Below is Tim Bernard’s interview from the book “Just Like You” published by Oxfordshire Business First, which profiles more than 50 entrepreneurs from Oxfordshire.
How old were you when you started your first company, what was it and how did you find it?
I was 43. It was Pivotal Scientific, a Biotech consultancy agency, and it was privately funded entirely by myself.
What happened to that company? What did you learn?
It still exists and is growing each year in sales and staff. I learnt that with hard work and a focussed idea new companies can flourish. You must be prepared to adapt the original business plan.
Why did you start a company in the first place? What was the fundamental motivation?
I had worked for 25 years in my family business, which was sold and thought that it was then the time for me to do something on my own. The drive was to produce something from nothing. I wanted to prove I could do this on my own.
What else were you thinking about doing with your life, other than becoming an entrepreneur?
I would have had my own smallholding of exotic agricultural animals, which I could breed and sell. That’s a dream I may still do.
Do you think going to University helps or hinders becoming an entrepreneur?
I would say ‘no’ as it is about your character, not your academic ability. Although I went to University, they do not generally teach you vocational things, and you can’t change character easily.
All successful entrepreneurs have very low moments, please give a raw account of your very lowest entrepreneurial moment.
I went into business with a partner that I really did not know that well and trusted him to run the business for me. He sold me a great story and failed to deliver on the promises. Luckily, I had drawn up a good legal contract, so I managed to extract him from the company and basically start again with a new team, not without personal cost. The lesson I have learnt is to be far more involved in the start-up of a company and not to leave it to others.
What advice would you give to somebody who wants to become an entrepreneur?
Write a basic plan, run this past some trusted friends/colleagues and be prepared to listen and change it. Check that you can afford to lose the initial investment and then WORK, WORK, WORK. To get a company off the ground is all about hard work. Don’t expect to have a two week holiday in the summer without constant communication with the company. Also, the choice of staff is critical. In small start-ups, you will rely heavily on your staff, so chose them carefully.
What else are you passionate about, aside from being an entrepreneur?
Rugby (have been to four British Loins Tours), Chelsea FC and fly fishing. All three of these activities really help me to relax and unwind from the challenges of work.
What do you know now that you wish you’d know then?
Your pricing does not need to be the cheapest. Look at the service/products you offer and charge a good price for them. Undervaluing your offering can cause cash flow problems and does not always make the client look favourably on you. Cheap is seen as low quality.
What sort of people did you find helpful – which were unhelpful?
Friends and family and business partners who have been through the same challenges were really helpful to run ideas past. I did not find trade organisations helpful.
How hard did you have to work?
VERY! There is no let-up, as growth will come from implementing new ideas/service. I am forever thinking of ways in which I can develop the companies I have created.
What was easy – what was hard?
Working hard is easy. Networking is easy and essential in finding new partners. Sitting in your office waiting for business is a big mistake. Invest in travel and marketing. I found it very hard turning down work, but in the end, this is essential. If you are not capable of delivering a good quality product or service, your reputation will suffer.
Name three people who you find inspiring.
Richard Branson. I read all of his books and think he is a great example of all that is good about Britain. I travel extensively and always see the Virgin brand.
My father. He set up the original family business. He taught me the values of hard work and risk-taking and mentally supported me when it was my turn to start up my own business.
Clive Woodward. He had a single vision of how to take England to World Cup victory and he achieved his goal.
What else do you think the UK government could do to encourage people to start companies?
Decrease taxes to start-ups and encourage them to take staff on with reduced NI contributions.