An entrepreneur from an early age, Neal Gandhi has been working in the internet as an industry since its inception. He talks to Enterprise about his career – past, present and future.
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was a teenager, selling movie and album posters to get through college. I started my first real company when I was about 21, reselling computers with a colleague. At first it went pretty well, then it went really badly. I got out, he stayed in; in the end, it worked out well for him.
I started my next company in 1996 when I was in my mid-twenties, offering internet professional services. Internet businesses in London then echoed New York, viewing the web as new media. We went a different path, similar to Silicon Valley: we were technical, not at all cool. Our business increased process efficiency by making them web-enabled. Its success enabled me to co-found Attenda and then Quickstart Global, which enabled companies to set up in other countries.
Today’s world moves at a much faster pace. Take funding, for example. Back then, there was no such thing - we had to be cash-positive from Day 1. Today, the focus is on raising money from sustainable sources: Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) and Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), angel networks, crowdfunding, venture capitalists… It’s much more sophisticated. Many household names today wouldn’t exist without it.
At The Panoply, my current venture, we build clusters of entrepreneurial technology services companies that offer highly complementary and non-competitive services. When we meet new entrepreneurs, the first thing we look at is whether they’re a good fit, then their values. We want evidence that they can be creative, collaborative, ego-free and engage in work underpinned by consciousness. Of these, collaboration and ego-free are key: it’s about objectivity, maturity, a willingness to step back and recognise when others can do things better.
In 2017, we’ve seen 70 companies and found 10 that match what we’re looking for. These companies are normally more mature and not necessarily start-ups. We want entrepreneurs that are serious and realistic about their present and their future.
Technology and its power to change the world
We live in an era of exponential change – the fourth industrial revolution. The companies that we work with share a common thread: they believe in new technology and in its power to change our world. They are thought leaders – they have accepted that continuous learning and self-education is the only way forward.
There is no such thing as a typical working day. I spend a lot of time trying to get the right companies in, encouraging bids, working on marketing. One of the things I do at the end of each day is review what I’ve done to push The Panoply forward, and plan what I can do tomorrow to take it further.
I would advise my younger self to think bigger. The sooner you start to envisage the ‘impossible’, the closer it gets to being a reality. It’s taken 30 years to learn that… at the end of the day, entrepreneurship is about storytelling. If the story is strong enough, and enough people buy into it, it is more likely to succeed.
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