The Entrepreneur: Duncan Cheatle, Prelude Group

The founder of an influential members' club for entrepreneurs on his biggest business regret, bureaucratic gripe, and plans for expansion

Founder: Duncan Cheatle
Company: Prelude Group (including The Supper Club)
Website: www.thesupperclub.com
Description in one line: Supporting entrepreneurs in high growth
Previous companies: PwC and Medicom

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • The Supper Club provides high growth business owners access to a vetted peer group to share learnings and connections for a membership fee
  • We then develop and share best practice through speaker events and tools-based programmes with a wider audience of business owners wishing to emulate our Supper Club members’ success
  • We also advise government on matters relating to high growth businesses

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Building a team that I can finally say is great across the board, absolutely no weak links. They are motivated, capable and really passionate about our vision for supporting enterprise and entrepreneurs.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

I don’t look daily as that would be overkill in our business, but weekly I look at member/client pipeline and those at risk of leaving. We have a detailed monthly pack too with a focus on ratios/KPIs rather than pure P&L. I’m also a great fan of visualising numbers (too many people don’t get numbers!)

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We have done very little internationally to date but we are looking to expand the Club overseas with support from UKTI and licensing our content/tools into other markets like the US and Middle East where there is a higher demand for personal development among business owners.

Describe your growth funding path:

Our core business is one that is client funded. It’s not the sort of business that has warranted equity finance. That said we are at a tipping point and with many opportunities for longer term growth I wouldn’t rule out investment in the future. My new start-up on the other hand is a classic high growth, web based business that will require seed, Angel and venture capital. Watch this space…

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

Different team members would say different things. We use a range of business applications which for the most part work ok but always disappoint somehow. The future for us will be in building our own enterprise software integrated with applications that do work well in specific areas.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

We have just finished our three year plan which is to grow steadily to £5m in three years. We anticipate 25% of our income will come from overseas markets and new products. I suspect much of our expansion will be through licensing and partnerships.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Recognising that a very well-meaning social project (ThanksTo.com which encourages people to thank that inspiring teacher or the nurse that saved their life) was not a commercial venture. I wanted it to work so much I’d convinced myself of its sustainability when it will always need grant/sponsor support to scale. It’s still live so any corporate volunteers feel free to call me.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Many years ago I partnered with someone I thought I could trust on a project. The idea was I would sell it and he would deliver it. Except that he delegated the project and wouldn’t get involved even when we missed deadlines and the output was poor. It was a disaster and I’m ashamed to say I needed the money badly so didn’t refund two of my clients despite not being 100% happy with what we gave them. That was the bigger of the two mistakes. Reputation is everything, Charlie et al I’m very sorry!

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

That’s easy – EC imposed employment regulation. For anyone who has faced a vexatious claim on the grounds of discrimination it is soul destroying and very often a real hindrance to growth as the payouts can be big. The fundamental issue is that claims are uncapped so there is no way of assessing the risk and lawyers always encourage a settlement.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Not pricing high enough. This is critical as any business without funding cannot scale unless margins are high enough to put cash into the business to hire the right people. If you get the wrong people you can’t then delegate and business owners get trapped in dysfunctional micro business and struggle to break through to the next level.

How will your market look in three years?

We are way behind the US in particular – business owners here typically don’t invest time in developing themselves and seeking peer and mentor advice enough. In my experience those that succeed do and those that don’t, don’t. It’s black and white. The excuse of ‘not enough time’ is a nonsense. This will change, it already is, as people are realising that to make time to learn from others is a time (and in many cases a business) saver.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Work out what you like doing best and try to delegate the rest. And ask yourself whether you really want to scale a business or actually run a very nicely profitable lifestyle business. Scaling is not for everyone.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

Turning left on the plane. I have long legs so a flat bed on long haul flights is bliss.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Both. Although I think programmes developed by entrepreneurs are more likely to deliver results than those developed by academic institutions but then I would say that. All of the things we develop are entrepreneur driven, hence our business strapline.

What would make you a better leader?

Being a clearer communicator. I’m passionate but what’s in my head doesn’t always seem to arrive to others in the same format.

Business book:

Yes! 50 lessons from the science of persuasion by Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin and Robert Cialdini. Punchy, research based insights that trigger endless ideas you can take into your business.

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