The Mentoring Business

Ex Goldman Sachs Wealth Manager, Jonathan Pfahl, is founder and Managing Director of the Rockstar Mentoring Group which offers entrepreneur mentoring and business funding.

What is ‘REAL‘ Mentoring? And how can it be part of an entrepreneur’s quest for investment when funds are particularly tight?

REAL Mentoring is when you are seeking guidance from an entrepreneur who has GENUINELY been there and done it. REAL mentors can be used to help you get your business funded or purely through helping one achieve financial goals in their business. The average Rockstar Mentor has started, grown and sold at least one company for £18m! In nearly every sector in the UK. Having one of those mentors, from your sector as part of your team in the business plan and then having them sit next to you helping you do the pitch is why the Rockstar Funding Model works so well.

What makes a mentor?

The word “mentor” comes from the Latin word “Mentore” which means “to emulate” or “to be like”. Therefore what makes a very successful businessman or woman that other business people want to learn from to help them achieve the same level of success.

How did the experience of setting up your own business help to shape or inform the service you provide? Was it the inspiration?

Yes it was. Setting up my own successful business was done through the assistance of having a REAL mentor show me how to do it. I then, in my spare time, began mentoring other businesses years later, enjoyed it and thus created Rockstar to scale up what I was doing and give more people the opportunity to be mentored.

What was the biggest hurdle to overcome in setting up?

Getting the brand and reputation out to the number of people we needed for it to work. Unlike a lot of startups, we had a large marketing spend but learnt very quickly that even that will not work if you are not investing in the right measurable marketing strategies for the right type of audience. What we do now to market ourselves is almost completely opposite to what we used to do… This has come from trial and error with a big budget and, in hindsight, I would have done things differently in relation to our marketing than when we started 5 years ago… But hindsight is a wonderful thing! – as they say.

Do you have one tip for people looking to fund their business idea?

YES – prove you have a market! That does not include Googling surveys and statistics online. Go out there and speak to your potential customers, explain what you would like to offer them and ask them if they would buy it from you. Better still, actually make some sales before pitching. If you have not at least sold what you do to a good number of people and can prove that you have people who are willing to buy your product, then focus everything on making that happen first before asking someone else to take all the risk!

And finally, is this Generation Startup?

YES. One of the key positives that the recession caused was to drive up the number of people who are now serious and motivated to start their own business. In the 5 years we’ve been mentoring businesses in the UK, it is clear that a lot more people are wanting to become entrepreneurs.

For more on Rockstar Mentoring follow Jonathan and the team on twitter or check out their website.

Crowdsourced journalism

By Kaamil Ahmed

Egypt is voting for a new President this week. In the period between the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and these elections, Egypt hasn’t featured very much in the news apart from when there have been riots. When the Egyptian situation has been analysed, it’s largely been on a very general scale that talks about the ‘big’ issues such as that of the president, religion in politics and economy. But no one really spoke to the people. I thought there was a gap that could be filled, so last summer I decided that I was going to head down to Cairo with some friends and talk to some Egyptians.

Problem was, I didn’t quite have enough money to get there and buy all the equipment. I’d heard of this thing called crowdfunding and i’d seen someone on Facebook asking for money by using a website called Indiegogo. Hesitantly, I tried that route. It kind of worked.

I say it kind of worked because we did raise enough money to make the film but it felt too much like begging. The funders were just my friends because ultimately I don’t think that I had enough to offer anyone else. The idea was to produce some good quality campaigning journalism and, though I think we achieved that to some degree, I don’t think that’s enough. Crowdfunding thrives on being able to offer people something, so goods thrive because you can actually provide a person with the product in return for the funding. But with the film, I think anyone I didn’t know would probably wonder why they should fund me? There are probably a number of people who could go out and do that and I wouldn’t really be offering anything in return other than credit and the chance to have some input into the way the film was made.

The main problem is that crowdfunding, for journalism, is unsustainable. Sure, if you come up with a really good campaign and can find enough people that care about it, you might be able to raise some funds. But what about next time? You can’t keep going back to the same people and at the end of the day when it comes to campaigning, why give money for a piece of journalism instead of to a charity?

Crowdfunding can definitely work for certain types of projects but when it comes to the media, it is too simplistic.

Kaamil Ahmed is editor of Off The Tangent. He also writes a football blog here.

Follow the crowdfunding

Ben Saffer is the founder of Saffer Productions. Having done a lot of commercial work, events based films, music videos and festival coverage, both in the UK and abroad, he used crowdfunding to finance the company’s current “passion project”, which will be shown it at a number of film festivals across the uk and beyond.

What did you use crowdfunding for?

