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July 20, 2015

Words of advice for my nineteen-year-old self

Sam Conniff_Chairman_olderSam Conniff_Chairman_young

At nineteen, I remember thinking I would retire a millionaire by the time I was thirty, which seemed very old, very far away and very achievable. Today I turn thirty-nine and I guess I missed that deadline.

Twenty years ago, almost to the day, I started out on my entrepreneurial adventures by putting on a rave in a car park in Battersea. Since then, I have spent my whole life earning, learning, loving, living and running my own businesses.

Along the way, I am proud to have supported, mentored and scared off hundreds of other young people seeking to start up. However, if I had the chance to give my own nineteen-year-old self some advice, this would be my top five of what I know now, that I wish I knew then.

  1. Beware experts. Specifically experts in their own success, who tend to believe the way they did it is the only way. Listening to old (mainly) blokes in suits (me included) is limited in its usefulness. Embrace your naivety and never let it go. Never ever underestimate the power of not knowing what you are doing.
  1. Move faster than marketing. If you are only as up to date as someone else’s press release, then tomorrow will be a surprise and your ideas will have a short shelf life. Spend time with entrepreneurs, inventors, thinkers and drinkers. Read about the past then predict, think, talk and dream about the future and grow your ideas there.
  1. Time management is dead. There is far too much to do for a To Do list and far too many sources of distraction and information competing for your attention, all of which is doing its best to trip you up and trap you. Choose your tasks carefully each day and focus on the fewest things to do that will have the greatest impact. If you do that rigorously, every day, the detail will fall in line in time.
  1. Purpose over process.  Businesses need good processes to grow, but by their nature they like to run things, and they will try to take charge if you let them. Well harnessed, clearly articulated and alive  in everything you do, purpose is far more powerful, useful and effective than any process can be.
  1. Happiness is the bottom line to aim for.  Few businesses take happiness seriously enough. Most are managed by economics, which often leads to short-term thinking. Happiness leads to good work, trust, strong relationships, confidence, creativity, loyalty and fun. Money is important, but it is a mistake to think it is more powerful in the long-term.

In the last twenty years running my own businesses, the numbers of start-ups in the UK have grown from  4 to 5.2 million businesses, and we lead the world in e-commerce. When I started out a website was a rarity, we used faxes more than email and mobiles could only make phone calls. However,  it is not the improved functionality that is interesting, it is the connectivity and the ease of opportunities.

There are few things that allow for the human creativity, expression, development, interaction and excitement more than that of creating a business. That  businesses can now be launched  in an afternoon from a handheld device magnifies all of that, and there are very few jobs out there that can offer most talented nineteen-year-olds such an experience.

So my main advice to my nineteen-year-old self, and all the young people considering setting out on their own enterprising adventures today would be ‘don’t wait for anything, or anyone. Try stuff out and keep on trying. Start, stop, start again but whatever you do, don’t trust the grown ups’.

With thanks to all my business partners over the last 20  years:

Michelle Morgan, Gavin Weale, Joe Wade, Suresh Kara, Paul Arnold, Luke Hyams, Louis Figgis, Paul Dunn, Nick Agha, Stuart Noble, Justin Stennet.

Sam Conniff, Livity Chairman, 20.07.2015

  • Paul Ballard

    Just spent the morning with my head in processes Sam…’Argghhh’. Thanks for this little reminder to keep it fresh;-)