An Interview with Doug Richard of Dragons Den
Doug Richard is most commonly known for his straightforward, no nonsense approach to business which was showcased in all of its glory in the first two series of the hit TV show, Dragons Den.
His breaths of fire originated in California, where he was the founder and CEO of two successful technology companies that he went on to sell before moving to Cambridge. It was there that he launched the Cambridge Angel network and became involved with a variety of other technology based enterprises.
As the only Dragon who has not made an investment during a full series of the show, I wondered what Doug looked for in an entrepreneur and what he believed identified them from the rest of the working world. Never one to give much away, or indulge in emotive reasoning, he delivered his direct and definitive belief, ‘that entrepreneurs have the potential to improve the world, make money and do something better than anyone else’. He believes that the key to success is understanding the benefit you wish to deliver as a business, analysing how you can best exploit this and taking full advantage of the opportunity it presents.
Many entrepreneurs and key figures in the industry often talk of an entrepreneurial journey but as you may expect, Doug simply sees entrepreneurship as a journey of discovery which is made more fruitful and rewarding by one’s ability to iterate, research and test ideas and strategies. Entrepreneurs, he says, need to have thoughtful businesses. They need to ask questions, research their market, their customers and their assumptions, analyse conditions and predict what is going to happen based on knowledge, insight and understanding.
We know little of the journey which took Doug from a young boy cleaning out a short order grill for the minimum wage in California to where he stands today but he does attribute much of his success to his ability to adapt, his comfort with ambiguity and his ability to do different things at different stages of business.
It is interesting to know that Doug does not believe he was born an entrepreneur. In fact, Doug doesn’t believe entrepreneurs are born. He argues that entrepreneurship can be taught and that many people merely need to learn the skills to start a business, which include the ability to analyse the opportunity, understand the key conditions, the challenges, the critical partners, paths and the key variables.
Dragons Den significantly raised Doug’s profile and put him in the position that would enhance his work as an ambassador for entrepreneurship. The show taught him that there is very little available to coach entrepreneurs lacking in skills to become better at running their business. He realised that although start ups and small businesses employ more than 90% of people in the UK, their needs are rarely addressed by the government who have historically got in the way of an enhanced entrepreneurial economy.
Doug founded School for Startups in 2008 and campaigned relentlessly to remove barriers to entry for entrepreneurs, making both cash and practical support more accessible for entrepreneurs all over the world. He has used his unrivalled public speaking skills to educate over 18,000 people through the social enterprise which is based in London and, more than just a role model and a figurehead, Doug spends much of his time, actively mentoring, supporting, engaging and encouraging the entrepreneurs and businesses he reaches.
His most recent initiatives, The Windows Of Opportunity Tour and The School for Creative Start ups Angel Society, are both aimed at helping entrepreneurs access finance and helping investors understand the advantages of providing seed capital to start ups.
This month, Doug will be touring the country with a handful of other successful business leaders to help entrepreneurs, small businesses, start ups and investors understand new perspectives on raising and investing finances, focusing on what SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) means for small business. The Scheme makes it easier for young business to gain access to investment whilst making it more rewarding for investors to provide seed capital to start ups. As a business, you will need to have been trading for less than 2 years and have less than £200,000 in assets to qualify for the scheme. Investors can invest up to £100,000 in these enterprises to receive 50% income tax relief, waivers on capital gains tax if this is how the money is secured and capital gains relief at the other end of the investment. In practical terms, this means that an investment of £100,000 that doubled in value would cost the investor £22,000, giving a return of over 800%. This extraordinary incentive scheme is targeted at the weakest link in the economy and could drive the greatest business surge in British history.
Doug is also soon to launch a network of business angels with an interest in, and passion for the creative industries. As the founder of School for Creative Startups, Doug is hugely passionate about the creative industry and believes that the people in it, who make a significant contribution to the economy, often receive lots of lip service but little practical help, guidance or support. The Angel Society will be a social enterprise, supporting his students, graduates and other top talent in the creative community. The £3,500 membership fee will be used to supplement scholarships for Doug’s students who are yet more people that benefit from Doug’s unrivalled commitment to teaching and encouraging entrepreneurship in the UK and beyond.
Whilst Doug may be the fiercest fire breathing Dragon and certainly, one of the only men who can truly make me lose my words, it undeniable that despite his directness he is humble, genuine, passionate and entirely committed. In a world where entrepreneurship is viewed as everything from an illness to a gift, from a spiritual journey to a roller coaster ride, from creative quest to a meaningful mission, it is perhaps a breath of fresh air rather than a breath of fire that this ex-Dragon breathes upon us, reminding us that business is a simple science and with the right support, planning and access to funds, can be as simple as A + B = C.
To find out more about Doug Richard, School for Startups, The Window Of Opportunity Tour or The Angel Society, visit www.schoolforcreativestartups.com or follow Doug on Twitter www.twitter.com/DougRichard