“From Struggle to Success” Born to be an entrepreneur
From a small age we are told that in order to be happy and successful we must find stable job, work from 8:00 to 17:00 and have 20 days’ vacation each year. Many people are aiming to achieve this goal and in the end they find out this is not what they thought happiness will be. The so called “stable” jobs, now feels more like a prison of the persons` potential, than a satisfying achievement. This is one of the many reasons people leave the world and start their own company.
1. What is your idea/ business about? How the idea was born?
Arlians is business-to-business social network that lets the business opportunities find you. A cross between LinkedIn and a dating site, but targeted at entrepreneurs and small businesses. The key difference we provide versus a site like Linked In is that our focus is on business-to-business networking. Unlike other social network platforms, Arlians lets you sign in as a business in order to connect, communicate and collaborate with other businesses.
The key to Arlians however is its ‘dating-site’ like approach to bring business opportunities to users. Arlians members set up what their business is looking for, be it, suppliers, investment, M&A, partners… and our matching algorithm automatically suggests suitable businesses to connect with.
Arlians’ mission is to be a conduit to growth by removing barriers of communications, connection and collaboration. At a simpler level, we want to help businesses of all shapes, industries and sizes, find the right business partners, network opportunities and unlock growth.
I had the original idea around 7 years ago, as the idea to create a market place for businesses in the professional services industry to join forces and bid for tender projects that clients would advertise. My vision was to enable small organizations to rapidly find ways to scale up and compete fairly against larger businesses that often dominate these sectors.
Over the last 4 years though, I experienced life as an entrepreneur launching a boutique strategy consulting business in London and this gave me first-hand experience of the challenges of finding business partners, suppliers and customers. Too often an opportunity came about for us to take on a new client and have these taken out of our reach due to our size constraints.
Both we struggled in capacity or geographic reach and it felt like there ought to be dozens of companies out there around the world with exactly the same pains and challenges and that if we were to know of each other’s existence, it would be a no brainier. We would connect and collaborate. This is how Arlians came about.
2. Tell me about yourself and your team?
I am French from birth but lived the best part of my working life between New Zealand, Australia, Japan and the UK.
My background is a mixture of functions and industries. I put myself through university after having initially followed my father and brother’s artistic path, and studied photography. I later realized I liked business and decided to take night classes whilst securing a job working for a shipping line doing logistics and import/ export. I studied finance and investment banking but managed to get a job in an FMCG company (Absolut vodka) in NZ as an insight and pricing analyst and really liked the problem solving aspect.
Fast forward a little over a decade, and my career took me across a few markets, in finance, management consulting and strategy across FMCG companies, consulting firms, and working for private equity backed businesses. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. It took me a little while to realize that the corporate world was not for me. I needed autonomy to explore. I am curious, restless and love the thrill and excitement of entrepreneurship. I am married to my wife Aiko and have soon to be 3 children, Hugo 7, Louis 4 and yet to be named baby to be born in Jan 16.
I work with an awesome team in London, all of whom have had backgrounds in management consulting and strategy. None of us are developers but we all have an active interest in tech and some of our backgrounds include database development so we know our stuff both technically and commercially.
We are 5 guys with diverse cultural background, including Thai, Indian, Malaysian, Italian and French. Although 2 of our team members are British. We joined forces for the love of entrepreneurship and the healthy passion for problem solving and improving business performance.
3. What are the main struggles that you have experienced?
There has been many lessons and within which, many struggles, but here are the main ones:
- Challenges of working alone: Too often I could have benefited from having a business partner to spread risks and costs with. We missed out on opportunities because of reach and size.
- Growing too fast: In the past, we’ve had to take bets on hiring based on the prospect of future work in order to grow rapidly. The cost to hire compared to opportunities that often collapsed at the last minute, added tremendous pressure to our cash line
- The Cost to serve of big clients: Big clients are great for your brand and rapid expansion. we have been fortunate to get in and start working from the outset with Coke, Mars and Carlsberg but their size means they are inherently slow at moving things forward. It takes many meetings, many processes and this often can add several months to a negotiation process. Serving these clients can also often mean lengthy payment terms. Big clients often pay in 30, 60 or 90 days, which is not ideal when you are small and you own creditors (including salaries) require you to pay within 30 days, sometime faster.
4. How did you solve your problems?
- We created partnerships wherever we could to help us strengthen our offering to the market.
- We started relationships with freelance consultants to help us have more flexibility in being able to sustain short-term spikes in demand
- We worked with our clients to reduce payment terms to 30 days and structured our billing with fixed up front payments to help us finance the projects
- We became more cautious in hiring and responding to opportunities. We slowed down and did not hire immediately when people left the business
5. If you had a chance what would you do in differently?
I would slow down and grow through mergers and partnerships rather than going at it alone.
6. What was the best advice you got and what was the worst?
I received tones of advice over the last few years and it is difficult to count one as the stand out and for good reasons, one of the advice I received when I just started out as an entrepreneur is “listen to any advice you receive, even if it comes from a donkey”. As cliché as it may be, the most defining advice and quote that resonated with me is from Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford University.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
From a practical point of view, the best advice I’ve received were:
- Stay focused on the core and strengthen the core before spreading yourself thin across many new ideas.
It is easy to get excited about a lot of things and especially as a small organization, making every effort count is super important. That has been as true for me in managing priorities as it has been about staying focused on a tight strategic vision.
- Don’t run your business as a family. You are a team not a family.
I got this advice from a book called The Alliance (by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh) and in it was a section making references to a quote from Reed Hastings (Netflix CEO) who said “We’re a team, not a family”.
This advice was particularly relevant to me as to that point, we had been using the term ‘Fifth P family’ and many employees saw it that way.
Whilst that created a superb level of commitment, loyalty and love for the business, it also created a culture of democratic leadership where we felt obliged to have everyone’s opinion on everything and somewhat a fear to upset. As unpopular as it may be for a CEO, sometime there is room for collegial decisions that engage everyone on the team and other times where decisions need to be made by the leader.
7. What will be your advice to the other entrepreneurs?
I think it is Richard Branson who said: “being an entrepreneur is like jumping off a cliff and building the plane on the way down”.
I would say cherish the ups and the downs; they are all part of the entrepreneurs’ experience, they shape you into the entrepreneur you will become. Build strong relationships with partners and suppliers; these are invaluable to being able to survive and thrive as a small business.
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July 22, 2016