Leadership

Insights and inspiration from 4 tech entrepreneurs

Where do entrepreneurs find their inspiration and what advice would they give to others? We asked four founders of technology start-ups to share some of their experiences.

Emma Sinclair is co-founder of EnterpriseAlumni (formerly EnterpriseJungle), a software provider which helps large companies connect with their alumni, and is a serial entrepreneur.

Rezaah Ahmed is founding partner and chief executive of WiseAlpha, which connects individual investors to the corporate lending market.

Simon Rabin is founder and chief executive of Chip, a savings app.

Caspar Thykier is co-founder and chief executive of Zappar, the augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality app technology provider.

Where do you get your ideas?

ES: Some of my best inspiration comes from people I listen to in fields that don't seem to overlap with mine — these include scientists and philosophers.

RA: I naturally think about how can things be done fairer, better, cheaper, so I often have numerous ideas. The financial markets in which I work are rife with inefficiency and old-world attitudes so it's easy to get ideas for my business.

SR: I listen intently to the people I mix with. In the early days of Chip, I pitched the idea to everyone I knew. Each time, I emphasised the parts that got the best reaction from the last person.

CT: For the most part, in the swimming pool or just when I'm drifting off to sleep. Turns out your best ideas come when you're not working at all.

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Have you had mentors?

ES: The one consistent one is my father Neil. I don't think I have ever made an important decision without talking it through with him first.

RA: I often find my own mentor is myself, continually knowing I need to be better and to seek out knowledge from as many sources as possible.

SR: I've learned that investors and advisers who have been entrepreneurs themselves can offer the best gems of advice from their own journeys.

CT: There's no greater mentor than your family. The more senior you get, the fewer people there are who are willing to tell you when something is rubbish or when you're being obnoxious. But your wife and kids on the other hand . . .

What's your top tip?

ES: Your body is your most important piece of real estate. We feel invincible and assume we will have limitless energy, but I have learnt the hard way that being exhausted is not a competitive advantage.

RA: Never give up, even when people who you may respect say you can't do it.

SR: Stay focused on the actions that get you nearer your goal. It's so easy to be distracted by things that don't have an impact, so try keep in mind how your current activity is going to move you forward.

CT: Go to bed every night feeling you've given it your best shot. Success, it would seem, is a lot about hard work, good timing and luck. Might as well make sure the hard work is covered.

Rezaah Ahmed, founding partner and chief executive of WiseAlphaWhat's your worst mistake?

ES: Not trusting my gut instincts. The only really bad experiences I have had are with people who I didn't instinctively trust or feel comfortable with. That includes advisers, investors and employees.

RA: Thinking you can force everyone to your will. Sometimes you need to cajole or sidestep negative influences.

SR: Failing to follow my own advice, wasting time on things that don't matter. You have to be ruthlessly self-disciplined. Every day I ask myself what I'm doing to get myself to the next stage; and whatever it is I ignore everything else and focus on the goal.

CT: Letting email rule me.

Is work-life balance a problem?

ES: I think it's an outdated question, especially for an entrepreneur. Work is an integral part of who I am and the sort of life I lead, so the lines are blurred. A lot of people I know from business are close friends. And some of the ways I spend my days, which others might think of as work, are actually a pleasure.

RA: Being honest, yes. I guess most entrepreneurs will say they are obsessed with building their business.

SR: It very easily could be. I make one day of the weekend a completely "off-duty" day. I disable my work email, don't answer work calls and definitely turn off Slack [group messaging] notifications. It's non-negotiable and everyone on my team knows it.

CT: Wait, you're saying there's a thing called work-life balance?!

Simon Rabin, founder and chief executive of ChipWhat is the tech item could you not live without?

ES: I guess my phone charger. Beyond that, I mourned the death of my Sony Vaio [laptop] and the decision to discontinue the range . . . but I absolutely love my new touch screen Lenovo laptop.

RA: My laptop. I constantly need it.

SR: My iPhone (obviously) but also my Jura Ena 9 (greatest bean-to-cup coffee machine on earth).

CT: I'd be lying if I said it wasn't my iPhone. Whoever first likened it to an evolutionary appendage was spot on.

Are there any apps you swear by?

ES: I am unhealthily dependent on apps. WhatsApp for comms, Spotify for music, Uber [ride hailing] and Waze [a traffic and navigation app] for transport, Twitter for entertainment and news, OpenTable for dinner reservations, Olio for reducing my household waste and Instagram because I unashamedly love a perky quote about life. As a business we use Expensify for expense reports and receipt tracking.

RA: Uber and Boom Beach [a multi-player online game].

SR: I really do love using Chip. It's something I built to solve a problem I had, and I'm genuinely so happy to have the solution.

CT: There are loads I swear at, less I swear by. For pure magic I'd have to say Shazam. OK, I'm biased as we work with them, but frankly I still feel that same "How do they do that?" excitement every time I use the app and it recognises a track.

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This article originally appeared in Financial Times.