4 Reasons Why AIESEC Provides the Perfect Education for an Entrepreneur: Part 2

This is part two of a Guest Blog from Tom Weaver, previous Member Committee President of AIESEC United Kingdom 2002-2003, Founder of Flypay.

On Monday, I introduced you to my AIESEC experience and how the skills I learned supported me in becoming an entrepreneur and founding my startup Flypay. Here are the other two reasons for why AIESEC provides the perfect education for the future entrepreneur:

Reason 3: Entrepreneurs need to have passion and belief in what you do

AIESEC is amazing at building passion.  It’s what makes AIESEC so successful and sustained over so many decades.  When people join AIESEC they learn how to channel that passion into getting other people just as passionate about the concept and the product.

When you create a startup, you need to really believe in what you’re doing, and feel passionate about it.  That passion will come through for your customers, partners and investors.  I’ve met founders who seemed bored with their own creations, and I wouldn’t put my money into them.

Reason 4: Entrepreneurs need to be accountable in a totally different way than employees are accountable to their managers

One of the most fascinating aspects of AIESEC (speaking, perhaps now, with a UK slant) is how Local Committees have non-contractual accountability to the Member Committees (national teams), and how Member Committees have accountability to their Board of Directors.

In the case of the Member Committees (MC), there are very strong similarities with running a startup.  The typical AIESEC Board does not “manage” the MC.  They are non-executive.  But the MCs are accountable to that board.

Having a startup that has gone through a funding round is the first experience I’ve had of being accountable to a board since leaving AIESEC.  Every job I had, no matter how senior, I was simply reporting to a manager.  The previous company I built, Flywheel, was a consultancy and did not need investment- the two directors were the board.

In Flypay, aside from the two founders (myself and my CTO, Chris), we have an amazing board to guide the organization, and to be accountable to.  I have one Non-Exec who has vast experience running very large restaurant groups and is very well known in the industry.  He gives us the “restaurant operator” insight.  We have a Non-Exec, who is also an investor, who knows all the CIOs in the restaurant sector personally and advises us on our business development.  And we have one Non-Exec, who represents two investors and has a lifetime of experience in technology investment and is steering us towards our second round.

My job as CEO in this regard is very similar to my role of Member Committee President.  I ensure we are being transparent to the board and giving them a clear picture of the state of the organization.  Monthly, I present how we’re doing, and get agreement on strategic items too important for us to decide just as founders, such as a funding strategy.  We often come up with strategic input, but we ensure the board has a say. Working with them closely and building a good relationship is critical to get the best out of my company and my AIESEC experience with accountability structures has been very useful.

Conclusion

Being an entrepreneur and starting your own company is an amazing roller-coaster ride.  But you don’t (necessarily) have to start a venture straight after AIESEC.  Have other experiences that give you ideas.  Often the best concepts for startups come from the frustration of spotting a problem in your current job, and knowing that your current employer or client is not geared towards solving it.  Understand what it’s like to be an employee before you have employees.

That being said, joining small businesses that give you good exposure to a range of problems can be a beneficial path to take. They may have nothing to do with where you eventually start your own business (I was in educational consulting, then design consulting, then customer experience innovation consulting… then Flypay!).  I’ve known other alumni that joined very large businesses, and have done exceedingly well to get in senior roles, but they are now used to working at a macro level and would struggle to deal with the minutiae you have to deal with as a founder in a startup.

Whatever you do, make the most of your time in AIESEC.  It is a wonderful incubator for your entire career, and I’m thankful every day I discovered it.

Flypay is running for the SMARTA 100 mobile business of the year and we would really appreciate your support.  Vote for us by clicking the following link: www.flypay.co.uk/vote You can follow the guys on Twitter at @flypayuk, or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/flypayuk

For more information on how to get  involved with AIESEC, please visit our website www.aiesec.org

4 Reasons why AIESEC provides the perfect education for an Entrepreneur: Part 1

This is two part Guest Blog post from Tom Weaver, previous Member Committee President of AIESEC United Kingdom 2002-2003, Founder of Flypay.

