Last week we caught up with an icon we will easily describe as one of the UK’s most original thinkers. If you’re ever in doubt about plunging forward with your startup or venture, the “Ideas Man” has words for you. In an exclusive interview with Shed Simove, he tells us about his ideation process, gives advice on how to develop your business, and shares his take on the current business landscape.
Shed Simove is a performer, author, entrepreneur and motivational speaker on creativity and innovation. The constant stream of ideas he pours forth are often as brilliant as they are controversial. A unique business model that has worked for Shed multiple times is transforming unconventional concepts into lucrative new ventures which form the basis of his stand-up routines and inspirational speeches. Shed’s resume reads like it was scripted for a comedy-romance about an accidental but successful entrepreneur. Because his success is very real, the first thing we asked him is what he thinks actually goes into the making of a remarkable entrepreneur.
Shed: I think your question contains a very insightful word: remarkable. I believe that in order to do anything that is successful, important or even funny, you have to create something that people remark on. So being ‘remarkable’ is very relevant to the answer.
I’d also say three things:
(1) Never listen to advice [laughs] – unless it spurs you on.
(2) So how to be a ‘remarkable entrepreneur’ then… I believe we all need to up our game to be heard, to be noticed in this busy world and it’s really, really tough. One way I try to be ‘remarked upon’ and promote what I do is to simply look at what everyone is doing in the marketplace and just do something different. It’s a simple trick, but not enough people do it. Another neat trick is to look at what was successful a generation ago – say 20 or 30 years ago – and then just twist it or update it for today to create a new idea. These are the sort of techniques I cover when I deliver my motivational speeches to big companies.
(3) Reframe your life. School is very damaging in terms of putting the onus on ‘pass’ and ‘fail’. I think the emphasis of education should be on exploring, experimenting, falling – so that you know then how to get up and learn from your mistakes. Only after many failures can you ever hope to succeed. The human brain is naturally primed for learning. That’s its massive computational superpower.
I really think the education system is very lacking these days because it doesn’t encourage people to punt, to fail, to have a go. What’s wonderful about being alive today is that you can ‘have a go’ at any business or even a small side project very cheaply because there are so many people on the internet willing to help you either for a small amount of money, for a share of excitement, or a share of profit. The barriers to starting a new venture – and adventure – are incredibly low now – and really the only barrier I feel is often in our heads. We all have that nagging voice; it’s partly formed from our schooling, it’s influenced from the people around us, and it’s partly down to societal conventions, but really, we should all be trying things a lot more. As long as trying something new won’t result in death or homelessness, then start now.
Shed has a degree in Experimental Psychology from Balliol College, Oxford, so it’s easy to guess the source of his views on experimenting in business. However, Shed’s business ventures are so off-the-wall that it was almost counter-intuitive to hear his thoughts on the education system. Naturally, we wanted to know how seriously Shed takes his business ideas.
Shed: When you talk about seriousness, I certainly work hard on anything I do, even if it’s meant to be humorous or entertaining. Humor to me is very important because it helps us get through life.
These days there’s so much pressure to succeed. There are 8 billion people on the planet and many are fighting to survive and compete to ‘be something’. The irony is that with the nonsense that I make, yeah I take it really seriously. In the same way that a modern artist like Damien Hirst takes his ‘shark in the tank’ seriously, or Tracey Emin takes her ‘unmade bed’ seriously (and some people would say they’re absolutely unworthy of merit) I focus hard on everything I do, because I want to deliver a good end product to the person who interacts with it – whether it’s a book on success I’ve written, an app I’ve developed or even The Martin Loofah King – which is a novelty loofah mitt printed with the face of Martin Luther King.
I do take all my creations seriously in terms of getting them made well, but at the same time I’m hugely aware that when I’m launching a spatula that looks and laughs like Dracula called ‘Count Spatula’, I’m not curing cancer or saving the world from global warming. I’m not deluding myself, but I do want to provide good quality entertainment and content whether it be in my speeches, my comedy shows, or whether it be in a 3D form when I create a childish product that sells for 5 or 10 quid.
As Shed clearly explains, he is an entrepreneur with a niche. His formula is not so different from Richard Reed or Charlie Mullins. His education in Experimental Psychology combines with a career in Disney World and showbiz into a one-of-a-kind brand of entertainment. While his products may trigger an outburst of laughter in one case or extreme controversy in another, there are active and engaged market segments that he has carefully tapped into. Individuals consume his products to satisfy their entertainment needs and businesses court him for his expertise in ideation. In a sense, we see Shed Simove as an artist whose canvas is the business scene.
Shed: The word artist is an interesting one. Lots of people think it has pretentious baggage. I think of an artist as someone who is bringing their soul to life without compromises and seeing if anyone else will then either pay for what they bring to life or just enjoy it. If you use that as a strict definition of ‘artist’, then I fit into that category. But that’s not for me to say, that’s for you to say.
