Five Reasons Why Flying Trapeze Is Like Being An Entrepreneur

Originally published on Huffington Post.

Yesterday I took a leap of faith, quite literally. It’s week two of working independently again after 20 months of working within an organisation, albeit a small one. I told myself it was OK to take my first week easy and treat it like a week’s holiday. I even left the country, yet I found myself unable to switch off. The ideas that i’d been been pooling for the last few months were swimming around my head and I wanted to start pushing them forwards. The thought of not being able to do so felt restrictive, but I rationalised that this week was allocated to ‘fun’ and I would make a start next week.

Monday came around and I bounced out of bed, excited to start my week. Knowing how important structure is to my productivity, I’d scheduled early morning meetings, afternoon exercise and time in between to ‘get things done.’ So why, when my allocated time arrived did I suddenly feel overwhelmed with what lay ahead? All I needed to do was work through my task list, but I suddenly started questioning my prioritisation and found myself in a less than productive frenzy of multi-tasking.

A few hours later, I left feeling like I hadnt achieved anything, but it was time for my exercise slot. I’d booked myself in for an outdoor trapeze lesson in Regents Park - I’d never tried it before and thought it would scratch my ‘learn something new’ itch.

My sense of despondence about my morning meant I found myself volunteering to go first, and before I know it, I find myself climbing the ladder to reach the platform at the top. As I start to climb, i’m suddenly aware of how wobbly the ladder is and that I actually have a fear of heights ( when I don’t have a glass wall to protect me from falling). I reach halfway and freeze, my brain telling me ‘I can’t do this.’ I look down at the group who are all smiling and telling me to go on up, and i’m caught between two windows - walk back down or carry on and see what happens. I realise that if I tell myself I can do it, then I am more likely to try. So I continued slowly, one steady step at a time, trying not to to look up or down, but straight ahead. Each rung of the ladder created a beautiful window filled with leafy trees and I told myself that if I focused on the view, I appreciate the journey and not get overwhelmed with what might happen next.

I reached the top, only allowing myself to look straight ahead. Now come the flashbacks to my failed abseiling attempts over the years, where I would make it to the top and then refuse to back off the ledge. I tell myself that I am creating my own limitations and force a smile in an attempt to trick myself into believing I can do this. The instructor held the back of my harness and told me to lean forwards at a 45 degree angle, over the edge of the platform to grab the bar which is hanging in the air. When i’m ready, I should ‘hop off’ at which point he’ll let go.

My first issue is that the bar is heavy and hard to hold at that angle, and the second is that he had yet to earn my trust and may well let me go before I feel ready, much like my mum did when I was learning to ride my bike without stabilisers (although I know they both have the best intentions). After a minute or so of some gentle reassurance, the moment arrives where I know I just need to do it. As I look ahead, I know i’m nervous that I won’t be able to take the momentum and will fall, but i’ve resolved that the worse case scenario will be a scream followed by a bouncy landing in the safety net so here goes.

Here is the video of what happened next...

As you can see, I survived and I even managed to follow instructions to do a little trick!
My second attempt was still scary, but I followed instructions more quickly and willingly, trusting in the process.


I left class, laughing with my new friends and feeling like i’d achieved more than I ever thought possible, all in two short hours. Everything else seemed within reach again...

  • If you think too much about it, you won’t step off the ledge
  • Each step is building learned behaviour for future self-confidence
  • If you look too far up or down, you’re more likely to fall
  • Complete strangers become your support network because they appreciate what it takes to be up there
  • Why I see flying trapeze as a life lesson for entrepreneurship
  • You won’t always get there first time, but it’s good practise for the next attempt

Culture, Mindset & Compromise — Keys to Corporate Innovation

Originally published on

In my former role as Director of Partnerships for MassChallenge UK, I ran a series of innovation events, enabling global leaders to share their objectives, challenges and successes with other members of the innovation ecosystem.

Guests would include representatives from companies like IBM, PWC, Google, Visa, Silicon Valley Bank, Argos and MIT among others.  Provocative conversation about the common challenges of trying to incite change within large organisations would leave guests bounding out the doors, motivated once again to keep pushing against the grain.  

Here's a little insight in to some of those conversations;