We used it to raise around 40% of the funding for a short film which we shot in March. The film is now very nearly reaching completion and it premiers next week. After that, it will be submitted to film festivals, possibly using another round of crowdfunding to raise the money for festival submissions.

Why did you choose crowdfunding?

Necessity really. With the time and resources available to us we didn’t really have any other way to raise the amount of money required. Also, it was an interesting first dip of the toes into crowdfunding, something which I’ve been interested in for a while.

How did you choose the platform?

We chose to use Sponsume because a few other filmmakers I know had used it in the same timeframe with some success. Also, it was preferable to other platforms such as IndieGoGo and Kickstarter because we knew most people would be UK based and being able to set the prices in £s was a big thing. Having a small UK based company to work with made things easier in terms of support and help.

How much were you looking to raise?

We were looking for £500, we raised just over £650 in the end. The other option was to look for local companies to sponsor the film. This was the first option we looked into, but crowdfunding required less time and effort to raise the money, allowed us to retain full independence and also allowed us to cultivate a community around the film and raise its profile on social media. Raising money from corporate sponsors can be good, however given the current climate this is becoming very difficult and generally requires a strong existing link with a company to be successful. The historical source of funding for these sorts of projects, UK Film Council and RDAs has all but disappeared and crowdfunding is going some way to plug this gap.

Were you pleased with the result?

We were very pleased with how the funding went. To be honest, we expected around 80% of the money to come from people who we were “pretty sure” would support us before we started, but the crowdfunding site gave an easy, fast conduit to get these funds from people over a wide geographical spread. I think crowdfunding is good if you have a decent network of family, friends and clients who you will support you, or at a higher level a large fanbase who will support your projects (see Vincent Moon‘s Colombian music documentary last year). I would recommend it to anyone who understands how it works: the mistake a lot of people make is thinking that there is a magical “pool” of people out there who will suddenly discover your film on a crowdfunding site and give you a bunch of cash – that’s not how it works; if you don’t know who these people are in the “real world” then they don’t know who you are online.

For example, another film in Leeds put a crowdfunding page up asking for £1600 in about 3 weeks. They had a small crew (much smaller than ours) and most of these already had other projects on crowdfunding sites so could only reasonably leverage their family and/or friends once in the timeframe. The crowdfunding page only raised around £160 which had the knock on effect of making the filmmakers look like they didn’t know what they were doing and made it more difficult for them to get crew, locations, equipment on a beg, borrow or steal. Conversely, we spent time before setting up a crowdfunding page on working out who would likely support us and to what level, setting our target accordingly. Through meetings and exceeding our target we showed that we knew what we were doing, created a positive feeling around the project and in the days after the crowdfunding page finished, were able to secure some great deals on crew and equipment off the back of this positivity.

What would you advise people thinking about using crowdfunding for their projects?

- Know your audience and/or potential funders
- Estimate how much you can raise
- Be realistic with your target and set it accordingly. Anything over and above this is a bonus
- Don’t fall into the trap of raising funding again and again: your “core” network of supporters will only give what they can and this will happen on the first round
- Create a community around your backers – this will help in many ways in the future
- Ensure you create positivity around your project off the back of a successful round of crowd funding (shout it from the rooftops when you reach your target!)

Event: The InnoTech Summit

Jennifer Arcuri is founder of The InnoTech Summit and MBA student at Hult International Business School.

The InnoTech Summit is an event launched to bring entrepreneurs and investors together, stimulating growth in the technology sector and promoting small enterprise in the UK, taking place at The Grand Connaught Rooms Hotel on 13th April. Follow news about the event on Twitter.

The event includes a pitching competition for entrepreneurs because it’s a difficult time for startups. How is this the case?

Startups are facing major challenges in today’s market, especially graduates at the onset of their careers. Our goal is to build a platform for entrepreneurs to develop, fund and build their company through the use of disruptive technologies. This competition follows in the spirit of the event by giving these entrepreneurs the stage to pitch their ideas directly to people who can help bring them to life, but also by providing mentors to nurture small business and, in turn, innovate the future of hi-tech.

What makes an idea for a startup a good candidate for investment?

The startup needs to answer a particular need. Whatever service or product, it needs to be commercially viable. Investors look for return on investment and more particularly high returns, so just sales at the break-even level will not attract investors.

Another point: building a network is everything. As we have carefully observed from our recent interactions with investors, the bottom line on the investment comes down to the entrepreneurs themselves. The beginning stages of development and growth for a company undergo too many “changes” to really rely on a startup’s business plan from the beginning; the investor undoubtedly invests in the entrepreneur first and foremost when making the decision about funding.

What other advice would you give to start ups looking for that initial injection of funding?

