Learn from those who have done it before

‘Persistence is key’ – startup tips from NetPay’s Carl Churchill

NetPay Group Managing Director Carl Churchill is a specialist in business structure and sales growth, boasting close to two decades’ experience launching award-winning telecom, ISP and fintech ventures.

In last week’s Mentor Masterclass session, ‘Achieving growth from a startup concept to success across the globe’, he covered how to take ideas and translate them into sustainable, growing businesses.

Watch his full talk in the video panel above or read on for some of his best advice from the event. This article’s quotes have been generated using the Synote University spinout transcription tool.

‘Twenty promising under-21s have been selected for the first rich list to predict the British millionaires of the future’, opened a BBC News report back in September 2003.

The 2020 list included a 13-year-old golfer, a teenage Everton footballer (Wayne Rooney, #9) and an up and coming movie star (Keira Knightley, #2). And at number one…

… businessman Carl Churchill.

Then just 19-years-old, Carl had co-founded a company called DMC Internet using £5,000 of his own savings. His estimated future worth in 2020, valued by Sunday Times Rich List author Philip Beresford, eclipsed the forecast success of young actor Jamie Bell (#7), pop artist Samantha Mumba (#10) and footballer James Milner (#12).

“It was quite a shock for me,” Carl remembered, looking across a packed audience at the University’s Hartley Suite. “We took a call in our office and at first I thought it was a joke. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy because people heard we were doing well so the business started really gaining some momentum.”

14 years later, Carl has built upon his early promise to become an expert in fintech – financial technology. His NetPay Group, which he founded in 2012, has two core divisions. On the one hand it is a payment service provider offering a range of online processing, payment terminal and merchant services (remember to thank Carl the next time you use a card to pay for a Subway), while on the other it offers infrastructure solutions to banks and other financial institutions.

“You’re hopefully bursting with ideas,” Carl said, “with things that you want to really take to market, opportunities that you want to incubate and do well. The key thing for me always is passion.”

“I’m very passionate about all the business interests that we’ve ever had. I absolutely love everything about card payments, I can spot a terminal a mile off,” he joked.

The business mentor’s message for any budding entrepreneurs preparing to speak to investors is to make sure they communicate their passion. “The key thing that they’ll look at before they even get to the idea is that they need to buy into you as a person. Then they’re going to say, ‘What is your attitude? ‘What is your work ethic like?’ ‘If you’re going to be someone I give my money to, are you going to run with the idea and make it successful?’ The idea is almost secondary because they’ve got to buy into you as a character.”

Humility and focus are key qualities that Carl advises future business leaders aspire for as he’s found that entrepreneurs are always learning.

“There’s no place for arrogance in business,” he continued. “You never stop learning. Sometimes you learn things the right way – perhaps because of a conversation with someone – but sometimes it comes when things are tough and you make a mistake.”

The entrepreneurial road will be trying but Carl would urge you to find your persistence. “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up,” he said. “Persistence is one thing that I think lacks in a lot of people. They get bored and complacent, not necessarily because they don’t believe in the idea, they just have had a couple of knock backs and think ‘actually, this is not for me’, or ‘I can’t do this’. If you genuinely believe in the idea and you’re listening to people around you then there’s nothing really that should stop you.”

Masterclass quote – ‘The What, Who and Why, Why, Why Test’

“A test I always talk to people about when they are starting new businesses is the ‘What, Who and Why, Why, Why Test’.

What is your proposition?

Who are you going to sell it to?

And give me three brilliant reasons why it’s going to be successful.

These need to be hard tests. Don’t say ‘it’s going to be successful because our customer service will be really good’. Everyone’s going to say that their customer service is really good – which of your competitors are ever going to say that their customer service is bad and they might lose all their customers?”

You need to think about the competition in the market that’s going to affect the likelihood of your success. There’s plenty of competition out there. Are you effectively selling something that someone else has got and the only real differentiator is price? That is an awful place to be. It’s a long winding road to nowhere, frankly it’s a race to the bottom and there will always be someone who will deliver a proposition cheaper than you.

You’ve got to focus on the differentiation that you’re bringing to the industry.”

Finding investment is a huge challenge for aspiring startups and Carl’s advice for founders is to be pragmatic as they explore their options.

“It’s a difficult one because as an entrepreneur you feel like it’s your idea and you want a shareholding of 100 per cent in it,” he explained. “You’ve really got to think through how you’re actually going to manage that idea through to success because as you go through this cash conundrum you can actually be detrimentally affecting the idea by bootstrapping it yourself.

“It can be more difficult to raise funds for an idea you’ve run for three years and taken nowhere than it is to raise for an idea that you could then take somewhere in that period. Sometimes you have to compromise.”

Three tips for startups from NetPay’s culture would be to build a team, have fun and incorporate a range of views that understand the nuances of different cultures. Carl states that a team is even more important than the product. “The right team is absolutely imperative and without it your business will fail,” he emphasized. “I hate the word ‘staff’. We never use the word ‘staff’ at NetPay. We say ‘team’, or ‘family’. As a leader, you need to learn to build your team, giving them the opportunity to excel and see how valuable they are to the business.”

There’s one lasting lesson that Carl wants the next generation of entrepreneurs to take away from his masterclass talk, which is for you to “believe in yourself”.

“The most important thing – even more than persistence – is to have confidence in yourself,” he concluded. “If you don’t have confidence in your own ability, then you can never ever expect anyone to have confidence in what you’re capable of doing. Believe in your own business. Believe in yourself. So many people have fantastic ideas but don’t think that they’re capable of the execution. There’s nothing wrong if you try and fail, just be confident in your ability, pick yourself up, and try again.”

Listen to the full talk via the Future Worlds podcast, available here.

The Future Worlds Mentor Masterclass series will continue next month with biotech executive Simon MacKenzie, book your free place here.

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Jon Nurse

Content Manager
Future Worlds

Jon compiles the latest innovations, articles and interviews for futureworlds.com as the platform’s Content Manager. He is also helping researchers in Physical Sciences and Engineering impact society with their work as a Communications and Impact Officer at the University of Southampton. He previously worked as a Senior Reporter for the Trinity Mirror newsgroup.

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