  • It’s a challenge: everyone has their own challenges about working with (instead of against) their own innovation infrastructure, and how to ensure the company indeed becomes or stays innovative. Embedding ‘free-formed’ creative innovation within an organisation can be chaos — with millions of pounds of deals at stake, many corporations are not yet ready to take such risks.
  • Compromise is key: companies that work best with startups are the ones that let entrepreneurial-minded partners ‘fly internally’. Easy to say, but big business often demands big structure and control. The compromise, as defined by the group, was ultimately giving the power and scale of the organisation to the entrepreneur(s) whilst allowing them the autonomy to fly freely. 
  • To contend with innovation is to introduce novelty: this poses a big problem with large organisations. The metrics available to judge this are all based on existing structures, and breaking that to introduce novelty is the real problem.  The Novelty Confirmation Transformation Cycle is a structure potential aid  with the propositions of ecosystem novelty and transformation.
  • Culture and mindset are key: companies must be prepared to invest and recognise that the ROI in working with startups and driving innovation won’t come until significantly later on — that time needs to be allowed for this success to come later.  Perhaps ‘patient capital’ can solve this, since it requires a different mindset. The tipping point being that entrepreneurial mindsets can only become embedded within organisations after generational change — with innovative entrepreneurs having risen to the top themselves. CEOs want innovation, but would rather risk-averse growth to true ‘spiky’ (and risky) innovation growth. Short term targets simply don’t mesh with innovation, compared to ‘risky goals’ — a corporation’s appetite for risk is key to this.
  • Leave your role at the door: gaining true innovation for a company doesn’t typically happen unless people leave their roles at the door, as there are too many different views, titles, structures and roadblocks even within a single organisation. So people need to take 2 steps back and take their ‘function’ or ‘role’ hat off and have a discussion without any “no’s”. All agreed that this can be tricky, because startups expect speed, flexibility and freedom.

“The reason that startups can innovate, is because they’re always in a state of failure, so anything that moves them away from that actually is innovation!"

Can We Really Take Time Out to Achieve More?

Originally published in The Guardian.

I recently attended a talk that have made me sit up and take note of the fact that in order to be more productive, we need to take time out. My critical, over-active mind tells me that this is nonsense - how can spending less time working result in getting more done? Surely if i spend an an extra hour today ticking things off my to do list then i’ll have more time tomorrow to work through the next set of tasks and i’ll be achieving more in the long run? According to the panel on the stage in front of me, the trouble with this kind of mindset is that it ultimately leads to burnout which leads to prolonged periods of reduced productivity as energy, motivation and focus try to recover to normal levels.

Having just found myself in the second cycle of burnout in just 9 months, with the second being more severe than the first, I started to consider that perhaps it wasn’t the result of my inadequacies, but instead the pace i had set myself to achieve my goals. My concentration was suddenly transfixed on these 8 high-profile business minds who had all experienced similar behaviours and were now making a stand to help others understand the science behind the mind and how we can get more of out of life without sacrificing success.

Arianna Huffington lead the panel and talked about measuring success beyond money and power through a third metric - wellbeing. A high achiever and a victim of burnout, she talked about the difficulty of making lifestyle changes because it’s harder to see the greater good when you’re stuck in such a demanding routine.

The co-founder of Headspace shared their journey to make a stand to incorporate technology into our lives in a way that brings balance rather than fires information at us at high speed (there is a great article in ES Magazine on 26th July about having a digital detox). Their app helps people to dedicate just 10 minutes a day to taking some time out, clearing your mind and allowing you to continue your day with greater focus and energy. Whilst it’s hard to believe that a fairy godmother could live inside a mobile phone, it really does allow you to zone without having the impracticality of transporting yourself to a hammock on a deserted beach. I’m on day 10 and if i’m honest, a little bit addicted. I use it when i’m on the bus (there is a dedicated guide to Headspace on public transport which receives auto-play when i step on to the 176), for getting back to sleep when i wake in the middle of the night wondering if i’m doing the right thing with my life and when i find myself circling over my to to list because i’m overwhelmed at the length of it.

I also walked away with a book called Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. This has been my other go to when i need some time out but don’t want to risk falling asleep on public transport. It explains the science behind it all and feels like a very timely arrival in my life.

So what’s the result? I have to say, so far i definitely feel happier, less anxious and more capable of getting the right things done. I can sit on the bus and read without wincing at the shrills around me by acknowledging that they’re there without fighting them (thank you Headspace) and i can get back to sleep within 20 minutes as opposed to my usual 1-3 hours of thinking. Whilst it could be argued that i should seek professional counselling (i have considered it), i see many of the same struggles among fellow startup entrepreneurs who are trying to build their business and to you lovely people in particular, i believe these are the tools to help keep you sane along the way.

Mentors Are the Hidden Gems That Can Make or Break a Business (And Its Owner)


Originally published on British Business is GREAT

This month sees the Business in You campaign focus on Mentoring, but a distinct lack of marketing budget demands that it finds new ways to reach it’s audience. With all of the resources it has to offer small businesses and those thinking about starting up, it’s certainly a word worth spreading. In fact I’d shout it from the rooftops if I could because I believe that mentoring is the single biggest factor to helping start up businesses plan for growth.

My biggest regret is not finding a mentor earlier on into my journey. I put this down to a lack of clear information about the specific types of mentoring services available and lack of transparency around the costs of their services. When I was planning to start my business at the beginning of last year I went onto the government website (formerly business link) and read pretty much every link they had about setting up and running a business. I was keen to find a mentor because I was entering a sector in which I had very little knowledge and I knew that I would need some help to construct a targeted marketing plan. I knew that there were people out there who had already been through this process and could guide me through it in order to prevent me from making obvious (to those in the know) mistakes to achieve success more quickly. I wasn’t looking for shortcuts, just more efficient ways to do things.

