Super entrepreneurs: ditch the ego and don some pants.

What makes a successful entrepreneur?

It would be so great to know the answer to that. And then there was me, being asked to give an answer to that question, in front of a bunch of brilliant young people. Last week. At The Company—a new project run by ever-awesome London youth centre The Winch.


Man. Me? Answer THIS?

First up, I run a CHARITY. Success has a different meaning in my world. If only I knew more about it in the corporate, for-profit sense. Seriously. My idea of success is not everyone’s, at the same time I need to know more about theirs.

Smug Face

Second up, I don’t really bill myself as an ENTREPRENEUR. I’ve now been trying to run Spark+Mettle for the last two years, and I’m a bit tired of all the ego-stroking, trumpet-blowing that can go on in Entrepreneur Land. It can get even WORSE when you stop off in Social Entrepreneursville for a while, because there, dotted amongst the helium egos and loud trumpets, are all the very high moral pedestals on which many of these people sit, thinking that having a social purpose makes all their other character flaws okay.

Cassie Robinson

Awesome Human

I’m kinda over all that shit. I don’t have time. I have time for people who think beyond themselves and see themselves as one dot among many. Not falsely humble, but just aware of what they can do, and how they can fit alongside others. People like Cassie Robinson (see pic). I’d quite like her to run things for a bit.

So, back to me and The Company. What did I say to these young people?

Firstly, that I was ill-equipped to answer the question. I posed a number of questions instead. Classic teacher. And I brought superheroes into play. Because that’s always fun. And likely not all that original. Ah well.


Here’s the guts of what I said, minus the gesticulations and stupid asides:

  1. Entrepreneurs are like superheroes [I brought along copies of crummy superhero kids’ magazines]. They have their key strength or power, but they also have their vice. And, crucially, they have a purpose, a reason for doing what they’re doing. That’s them. But then there’s also the world that they are in. They have a sense about the opportunities that they can take, as well as the enemies or threats that exist. I asked them all some questions:
    1. What’s your key strength?
    2. And vice?
    3. And purpose?
    4. Where’s your opportunity to do super awesome stuff?
    5. What enemies or threats exist that will thwart you?
  2. Entrepreneurs, like superheroes, need a utility belt. Different people need different things on theirs. But pretty much all of us need this one thing: insight and understanding into who we are and how we fit and what we can do. My question: what else other than this insight do you want to strap onto your utility belt? Different tools that I suggested might be useful for some entrepreneur superheroes could include [note how I try to make this as non-prescriptive as possible, but still somehow wind up creating a list]:
    1. Energy
    2. Grit or mettle or determination or whaddevveryawannacallit
    3. Vision
    4. Humour [PLEEEEASE]
    5. Self-esteem (not ego)
    6. A pressing urge to do something different
    7. Ability to make lists, and then revise them [I just added this point in, about five hours after publishing the original post].
  3. There are two types of superhero. Firstly, there are the lone avengers—the Supermans—out fighting Bad Stuff all by themselves. They’re into saving people. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how gender neutral/equal rights they are.  They’re pretty combative and competitive. Then there are the teams—the X-Men—all of whom have different strength and vices, but when they work collectively they are rad to the power of sick [stole that phrase from Dil Lalloo]. These guys, they are collaborative, their skills complementary. And, lo!, I asked of the crowd:
    1. What type of superhero are you?
    2. How can you work best with others? What powers do you lack that you could find in others?
  4. And then to my grand, sweeping conclusion: superheroes—and entrepreneurs—aren’t born but made. They are made by themselves, and they are also made by the people around them. The skills and strengths we need to be successful aren’t extraordinary, but just ordinary stuff we’ve worked damned hard to improve. Encouragement and support from others is a bit like the added bonus of a cape: not entirely necessary, but it makes us feel good, look good and maybe even go a bit faster. My final thought? That if there were less ego, and more let’s go figure this out together, then this world would be WONDERFUL. Until then, let’s just go put our pants outside our trousers.



