5 minutes with: Andrew Weaver, Escape School Faculty
After spending years in the relative stability of employment, Andrew could not ignore the call of the startup world any longer. Since then, he’s become a serial entrepreneur with a career spanning multiple sectors including legal, travel & tourism, energy and property. He joined the Escape Faculty in 2019 and will be leading the Startup Accelerator in September.
Tell us a bit about yourself – how can you connect the dots looking backwards? Tell us about the businesses you’ve started and your role at Escape.
I’ve done my own escape, more than once.
My father was a small business owner but the family finances suffered more ups and downs than Alton Towers so, I initially steered my career towards the relative security and stability of employment. Until the entrepreneurial bug bit.
Since then been involved in a number of start-ups, including founder of the UK’s first comparison site for commercial legal services and investor/director in other sectors including travel & tourism, energy, property. Clearly not learnt my lesson because I’m now involved in 2 new start ups.
All of this experience gets thrown into the mix in my role as an Escape Leader, heading the team for the next start up accelerator in September.
This will be your second time running the Startup Accelerator. What was your favourite thing about running the programme last time?
What really struck me from the first course I ran, was the calibre of people, ideas and motivation. Really inspirational people, working together, grappling with new concepts, evolving into entrepreneurs during the course.
To be part of their journey of reinvention was a career highlight for me. I can’t wait to start the next one.
And what did you find the most challenging?
It was an eclectic group of people with a diverse range of business ideas and expectations, that was the fun part.
The key challenges were helping individuals negotiate existing mindsets and understand that ideas in themselves are worthless, that they need to focus on the process and mindset required to give them the best chance of success – with this idea, an iteration of the same or something completely different.
What have you learnt/ discovered since running a programme?
Start up founders generally have a growth mindset, which means every challenge and all feedback is an opportunity to learn and grow. This means that when you put a mix of interesting, intelligent, wannabe entrepreneurs together, each session is a learning experience.
The group dynamic, community and mutual exchange of expertise is another major factor why the accelerator is so successful. People you don’t know on day one, become firm pals and confidantes very quickly – not just for the course, but into the next stage of your life, career and beyond.
In your experience, what do people typically find the most challenging about the transition into entrepreneurship
Purpose, mindset, resilience and (to use a football phrase) ‘bouncebackability’ are all crucial facets for success with a start-up and often under estimated.
Removing/reducing fear of failure, moving outside your comfort zone and being able to cope with regular bouts of rejection, they all play a massive part in the ‘journey’
What’s the best way to circumnavigate this challenge?
Sign up to Escape accelerator! It’s a perfect ‘no risk’ environment for you to take risks.
Or use the process to unpack who you are, what you want, what you need and start road testing the idea you’ve been playing around with for months/years.
What are you working on outside of your Escape faculty role?
I’m trying to practice what I preach. In October 2018 I launched CTO Academy as a pilot and we gained sufficient traction to attract funding by April 2019. We’re still tiny but truly living the start up journey – testing our core hypothesis, making mistakes, getting rejected, trying to find the right product:market fit.
What are you reading at the moment?
I normally have about 6 books on the go at any one time … the curse of Kindle. I try to mix work/pleasure – we all need a switch off.
Work – “Neuromarketing: Understanding the “buy Button” in Your Customer’s Brain”
Switch Off – “A Certain Idea of France – Charles de Gaulle”
What podcasts are you listening to?
Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman – it’s a brilliant podcast about the challenges of starting a business and achieving scale.
What’s the last thing you learned/read/ listened to that you want to share with people looking to start a business?
From Masters of Scale – one an episode looks at how to build a community and the ‘guard rails’ that founders put in place at the very start – behaviour, tone, language, ethos – will swiftly become embedded into the product and how people use and view your business going forward. It was about how culture is shaped from the start, and is very difficult to shift once embedded within the DNA.
Where do you turn for advice or inspiration when you come up against a barrier with your business(es)?
My co-founder (selection of which is crucial and which we cover in the course) + close and experienced contacts within my network. Most problems have been seen before – maybe not by you, but certainly by fellow entrepreneurs. Finding a trusted advisor or mentor, can be a crucial part of building a business.
If you could go back in time to the very start of your entrepreneurial journey, what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t be defensive.
Don’t hold onto an idea too tightly – they’re worthless unless well executed.
Test and iterate quickly, before moving to the next phase/expense
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Get the product out there.
What would you consider your three greatest achievements to be?
Being a (hopefully good) dad is number one.
Breathing life into a start up and gaining market traction.
Helping guide/advise others into building/selling their businesses.
What’s the toughest part about being an entrepreneur?
Uncertainty – but that comes with the territory and is what keeps you on your toes.
And your favourite part?
The freedom. The potential to change the world. The fact that no two days are the same