My friends and family berate me and say “Shed, you’ve got quite a good brain, why don’t you come up with stuff that is useful and important.” Well, I don’t want to do that! It’s taken me 20 years to be in a position where I can think up an idea and whether it be for a queen eraser called ERaser, a book called ‘What Every Man Thinks About Apart Form Sex’ that has 200 blank pages inside, or a new app I’m developing, a new comedy show or TV show, what I’ve tried to do is engineer my life so that I can take all these ideas and be incredibly excited about them and pursue them. That is a massive privilege. I believe that being able to bring your ideas to life is part of happiness and living life to the full. If you can find what turns you on and excites you, fires you, fulfills you – whether that be helping others, be making novelty gifts, being a politician, whatever it is – if you can look deep in yourself and find that, it’s one of the key factors for a happy life.
I believe that schools should be helping you tease this out of you when you’re young and especially when you’re about to pop out into the world. I’d love the education system to put you through a barrage of situations and tests to enable you to find out: (a) what you’re good at latently, and more importantly (b) what you’re interested in and love. You can absolutely make a ‘career’ out of anything you love and have a very good lifestyle.
With new sources of funding cropping up all the time, we’re seeing the crowd helping to realize projects that no banks or investors would give a dime for in the past. This is a time for bold ideas and redefinitions of the word entrepreneur. We asked Shed what he thinks about the current business landscape and what funding options had worked for him best.
Shed: We’re living in a golden age. Anyone reading this or attending your show is living during the time of the internet. The ability to connect to billions of humans across the world with a couple of keystrokes is astonishing and life-changing. Okay, yes, we all know about this revolution that has happened, but sometimes we need to be reminded about it – because it only happened relatively recently in human history and we are very fortunate to be living when it did. It’s an amazing time.
You can be ‘Instagram’, for example, set up an app from your flat and then two years later be acquired by Facebook for a billion dollars. That’s one example out of many startup ideas that failed, but all that matters is that they did it, because it proved it can be done. That’s incredibly exciting and what’s wonderful is that it’s open to all of us to have that chance.
There are lots of opportunities for funding. Personally, I don’t like letting people down, so I’m very careful about taking money from people because I want to be very sure I won’t lose it. Pretty much all my career I’ve funded myself. When I decided to start creating novelty gifts, I was working in television and I saved up. I didn’t go out for a while or have nice dinners – which I love – for a period of time until I’d saved up enough money to give myself a cushion to then make the leap into trying something new.
If your soul is saying, “I need to be an entrepreneur”, it’s too easy for other entrepreneurs to say, “Give [your job] up”. I would never say that. Rather, I would say work hard at your job, save money, and while you’re saving money for your cushion, start your business at the same time if you can. This is very hard to do because you’ve got to do it in your lunch hour or after work. But you have to be disciplined and start to chip away at the new area you’re targeting and explore what might bring success. Fail fast and fail lots of times. Then perhaps when you’ve saved the money for your cushion, you can say, “Right, I’m going to give up work for three months and give this a real shot.” That’s the way I approach it, even now. I always have a small budget for new prototypes or new ideas and I’m very careful because I’ve blown lots of money in the past. So, I plan the risk carefully now.
And once you decide to try something new, the first step is to bring your idea to life in a basic way. This is highly important. By having a 2D design or 3D prototype – or even a visual mockup of a service, it suddenly gives your idea a huge boost in power. You can then show it to people, pitch it around, look at it yourself and think how it can be improved. You should never spend a fortune at the start. Bring your idea to life in a basic way and see if anyone is interested. Even if they’re not interested and you still are: then plough on!
The ideas that Shed shares here probably sound familiar to several young entrepreneurs today. Shed believes in approaching business as a lean startup, bootstrapping as much as possible, and going through loops of validated learning before you take the plunge.
By examining Shed’s career, his business ethos and his success, a trend begins to emerge. Looking at our past interviews, we’ve seen impressive success in traditional industries based on core business principles. Although Shed virtually pulls ideas from his daydreams and turns them into successful ventures, he follows the same core principles: (1) doing what his brain is most primed to do, (2) discovering customers for his business, and (3) working smart and working hard.
You heard it from Shed Simove: we’re living in a golden age and we need to be reminded of that. If you’ve been following our interviews so far you can see a trend developing. Be enthusiastic, be creative, and have a go at your business idea. There are so many funding opportunities out there that there is a place for almost every insane idea to be tested. Why not yours?
If you haven’t already registered for Business Funding Show ’16 head over here and sign up now. Besides from bringing amazing and inspiring entrepreneurs from across the nation, join fledgling companies (perhaps like yours) and finance providers to get the best information on what it takes to get business funding and take your venture to the next level.