Business tips from Jamie Lester of The Ideas Factory

Simply Business met with several British entrepreneurs at the Business Startup Show in London's ExCeL centre. We've asked business experts about their startup tips to guide new entrepreneurs through the process of starting or growing their business. In this interview, Jamie Lester underlines the importance of believing in yourself and your product as the key to business success.

Simply Business: Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about your company?

Jamie Lester: My name is Jamie Lester, and we’re working today on The Ideas Factory, which is essentially the real Dragon’s Den. There are two sides of the business. On one side, we have active investors looking for the next bright idea. And then, on the other side, we are here at the show looking for people who have a business plan ready to present to the investors. Every 4-6 weeks, we hold a seminar where the investors turn up looking for these cool business ideas, and then obviously people come along and pitch.

Simply Business: Can you talk about your experience of setting up and running a business?

Jamie Lester: When I was 24, I cut the comfort blanket of a monthly salary—I was earning very well at the time—because I knew that what I was doing for the company I could probably do as well for myself, if not better. So, at 24-years-old, I handed in my notice, said goodbye to my security blanket, and started my own business. Within two and a half years, I was turning over one million pounds. It was a very, very lucrative move for me.

Simply Business: What did you learn from those early years? What big pieces of advice would you give to people trying to do the same thing?

Jamie Lester: I learned so much. When I was 24 and I started my own business, I [thought] I knew it all, but I didn’t know it all. And I remember when I looked back two years later at myself at 24, I thought to myself, “I knew nothing.” And then, at 28, when I looked back at the 26-year-old, I knew nothing. I learned so much. The biggest culture shock for me was knowing that I was responsible for everything: the look of my website, even down to the tiniest detail of what style font you have on your business card or on your website, what logos you use, what shade of blue you use… everything was down to you. And if you made a mistake, there was no boss to tell you that you made a mistake. It was usually a member of the public that embarrassed you by saying, “You do realize you have a spelling error on your business card or on your website.” Everything, everything, everything is down to you.

Simply Business: Is there one piece of advice, one gem, that you were told along the way that you’d pass onto other people?

Jamie Lester: I started work at 16, so I had worked for 8 years for other companies by the time I started my business. One thing I did, and I never moved away from, is that I believed in my product. Whenever I spoke, I truly and sincerely believed it. There was no speaking without believing it. I suppose that believing in yourself is something that you have to naturally do. If you don’t believe in yourself, if you don’t believe in your company, people will know, and your business will not succeed. You’ve really got to have passion about your company, and how you work it. Otherwise, I don’t think it will work.

Simply Business: Did you have any specific mentors, or people, or places you’d go for advice when you started running your business?

Jamie Lester: My mentor is Robert Mentalto. He was one of my first bosses. Nobody knows him, apart from his friends and family, but he runs a very successful business in Essex recruiting estate agents. We have always got on very well… he was an amazing boss to me, and he is my sounding board, and has always been throughout my life. We are really simple people, and we break it down to really simple stuff, because business is actually quite simple and for me, it’s all about common sense. I chew the fat with Rob, and we do it for hours on end, just talking about the pros and the cons. There are many ways to do any project, to run any business… There are many ways to do it. He’s my sounding board, he’s my mentor.

Simply Business: Is there any final thought you’d like to give people about to make the jump themselves, and who are saying, “Right, I’m going to do it. I’m going to start my own business”?

Jamie Lester: It’s an intense move, because when you do quit your job and remove that comfort blanket, the pressure is on because no money will come into your pocket unless your business is succeeding. So, when you make that move, you have got to make it work… there are no two ways about it. You have really got to dig deep, believe in yourself, and if you’re not ready to do that, then don’t quit your job because I think you’ll run into problems. You’ve really got to think, “This is what I’m going to do, and I’m going to do it. No two ways about it.”