“A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth.” 

– Paul Graham, investor & founder of startup incubator Y Combinator

My story: University, AIESEC and becoming an Entrepreneur

The AIESEC experience is like being thrown in the deep end of the swimming pool when you’ve just taken off your life jacket. Fortunately, this is exactly the induction that is needed for the aspiring entrepreneur. With AIESEC’s safe environment to try new things and fail, members are able to learn and acquire practical skills that are very much needed in the world of startups.

I felt I was in the deep end at every step of my AIESEC career, from a new member, to Local Committee President in AIESEC at the University of Southampton, to a trainer, and finally to National President of AIESEC United Kingdom in 2002.  The kinds of issues and challenges we faced day to day were well beyond what I needed to deal with for many years after, until I founded my startup company, Flypay.

At that point, I felt like I’d jumped into an even deeper swimming pool.  Fortunately for me, I knew a little bit about swimming by now.

Flypay’s Journey: From an idea to a startup

Flypay is an app that allows restaurant customers to check, split and pay their bill from their smartphone. The typical restaurant customer waits over ten minutes from the moment they are ready to leave, until the moment they are paid up and can leave. There are all sorts of difficulties with splitting the bill with others at your table. I felt that my business partner and I could solve this problem.

We launched in Wahaca, a major London Mexican restaurant brand, last month. We’re now slowly rolling out across their estate, as well as having some very positive discussions with some very large and well-loved UK restaurant brands.

Now we’re focusing on growth; growth in the number of restaurants using our solution; growth in the number of consumers using the app. And we need that growth fast! We need to get there before the PayPals of this world decide they can do what we do.

We’ve gone through one investment round, and will shortly begin our second, much more significant round.  We’ve had our first transactions, first users, first press, first positive tweets, and have just been nominated for Mobile Business of the Year (we need votes for this, so if you think we’re onto something please help by voting here)!

Through all of this, the skills I had gained in AIESEC were critical to our success, and I realized why AIESEC is such a perfect primer for startup founders.  Here are my four reasons.  It was three, but who needs to follow convention anyway?

Reason 1: Entrepreneurs need to be a generalist as well as a specialist

Aside from designing and creating the actual product, here are some of the things I’ve had to do in order to get Flypay off the ground. They may sound familiar to the well-seasoned AIESECer (a term we use for “members of AIESEC” for those of you who are not in the organisation):

  • Cold email the Managing Director of our first customer to persuade him to meet us
  • Persuade our first customer to take a chance on us in our first meeting
  • Persuade critical partners to work with us by selling them the vision of what we were going to achieve, and how they could be a part of it
  • Develop a business plan outlining what we were going to achieve (used as the basis for fundraising)
  • Pitch for funding (somewhat like going for sponsorship, only a bit of a larger number)
  • Build the best possible Board of Directors
  • Create a new business development and marketing strategy
  • Develop the product and execute the vision you’ve sold everyone
  • Sort the finances, and develop a very focused budget

Some people have very defined careers. They build up specialisms that determine their day-to-day job descriptions and projects.

Running a startup is not like that.  It is just like working in AIESEC- every day holds something very different.  One day I’m meeting a new client.  Another I’m networking with senior executives at a conference.  Today I’m running a board meeting and had a lot of materials to prepare.  We’ve got employees to manage, and product deadlines to hit.  I’m interviewing PR companies this week. I need to prepare a contractual agreement for a potential new client.

Being able to deal with a wide range of things from the very big picture to the very small details and shift from concept to execution very quickly is essential to the success of a startup.  This is what AIESECers do all the time.

Reason 2: Entrepreneurs need to be very good at persuasion and presenting

When you initiate a startup, you have a vision for something you want to change.  Often, you need to persuade a myriad of people to work with you.  We’ve needed to convince a lot of people that Flypay was worth their time- including our first clients, the restaurant systems that client used, a very large payment gateway provider, several merchant banks, investors and initial consumers.  They had to take a chance on something that (at early points) didn’t even have much of a product to put in front of people.

