Start-up Advice: Joanne Hession, The Entrepreneurs Academy

5 Sep 2016

Joanne Hession, founder, The Entrepreneurs Academy

Joanne Hession is the founder of start-up support and training company The Entrepreneurs Academy.

Earlier this year, Joanne Hession founded The Entrepreneurs Academy, an Irish start-up support and training company that evolved from QED Training and Ignite Academy.

Hession is a board member of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and council member of Dublin Chamber, as well as a government advisor and advocate for the SME sector. She is also the co-author of the No 1 bestselling Don’t Get a Job, Build a Business.

In your opinion, which areas of technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

I believe that there isn’t a single area of business that isn’t going to continue to be affected by technology, but I am particularly excited at the moment by the opportunities that technology offers to the world of education.

While MOOCs (massive open online courses) and online delivery of education have been around for a number of years already, I think that we are only at the cusp of what technology can offer, opening up a world of high quality, specialist education and knowledge to everyone, not just to a small and relatively privileged section of people.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

Both! Undoubtedly, there are some people who emerge as fully formed entrepreneurs – the Richard Bransons of the world.

However, entrepreneurship is a way of thinking and a set of habits that can be learned, developed and honed. With the right information and training, these habits can, without doubt, be learned by the vast majority of people.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

The best entrepreneurs and founders can let themselves be free to be the best they can possibly be. They don’t get in their own way or create a lid on their business or their team’s potential. We are all constantly challenged by limiting self-beliefs, but good entrepreneurs believe big.

A good founder is a good leader, and good leaders ask great questions. Good leaders are exemplars of sound moral decisions. Good leaders create more leaders, not just followers, and extend their influence for the betterment of society and of the people around them.

Finally, I’d say, good founders never fall for the common pitfall of becoming so excited and enthralled with their product or service that they forget about the customer – the one thing that has never changed is that the customer is king.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

The speed at which all businesses and business models have changed over the past decade suggests that entrepreneurs need to develop a laser-focused alertness to what is happening in their markets. They need to talk to their customers and potential customers. They need to be willing to jettison what hasn’t worked and change direction if that is what is demanded. This means that market research needs to be a daily activity.

Successful entrepreneurs need to be great leaders, as everything rises and falls on leadership. They need to stay connected with their key people and commit to delivery. Plans and ideas are the basis of a business, but at some point you have to take the plunge and make those plans a reality. That requires that entrepreneurs be action-oriented.

Finally, to be successful you must reflect, daily. Real thinking ensures you work hard at thinking to prevent yourself from derailing. This, above all things, keeps you laser-focused on the things that are important to you, your team and your business.

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your arsenal?

Firstly, I’d say that training and upskilling are an absolute must for me and my team. If we are not personally growing daily, the business will suffer.

The need to stay ahead of the curve and constantly upskill is particularly acute within small business. Estimates vary, but studies have suggested that the benefits of undergoing training are six-times more valuable than the cost of being untrained.

Luckily, there are many extremely valuable training and other resources available to allow us to continue to develop our range of skills and abilities. Without even stepping out of your office, or front door, there are excellent courses online – such as those offered by Coursera and EdX – audiobooks and TED Talks that provide us with great flexibility to learn.

At The Entrepreneur’s Academy in Dublin, our particular expertise is in training people to develop their ability to start and run their own enterprises. We believe in the motto ‘Don’t get a job, build a business’.

That may sound like a bold statement, but entrepreneurship is a realistic option now more than ever.

One of the ways that we in the Academy are helping to drive this is through a partnership with the Government’s Springboard+ initiative. We run two free programmes on practical entrepreneurship to support budding entrepreneurs who want to start their own business. These programmes are run for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs, and focus on upskilling participants with the knowledge, networks and confidence they need to create and drive a lucrative business.

How do you assemble a good team?

You can do good things by yourself, but you cannot do great things by yourself. I am extremely fortunate to have great teams around me.

Particularly for small businesses, putting together the best team possible is the key to success. Start-ups rarely have the luxury of being able to throw huge amounts of human resources at a problem – they have to ensure that the people in the team can self-motivate, sell, innovate and, at the same time, work together. This is frequently the most difficult issue for entrepreneurs.

I work on the basis of hiring SWANs – people who are Smart, Work hard, have the right Attitude, and are Nice.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

In my view, there are three critical ingredients: planning, determination and consistency. Planning without determination will lead to grand ideas that either do not get off the ground or are half-heartedly followed through. Determination without proper planning and preparation is simply doomed to fail. Both planning and determination can be developed through the appropriate training and proper practice. Consistency in the long term is key to success.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

It’s difficult to generalise here, but, if pressed, I’d have to say that becoming so caught up in one’s idea that you forget about the customer is one major mistake that is very easy to make.

Especially at the early stage in a business journey, entrepreneurs can easily become so deeply involved in ensuring that their product or service has the right features, looks bright and shiny, and matches what they had envisioned in their own minds, that they can forget that the key thing to ask is, ‘What will the customer want?’.

Who is your business hero and why?

My father is my business hero. He has influenced me more than any other person in my life to become the businessperson that I am today. He is a phenomenal leader and person of influence and, from when I was young, I grabbed every opportunity I could to sit and listen to him and his business stories.

More than anything, my father showed me that there’s no such thing as business ethics – there is just ethics. He encouraged me to put people first, equip and support people whenever I could, and make good decisions based on moral principles.

I was raised in a household where I was encouraged by my parents to be the best I could be, and to always strive to do my best, work hard and fulfil my potential. Even today, I look forward to meeting my father to discuss my business ventures, stories and challenges, and he is always positive and encouraging saying, “You’re great. I know you’ll do the right thing”.

I will be always grateful to, and for, him and hope he will be alive for many more years to come.

What’s the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Keep upskilling!

I know it seems like you don’t have time for it, but it is the one thing that will set you ahead of the pack. No one has ever regretted learning something new, and there are few things that you learn that you cannot in some way bring in to your life or your business.

In 2016, learning is easy thanks to TED, Coursera and edX. Take training options wherever you can find them and give them to your team. Your team are worth it and the value add to your business will be tenfold.