Successful entrepreneurs often find themselves pigeonholed by conventional assumptions and stereotypes. Oft viewed as obsessive workaholics, they are seemingly afflicted with a ruthless tenacity and single-mindedness verging on the blinkered. Movies like The Social Network or TV shows such as The Apprentice haven't helped. Neither has Donald Trump's showmanship.
But in recent years, as the aspiration to become an entrepreneur has ballooned, so too has the entrepreneurship vocabulary - which now includes such terms as "e-preneur," "solopreneur," "oldpreneur" or "mumpreneur". No longer can entrepreneurs be defined by a specific group of characteristics.
Take Emma Sinclair. She's founded three businesses, writes regularly for The Telegraph and City A.M., and was Unicef's first Business Mentor. Today, she heads up EnterpriseJungle, a software company which builds data driven applications to create insight and efficiencies. But top of her extensive list of distinctions is that she remains the youngest person to have listed a company (Mission Capital) on the London Stock Exchange, having done so at 29. She emphatically believes that entrepreneurship can change the world (hear, hear). I caught up with Emma after a recent Female Founders Forum event to talk risk, fundraising, and paying it forward.
Annabel Denham: When did you first discover that you had it in you to become an entrepreneur?
Emma Sinclair: It's hard to pinpoint exactly. But entrepreneurship certainly touched me from a young age. My father [himself an entrepreneur] drove me to school every day and would often talk about business, buying property and the stock exchange. So I never thought of entrepreneurship as an "ivory tower". I always thought it was in the realm of the possible because my father had done it. Even today, he remains my best source of advice and inspiration.
AD: You left a successful career in investment banking to start your own business. Why?
ES: I loved investment banking and I treasure the time I spent at Rothschild. But while I learnt a great deal, I also knew that I wanted to build my own business. I remember feeling near-faint with stress when handing in my resignation letter. I had a great job that I worked hard to secure, so walking away was a big deal. That said, what was the worst possible outcome? I would be in debt, my pride would be dented and I could wind up in a third-rate job. But I was young enough for that not to worry me too much. I didn't have a family to support, and those seemed like risks I could handle.
AD: You were the youngest person in the UK to IPO on the Aim market. Have you ever felt you weren't taken seriously on account of your age?
ES: I am asked this regularly but, honestly, no. I think I was oblivious to how young I was when I IPO'd - it's only in hindsight that I cannot believe I had the confidence to do it! I have, of course, encountered patronising individuals over the course of my career. But I've not paid any attention to them. There will always be people who are disinterested, unsupportive, even plain rude - and I did, and always do, my best to avoid them.
AD: What, over the course of your entrepreneurial career, has been the biggest challenge you've faced?
ES: Probably other people! If I think back on the challenges, they were usually human - and caused by people who have malicious motives. That being said, those people are far outweighed by those positive and supportive people I am fortunate to call my family and friends.
AD: Was funding ever an obstacle to scaling up your businesses?
ES: Raising money is always tough. Each time I fundraise, it brings its own set of challenges dictated by the type of company, jurisdiction, the offering (i.e. listed shares versus equity) and the sector. But finding ways around those challenges is part of running and growing a business. When I had a PLC, someone who had committed a significant chunk of funds pulled out last minute, so we literally had to go around knocking on doors and finding a way to fill the gap in a 24-hour period. We did it - but it was incredibly stressful. As I say, fundraising is never easy...
AD: In recent years, you've given a lot back to the entrepreneurial community. Is this an issue which is close to your heart?
ES: I very much believe in karma and paying it forward. There were so many people who supported me in my early years - and people I call now for help and guidance - and I think we all have a duty to give back where possible. I try and live my life in a way that involves giving back to the entrepreneurial community. And I'm happy to do it: I love each an every interesting person, venture and event I cross paths with. I never tire of hearing their stories and experiences.
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