My search resulted in a sea of mentoring organisations, all of whom alleged to meet my requirements. I started wading through them, reading their overviews to see if I could filter them down but they were all singing a similar song and requesting joining fees of anything from £50 to £250 plus further costs for the mentoring sessions. As a cost-conscious new business owner I was nervous about parting with up to £1000 for a ‘advice’ when I had no knowledge of the organisation or a meaningful way to calculate the return on my spend. I decided instead to just spend the time figuring it out myself which although would take longer, would be free. The result was a lot of time spent swamping my head with information that I found difficult to process because it was all new to me.

Something I hadn’t considered was how much culture could change between industries. In my former world, everything I needed to research was on the internet. In my new world of micro bakery, the knowledge was held by the community and you went online once you knew specifically what you were looking for. A mentor in the bakery sector would have been able to point me the right direction to make my own choices but from meaningful and relevant sources.

Another thing that took me completely by surprise was the impact the new day to day environment would have on me. I’d come from a structured environment with clear targets and timelines and I was now in a completely frameless environment in charge of my own achievement. Of course I set myself new targets and timelines based upon logical assumptions based on my previous performance, but I spent a lot of time dissatisfied with my approach and feeling that I could always have done things better. A mentor would have supported me in the planning process to ensure that I was setting realistic timeframes in which to achieve my goals. I could have also shared my concerns about my working environment which had become very solitary. The irony is that you spend time in an office surrounded by peers often wishing for some peace and quiet to concentrate on your work. Yet having it all the time can have an adverse affect on your productivity if you’re somebody that thrives on the buzz of a challenging environment. Everybody works differently and ultimately its all about balance, but a pair of ears that help you realise its perfectly normal to feel this way can make all the difference.

So, what options are on offer? Well there are the 15,000 business mentors trained via the Government funded Get Mentoring project (2012) who have all committed to giving one hour of their time once a month for 2 years and can be found on Mentorsme. Add that to the existing database and it totals over 27,000 mentors at your disposal offering in many cases, free advice with further payable services should you wish to take them up. The filtered results from the website are still a little broad (refinement is being worked on); however, the data is all there so it’s worth spending a little time reading through the options. The ‘Useful Resources’ resources tab gives a great brief on what you can expect from your mentor and it’s worth checking the ‘Mentoring Spotlight’ to see if they requirements. .

Another great resource is The Institue of Enterprise & Entrepeneurs which is a great community network. As well as promoting MentorsMe, they are also offering free membership to potential and early stage startups as they “recognise that the earlier people seek quality support to start or grow their business the more successful they are.”

My reluctance to pay for a service that I felt I should have been able to cope without left me disadvantaged and it’s my mission to help others prevent making the same mistake. Find a mentor and let them support you to on your path to success for I truly believe that they are the hidden gems that can make or break a business in it’s first twelve months as well as support it throughout growth.

Mentoring, More Than Just Instruction

Originally published on Huffington Post.

Mentoring is one of the most impactful support tools for businesses in their infancy as well as during their growth stages, yet it remains a much overlooked resource. So what is mentoring? For some, there is a negative preconception of a teacher figure who will attempt to assume knowledge about the intricacies of your business, criticising what has been done, before instructing what’s to happen next. For others, the idea of a mentor is somebody having all the answers to your business questions and handing over a take-away plan to implement them. These biases stem from definitions of mentoring similar to the one below

“Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.”

The level of experience held by the more knowledgable/experienced person is always assumed to be much greater than is actually required, because even one tiny step ahead or even sideways creates knowledge and new learnings to your own. When you think about it in this context, you are suddenly faced with a list of people that could provide mentorship, sometimes even unknowingly and a simple action of opening up dialogue between your acquaintances in the business community can provide a host of solutions at your disposal. Starting up can be a lonely place and you don’t always consider the impact of the role your peers previously played in providing support and knowledge.

“True mentoring is more than just answering occasional questions or providing ad hoc help. It is about an ongoing relationship of learning, dialog, and challenge.”

In effect you need to recreate that network of peers which takes time, but at the end you will have a community of people selected by you, who share your life goals and ambitions and are willing to support you to achieve them. Of course you have to overcome the fear of sharing information, but you’ll be amazed at just how much you gain in return, both emotionally as well as practically. It’s not about sharing the inner most secrets of what makes your business a success, but about sharing experiences which will often uncover obstacles that somebody else has already overcome.

So if you’re struggling with the concept of mentoring, perhaps this will help youth think of it a little differently. My recommendations on places to meet great peers are Escape the CityThe HubVirgin Media PioneersStartup Britain.