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Josh Valman: 7 quick lessons from a young entrepreneur

The CEO of RPD International speaks exclusively to Startups about life as a young entrepreneur, from asking stupid questions to defying his critics

Having begun his engineering career at 10 years of age, Josh Valman is already a veteran entrepreneur – despite now only being 21!

Always expressing an interest in design, the problem solver sent off his life savings of £500 to a factory in China when he was 13 to have his drawings and ideas made into real components – much to the protest of his parents! By 15 he was working as a freelance engineer and was even taking conference calls after school.

Founding his own design and manufacturing firm RPD International in 2013, the business has since experienced phenomenal growth – becoming valued at £1m within its first six months.

Having secured investment earlier this year worth as much as £5m, the company is expected to maintain its current growing rate of 450% per year.

Speaking at ACCELERATE 2016 during the International Festival For Business 2016 in Liverpool, Valman sat down with to share some exclusive insights on succeeding as a young entrepreneur in business.

Learn to talk to human beings

While always having the acumen and passion for solving problems, Valman admits that he is quite shy and initially had trouble with ‘putting on a show face’ and doing press work.

“I wasn’t very good, still not, at talking to human beings! I got a job in a bike shop in sales and I was awful at it. It took me a couple of years to be presentable and now it’s just that you have to be. You have no other choice!”

His advice for any aspiring designers that are just a little too shy? Simple, practice and make something worth talking about! “Just talk to as many people as you can. Once you have something interesting to talk about, you won’t be able to contain yourself!”

Ask stupid questions

While spending two and half years consulting for various companies and their supply chains, Valman began to realise that a certain amount of ignorance really was bliss. Constantly questioning things in a bid to gain a better understanding, Valman’s inquisitive nature was beginning to open a lot of doors.

“There was a lot of power in the ignorance of not knowing what was going on there. My stupid questions unveiled a lot of opportunities.”

Age really is just a number

While attaining success so young is rightly a cause for admiration, Valman admits that his age was a talking point for many potential clients – though not in the way one might think. “It was met with scepticism in the past. ‘A company that does such serious R & D being run by someone without a degree?’. There’s been questions raised.”

Like any good entrepreneur, he defied his critics by letting his work do the talking.

“My last few years have been about proving it does work and now we have that credibility – age is irrelevant. It’s run by a team, it’s not just me. Look at our clients, 96 blue chip clients – it tells you something.”

It’s a calling

While not complaining about the money to be made in R & D, for Valman his career is all about vision and the endless possibilities that comes with such creativity. This is even reflected in the company’s recruitment process, as Valman looks for people genuinely inspired by what the business does.

“People in our office, if you go back at midnight they’ll still be there because they’re so inspired by what they do. They’ll come to an interview and dump a load of things on my desk and say ‘I made this!’. If they weren’t working for us they’d be doing the same kind of thing at home. They’re the kind of people that survive our company.”

The client possibilities are endless

Working with clients that manufacture everything from consumer goods and electronics to energy and aerospace products, one might be quick to assume that RPD would have to shift its operations drastically depending on what client it’s dealing with.

For Valman however, the industry is irrelevant, because the process is always the same.

“They all have the same problem whatever industry they’re in. They need to get products to market. They need to be innovative in that market to get the market share and they need to be successful in landing so it doesn’t hurt the company. We answer that problem.”

Start with a problem

For any aspiring entrepreneur, having that lightbulb moment is often the difference that’ll make your dreams of success a reality. For Valman, starting in the right place is crucial if you’re going to make any worthwhile strides. His advice is simple, start with a problem first and if you can solve it – sell the solution!

“If you start with an idea and then go with a problem you’re just going to keep brick walling it. Find a client that you can solve a problem for – lead with that and you’ll build a business as a result.”

You must adapt following Brexit

Following the news that the UK is to leave the European Union, many businesses, particularly those who trade overseas, suddenly found themselves in a pool of uncertainty. For Valman, the ability for global businesses to adapt to their new surroundings is crucial.


(will not be published)