Entrepreneurs: born or made? And do you have what it takes?

Some of the UK's most successful entrepreneurs share what separates them from the rest, why they started, and what gets them up in the morning

Born to do it or just something that evolved? Entrepreneurship can be learned, but there’s often a passion burning within as these video interviews with famous entrepreneurs Adam Balon of Innocent Drinks, James Averdieck of Gü Puds, and Charles Rolls of Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water demonstrate.

“I was always scratching my head for business ideas,” says The Organic Pharmacy founder Margo Marrone. “I’d go into a place and immediately say ‘you could do this’ and ‘you could do that’. So having your own business where you can really implement ideas was always my passion.”


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Marrone learnt all she needed to start a business by launching in a sector she knew intimately, supporting the idea that people should get relevant industry experience first. Having worked in retail pharmacy all her life, running a retail store was almost second nature.

Steve Locke, co-founder of bar chain Be At One, points to family heritage as the source of his entrepreneurialism. “By coincidence all of our fathers had businesses.

“I think maybe when you grow up in that kind of environment it affects the way you approach things. You do have that itch you want to fulfill.”

Having created to chain restaurant concepts in Latin American themed Las Iguanas and Caribbean food outlet Turtle Bay, Ajith Jayawickrema is among a select group of successful serial entrepreneurs. For him, it comes down to creativity and competition.

“For me the ability to do something new, something creative, something that no-one else is doing, and being better than the competitor is the bit that drives me.”

Entrepreneurship like crack – it’s addictive!

James Averdieck is another who just can’t get enough, and came back for seconds after selling luxury desserts brand Gü for £32.5m in 2010.

The founder, who also comes from an entrepreneurial family, has since launched coconut-based healthy yoghurt brand The Coconut Collaborative.

“The reality is I started a business because I realised I was never going to be – nor did I want to be – a director of a big company, and I wanted to be successful. So I realised if I was going to be successful I was going to have to do it myself.”

The desire to be in control of his own destiny is what drove Innocent Drinks co-founder Adam Balon to set up the business alongside university friends Richard Reed and Jon Wright, with business ideas bounced around while driving south for their winter ski trip.

“I had worked in bigger companies and while I found that fascinating I always felt like a cog in a very big wheel. I kind of liked the direct link between my efforts and what happened,” says Balon.

Once there and you’ve started your own business it’s very hard to go back. Loungers & Cosy Club Alex Reilley says growing the business was “addictive”. “We really had a great passion for doing that,” he adds. Meanwhile The Rug Company founder Christopher Sharp wakes up each morning excited about the day thanks to life in business.

Charles Rolls, who set up high-end tonic water business Fever Tree, which is listed on the AIM stock exchange, agrees that it’s very hard to compare anything to the joy of entrepreneurship. “The intensity you get running a business as an executive of a business, especially one that’s working well, I just don’t know any other thrill like it.”

So what makes a great entrepreneur?

There’s no age barrier to starting a business, but says Innocent co-founder Balon, it helps if you’re in your 20s with no responsibilities and yet still have some experience behind you – or you do it later in life where you have a ton of experience and diminishing familial responsibilities.

What are the common traits that make a great entrepreneur? They have to be free-spirited and to want to do their own thing, take risks and go against the rules, says The Organic Pharmacy’s Marrone. Alongside a deep passion for what they do, which the aforementioned group demonstrate in spades, Marrone describes a near-perfect entrepreneurial cocktail.

But there’s more to it besides. For example, the qualities you need to run a great company do not always make great entrepreneurs, says The Rug Company’s Sharp. A lack of attention to detail can actually be a strength, he says, as it allows that individual to “get on with things”. Balon agrees, adding that fixated people make bad entrepreneurs.

The Coconut Collaborative’s James Averdieck throws resilience and optimism into the mix. “Resilience is when times are tough; optimism is all the time.” Rather than folding at the first road block, entrepreneurs are the ones who find their way around, with determination to overcome barriers driving them forward.

It certainly helps, says Sharp, if you have unshakeable belief that you know best -– dare we say it a touch of arrogance.

Do you have it in you?

This video was filmed by Piper, a specialist investor in consumer brands, helping to grow businesses such as Boden, Las Iguanas and Maximuscle. www.piper.co.uk

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