AIESECers learn to be persuasive because what they are selling is very conceptual (you don’t have a physical trainee there) and relatively complex (there is a whole process to go through).  That is a very useful thing to learn.

Once I left AIESEC I was blown away by how poor “normal professionals” are at presenting.  I saw, and still see, many highly paid and important, but insanely poor presenters. Yet, in AIESEC, we are used to getting up in front of large groups all the time.  It gives you a huge advantage.  When you go to pitch for investments you need every inch of those skills.  We had one presentation of five minutes in front of 25 “dragons” followed by five minutes of questions, but were told we were unusually good at presenting and made an excellent impression (and gained two investors and an offer of more from the experience).

Interested to hear more? Come back on Wednesday for the continuation of Tom Weaver’s guest post, as well as his final thoughts on AIESEC and entrepreneurship.

Are you ready to start improving the skills you need to become an entrepreneur? Sign up to become a member of AIESEC now!

Conversations with Dr. Aditya Dev Sood on Leadership & Innovation

leadership At a recent conference that AIESEC India hosted, we had the pleasure to meet Mr. Aditya Dev Sood – Chairman of Adainta School for Leadership & Innovation. Here’s a conversation we had with him.

Question: What is your company all about?

“Adianta School for Leadership & Innovation is a new institution that promotes a radical new approach to education. Project based, hands on, through industry partnerships, learning by doing through simulations and not in classrooms & lecture halls. Our thinking is that this kind of approach is really required in the Indian context where people are in college but not necessarily learning.”

Question: How Relevant is the organization to India today?

“We see there’s a huge gulf between the needs of industry and the way our higher education is working. And we hear this from the HR departments of large industries all the time that they end up hiring smart people who have zero experience, zero skills, zero capacity and they have to do a tremendous amount of training in house, once they’re on board. They don’t come with the ability to do a task analysis, manage their own time, manage anybody else’s time use HTML or social media effectively. They don’t come with an array of skills that make them valuable. And forget about large companies, in the case of start ups people need to do a lot of different things reasonably well. So we need multiple different kinds of skills – some of them being very basic and some of them are more sophisticated and all of these kinds of abilities are only acquired by learning by doing, solving problems & addressing challenges. They aren’t learnt by giving examinations and skill concepts. The difference between skill & skill concepts is the difference between theoretical learning & hands on learning.”

Question: How important are having these skills in the world today? How important is leadership today?

“Even those of us who are involved with leadership, understand that it is a very subtle concept. But when people start engaging the question, it grows in the mind & the consciousness to the point where one understands that one has responsibility for the world around us and this world is not going to run itself.  It requires us to take initiative, own problems, build solutions to those problems and along the way make these things into sustainable business models and business plans that will make these initiatives viable for the future. Leadership too often gets compartmentalized into either govermentality or else into management. Leadership is something above and beyond these two kind of dichotomies and yet it cross cuts and informs both of these areas. We have an approach to leadership that involves self discovery, enhances approaches to communication and better interactional skills. In some ways you might say this is the surface of leadership but in some way because we treat the same surface, what happens inside grows as well.”

We’re sure you’ll have some questions to ask him as well and for that, we’ve organized a tweet chat only for you! Some questions that will be addressed in the chat include:

  • Is youth the solution to the leadership need of Indian Politics?
  • What do you think makes a good leader?
  • What do you think are the biggest problems faced by today’s youth?
  • What kind of leaders does the country need in the present circumstances?
  • In the wake of the country’s socioeconomic condition, what can the youth of today do to make a tangible difference?
  • What sort of education does the youth of today need to be equipped with to be better and more responsible leaders?
When: Friday, 22nd February, 2013 at 4 pm IST
How: Follow and tweet with #adiantas to be a part of the conversation.
Tweet Chat