After talking to many different investors in the City, it really does come down to the following:

- What makes you “investable?”

- Who is your audience? (and why do you think they’ll listen?)

- What is your story? (and how are you going to tell it?)

- Always, always, always know your audience. Do your research. It’s amazing how effective a little intellect and human charm can be.

I come from a film background, so everything comes back to the “story” to me. You may have the best numbers in the world on paper, but if you are incapable of selling the “sizzle” – being excited about your product – how can you expect anyone else to be?

Aside from the competition, what other advantages can young entrepreneurs get from attending the InnoTech Summit?

Entrepreneurs will have the ability to network with venture capitalists, investors, and other professionals in an environment where everyone is accessible to each other. In addition, we have a lot of great organizations attending (Start up Britain, Innovation Warehouse, NACUE, etc) within London who are specifically designed to cater to the needs of entrepreneurs. Our recent updates to the speaker slate are another great reason to attend the InnoTech Summit. Entrepreneurs will meet other digital companies on crowd sourcing, mobile platforms, video content, brand building, etc, as we have lined up an exciting slate of Digital Entrepreneurial Keynotes. In addition, our panels will add another interesting dynamic, some of the pressing discussions within the startup community: could London become the next start-up capital of the world? Is capital the missing ingredient?

Finally, do you think this is generation startup? More and more young people are setting up their own businesses, do you think this constitutes a community of entrepreneurs that in some ways defines the generation?

The “Generation Start Up” trend is a direct response to the opportunities that are created from the amazing, powerful distribution platform of the world wide web. This has unleashed incredible capabilities of people’s creative thinking and virtual intellect. Our panel discussion on London becoming the next startup capital will explore this issue more. However, I do believe this is the same “me” generation that has cracked the music and film industry in the changing of their distribution platforms. This is the same “Facebook” information-aged generation that will continue to shape, innovate, and continuously redefine the future of enterprise and the way we do business.

Twitter Robot – Nurph said

Neil Cauldwell, 28, is the founder and director of, the real-time communication service that gives you a home for your Twitter followers and turns your Twitter account into a knowledge-learning assistant that you can teach to answer your follower’s @replies automatically. Follow Nurph on Twitter

When did you start your business and where did the idea come

I was bitten by the web entrepreneurship bug in summer 2007 and have been working on the opportunity since then. The company was incorporated in 2009. The Nurph product has evolved over time, but the goal has always been a better online, real-time communication experience.

How can businesses use Nurph? What is the most useful

Many businesses have signed up to Twitter to share news and communicate with potential customers on the service. Nurph adds value by providing destinations, called “Channels”, where a company’s Twitter followers can congregate for free-flowing conversations – and, most-significantly, a “knowledge-learning robot system” that enables a company to teach their Twitter account to answer questions automatically, instantly, and at any time of the day. This feature is getting lots of interest because it makes your Twitter account work for you.

Twitter accounts were leaked a couple of weeks ago, the documents say twitter is not doing well. What do you think they’re missing?

The difficulty with Twitter, and the act of “tweeting”, has always been with articulating the benefits to end-users. Twitter has solved the problem of “getting the word out quickly”, but a lot of people and organisations are struggling to find their target audience on Twitter. So the solution is there but the audience isn’t. Once you look at how the Nurph product works, it’s easy to see how a business could leverage the Twitter platform in conjunction with Nurph to gain real business benefits – most notably faster customer support response times, easier knowledge-sharing, and better communication with customers. If you focus on solving problems that create value for people and make their lives easier, you’ll build a service that people will want to use.

When it comes to twitter followers – is it quantity or quality?

“Quality” and “engagement” are more important than quantity. Think about your Twitter followers in the same way that you would with your email newsletter subscribers and your Facebook friends. You want an audience that is interested and receptive to the things that you have to say.

Is this generation startup?

The web inherently makes it easier for people to get the ball rolling with a start-up and to discover other people doing the same thing. It certainly feels like we’re part of a young startup generation. But it’ll always take a certain type of person to be a passionate entrepreneur who will never quit no matter how hard the going gets. And there’s probably only a certain number of those people in every generation. It’s more about the people than the technology – the technology is just an enabler. You’re always going to need the passion and the determination to make a start-up a success.

We’re live!

So now that we’re live here’s how we’re going to organise things:

Offshore - a look at the business and startup world outside the UK

In Focus – the freshest, youngest business idea we could find, from the people behind them

Tools for Trade - reviews of some of the many resources out there for entrepreneurs

Social StartUp - startups that are social, simple

Business Class – ok so it’s not all about us, what can we learn from those that have done it before?

Talking Shop – news, business talk, debate and discussion or just what we happen to be thinking about…

What do you think?