approached your start-up?
All the books featured on Summi have been useful to me personally so it’s difficult to say. To complicate matters further, it is difficult to compare a book on sleep to a book on relationships.
A book that I do revisit often is Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss which is an excellent all-rounder and a good starting point. Zero to One by Peter Thiel has had the most profound impact on Summi’s strategy to date. I think Summi would be considerably different without that book.
What is your best piece of advice for students looking to gain investment in the early stages?
I think early stage founders worry about funding too much. They should instead be trying to validate their assumptions about their business model and create the best possible product or service with the resources they have. Once they do that, then they are likely to get a much better deal when raising investment if that’s still the right move for them.
What are your projections and expectations for the next year?
Growth. Lots of growth.