Entrepreneurial Advice from the UK’s Youngest Woman to IPO
Emma Sinclair, co-founder of EnterpriseJungle, shares her story for the SmartUp ‘Female Founders’ interview series.
Emma Sinclair is a serial entrepreneur — and the youngest woman in the United Kingdom to take a company public.
“The London Stock Exchange holds a special place in my heart,” she says.
“At five, I began reading the share prices to my father on the way to school. I started investing at 18 when I ploughed my student loans into the stock market. At 22, I cemented my love affair with the financial markets through a job in the City.
And at 29, I IPO’d.”
Emma since founded and exited car park management firm Target Parking, and founded EnterpriseJungle, an enterprise software firm that delivers a comprehensive suite of SAP Cloud extensions that provide businesses with previously unavailable insights, giving them competitive advantage and enabling them to run better.
Here’s Emma’s story.
“My father drove me to school my whole life. One of the things we used to do was to look at his share prices in the back pages of the Financial Times.
I put my lifelong interest in entrepreneurialism and the stock market down to this time with my father. What I learned with him on the way to school and during the time we spent together.
I have him to thank for making the world of business accessible; always explaining things I didn’t understand and always talking to me about his work.
TRADING STOCKS WHILE AT UNIVERSITY
Fast-forward to university and I used my student loan to trade the stock market — which I’m sure helped me secure internships in banks during university holidays. I don’t think too many students did that and on reflection, that was a pretty risky move on my part!
I eventually worked in mergers and acquisitions for an investment bank upon graduating but since my late 20s, entrepreneurial pursuits beckoned, and I have been active in a broad range of sectors and geographies.
PASSION AND IMPACT
I have a deep-seated passion for business, which makes pursuing an entrepreneurial path easy. I love sharing stories and hearing those of other people building businesses, or contemplating future plans. Wherever I go, I stumble across people or businesses that excite and engage me.
As well as a constant quest for learning and meeting fascinating people, it’s having an impact on issues where my voice has influence — and wanting to have financial means to support causes in which I believe. These are things that motivate me.
SURVIVAL IS MOTIVATION
There’s also an element of survival instinct that serves as motivation. The success of my business directly impacts my life and my financial security. When you don’t have the safety net of a salary, pension and healthcare, the outcome of your business directly affects your ability to eat. The success of my business is, of course, at the heart of it all.
I truly believe entrepreneurship, the skills associated with it and that people who have the tenacity to build things, of any size, can and will continue to make the world a better place.
IF YOU FAIL — ‘FIRST ATTEMPT IN LEARNING’
As with life, we learn from experience and environment as much as from textbooks and education. We all have our own unique styles and habits — so there’s no one right way to build a business. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
And it’s ok to fail. Fail really just stands for “First Attempt in Learning.” I love Dropbox co-founder Drew Houston’s comment on this. “Don’t worry about failure — you only have to be right once.”
PITFALLS AND RECIPES FOR DISASTER
Some common themes are usually a recipe for disaster. This ranges from not trusting your gut instinct, to picking business partners for the wrong reasons. You might give away too much equity too early, and for too little money, and not be prepared to put your own money where your mouth is.
You could err by waiting until “everything is perfect” before going to market, by overlooking the “sell-design-build” model, or spending time and money building something you have yet to market test. Only to find that you build and test it — and no one wants to buy it. A common mistake.
A good first-time entrepreneur will likely make some of these mistakes — but will still come out on top. Or recognize a problem in a process, and change it in order to progress.
ENTREPRENEURIALISM, WITHOUT A BUSINESS
Young entrepreneurs should remember that you can be entrepreneurial in a large enterprise, as well as in a startup. You can be in a supportive role, or a co-founder. You don’t have to start your own business to be entrepreneurial.
Equally, you can have a passion rather than a business — and apply entrepreneurial thinking to pursue it. There’s no shortage of causes — poverty, climate change… in this world. Just a shortage of leaders who can help pursue them.
EVEN IF THE GRASS IS GREEN, THE PATH IS NOT EASY
My advice, however you intend to apply your entrepreneurial spirit, is that creating something from scratch is a long, hard slog for almost everyone. Learn as much as you can from others, form a good network. Surround yourself with uplifting and inspiring people, listen to experience — but tread your own path. Trust your gut.
Set some money aside to cover any period you will be non-salaried. Calculate it by doubling how long you think you that period will be — since you’ll will always be investing and reinvesting in yourself, and your business. The entrepreneurial grass is green — but it’s definitely not the easy path.
Be prepared to work — a lot, all the time — to build a business. From small acorns grow mighty oaks — but the germination period can be significant.
UNDERSTANDING SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Business is based on the old-fashioned and simple premise of supply and demand. And while it’s important to understand a sector, business is a broad skill. A lawyer needs to understand the law, and a doctor needs to have studied medicine.
But generally speaking, spotting opportunities and markets doesn’t necessarily require prior knowledge — but rather commercial savvy about supply and demand.
NAVIGATING THE COMPETITIVE ENVIRONMENT
Just because something has been done before, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done again. Competition often increases the size of the marketplace. Perhaps you can do what someone else is doing better, faster, simpler — or bring a new edge to an existing service.
A challenging or recessionary economic environment can provide just as compelling a platform for innovation and economic growth as a bullish economy, through entrepreneurialism and creative thinking. Tricky times are often a good opportunity to challenge incumbents who may not be serving customers properly, and are therefore easier to unhinge.
Ultimately, an opportunistic entrepreneur can always find an angle to win business.
ADVICE FOR ENTREPRENEURS
Don’t pick a business partner for the sake of it. Whilst building a company alone can be a terrifying prospect, much worse is attempting to do this with the wrong person.
Don’t be unrealistic with goals. It takes a while to build an empire. As is often said, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
And don’t be afraid to pivot. Very few business end up selling the same service or product they originally conceived when the company was founded.”