SME expert, university dropout: Guy Tolhurst reveals his entrepreneurial success despite the odds
“You don’t need to go to uni to be a success. I dropped out twice“. Small business owner, Guy Tolhurst talks about the business lessons he learnt from quitting his studies and why building emotional resilience is so crucial for new entrepreneurs.
“First of all, don’t feel pressure to go and study just because everyone else is. Education will always be there, and lots of people take the decision to do further education or even an MBA in later life.
Take your time and find out what other experiences there are for you if you’re not 100 per cent sure that university is right.
Another key piece of advice is to follow your gut. I went to Leeds Beckett University to study events management but got itchy feet. It was the first year of this new course and classroom learning wasn’t for me.
I wanted practical hands-on experience of running events. I dropped out and started my first events business - before being persuaded back into education by my parents!
Starting again in the first year on the same course with a fledgling events business was the wrong move… The pull of putting all my efforts into the business was too strong, and I left for the second time.
But I’ve never looked back. Since then, I’ve set up many ventures and now run three successful businesses. I’m proud to have been a major part of the growth of hundreds of other SMEs through my companies Intelligent Partnership, MICAP and in:review - and the founders of many of these growth businesses didn’t go to university either!
My advice is to do what feels right, there are many routes to achieve a successful business career.
But running a business is not for everyone, however I wouldn’t say there’s a certain type of person that makes a great entrepreneur.
As a mentor, and through the 100 Stories of Growth campaign I launched recently, I have met and learned from the stories of hundreds of entrepreneurs - many of whom have had different upbringings and different growth journeys, which is great for the industry.
The point of the 100 Stories of Growth campaign has been to shine a light on the vast and varied growth journeys that businesses take, each as individual as the next.
I wanted to demystify, educate and inspire other entrepreneurs about the process of taking on financial capital and also explore the various types of capital needed in a business to succeed by telling the stories of some of the most successful businesses.
We should be focusing on preparing and supporting entrepreneurs through the challenges of running a growing business, mental wellbeing is a growing concern among entrepreneurs especially new founders running startups and scaleups.
Today, we’re in a fortunate position that there are lots of options for SME funding out there - something that is obviously great for company founders.
But, in solving this access to finance issue, I do think we are at risk of creating a generation of entrepreneurs who are not as resilient as their predecessors. My view on it is this: The entrepreneur’s journey fluctuates between self-belief and self-doubt.
Many business ventures may start with a degree of self-doubt and as the business develops, the entrepreneur will experience spikes of self-belief as they receive support from friends, family and most importantly validation from the market as their business ideas take off.
Of course, along the way there are setbacks and these knocks can create negative self-belief, or self-doubt, before some good news or a win bumps them up again.
As this happens time and time again, the founder becomes stronger and more resilient. Each time they get knocked back, the dip becomes shorter, it’s easier to deal with, and they build up mental and emotional resilience.
At a point in time, lots of businesses look for external capital to fuel their ambitions, recognising the benefits it delivers to their business.
In the past, this would happen one or two years into a company’s life, yet today the runway to taking on financial capital is much shorter, leaving little time for this resilience to be built up.
There’s something positive about dealing with failure or pressures early on in your entrepreneurial journey when the stakes are lower.
But with more capital flowing into the UK SME market, we’re seeing lots of founders taking on capital at a very early stage before they’ve built up the emotional and mental strength to deal with the pressures that come with it - when the stakes are much higher.
It’s so important that as an industry we take more responsibility for the wellbeing of founders, so educating both founders and investors about emotional wellbeing and resilience is something I’m extremely passionate about.“