All I know about job hunting

At Spark+Mettle we’ve just advertised a (paid) intern position. It’s only two days into the process and it’s interesting and disheartening all at the same time—hundreds and hundreds of hits to the page (more than any other on the site). My professional raison d’être is to support struggling young people to fulfil their potential. Through the Star Track programme we’ve been discussing issues around career aspirations and employability (for want of a better word, but I have Aldous Huxley suspicions about it) since October. I am no careers guidance counsellor. Not at all. And I have no prior knowledge of HR. So, in many ways, I  have zero experience for the job. Luckily, I do have friends and contacts who do know about these things, and I know how to navigate the web successfully enough to find additional useful, inspiring and maybe just plain funny resources.

My thoughts are few, and not original, and here:

  • Write a detailed, full-on three or four page CV. Keep the layout simple and regular.Note down your education but don’t go into too much detail. Write down every job or position you’ve ever had. Think about the skills you’ve learned (communication? collaboration? organisation? administration?) and think of an example for each. Don’t go overboard.  Spell check. Read it out loud to yourself. How does it sound? Think of this as your CV mother ship. And keep it in your drawer, or desktop folder, or maybe post to your LinkedIn page. NEVER send it to anyone.
  • Read through the job description you are applying for. Highlight or note down the key skills they are looking for. Look at their language.  Go back to your mother ship CV. Match the two up. Create a new CV and copy and paste your RELEVANT skills (and where you learned them) into that. Make sure your language matches theirs. Do they say “ambitious, enthusiastic and energetic”? Get those words in your CV somewhere too. Maybe not all at once. Don’t worry if it’s short. In fact, short is often better. One page is great.
  • Research the organisation you’re applying to. If you’ve got an internet connection, then the world is yours.
    • Follow them on Twitter. Find their Facebook page. Read every page of their website. See what they’re up to, what they’re talking about. Are they formal and serious or light-hearted and friendly? Adjust your cover letter style so that it reflects theirs.
    • Research the people in the organisation too. Find them on LinkedIn and Twitter. See what THEY are talking about. Read some of the stuff they’re reading.
  • See your cover letter as the beginning of a conversation. Now you know who they are, what they like and how formal or informal they are, you’re in a great position.  Introduce yourself in a way that will make them WANT to meet you just because you sound like their sort of person. Take the opportunity to fill in the gaps of your CV—if you don’t have a key skill they’re looking for, say so, and explain how you’ll still be a great candidate. Think about what you can bring to the organisation. What are you like? What skills do you have? Spell check. Read it out to yourself. Edit it—it will never be perfect the first time.
  • In all of this, take your time. Writing your mother ship CV? At least two hours, but then it’s a done deal. Curating it into one specifically for the job? An hour, at least. Researching the organisation and the people? Up to half a day, I’d say. Writing the cover letter? Another hour or two. So for each application, give yourself at least a day to put everything together.
  • Finally (and maybe this should be put first): are you REALLY excited about the job? Is it what you want to do? Did you see it and just click? Even if you don’t have everything they’re after, is it what YOU are really after? If so, then apply, do all the above and let your energy and enthusiasm shine through. And if you’re not? Then think hard about whether it’s worth your spending a day, or more, getting the application right.

As an aside, here are some tips that are down to pure personal preferences, and not everyone will agree:

  1. Keep language simple. Instead of saying “I have an energetic personality”—why not just say “I am energetic”.
  2. Show more than tell. CVs that list fewer skills but give in-depth examples/evidence of each one are just my sort of thing. For example, here’s what I don’t like so much: “In my role as programme coordinator I developed my communication, organisation and events planning skills. I ran the programme which meant I was in charge of making sure it was delivered well.” I would prefer: “The role of programme coordinator required a number of skills, but I’m particularly proud of how I was able to network and negotiate effectively with the team, the participants and the volunteers. In our final survey, 95% reported that the communication had been excellent.” Same applies for saying “I’m passionate about…”. Don’t tell me, show me.
  3. Be honest. Don’t tell me you can do something that you can’t, or that you like something that you don’t. In fact, tell me what you want to get out of the role, what skills you’d like to develop. I’d far rather an applicant say “I have zero experience but I am a fast learner” and then explain why the role is appealing.



Those are my thoughts. I’d love to know yours!