Getting to know you: James Layfield

James Layfield

What do you currently do?

I’m the Founder of Central Working, a network of UK shared workspaces providing more than 2,000 businesses of all sizes with the environment, community and support to thrive. As well as nurturing entrepreneurs and early stage companies, we’re proud that the likes of TechStars, GoCompare, Twillio, and Microsoft Ventures also choose to call us home.
At the moment I’m busy getting everything ready for the opening of two new clubs. The first is our flagship innovation centre in Cambridge which we are launching in partnership with Trinity College in July. Based in Cambridge Science Park in the heart of the ‘silicon fen’, the £20m, 40,000sqft John Bradfield Centre will provide space for 650 entrepreneurs. We’re also close to opening our sixth London club in White City through a new partnership with Imperial College.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

The challenges I experienced when I first became an entrepreneur were the main catalyst. I was tired of having to seek refuge in chain coffee shops and soulless hotel lobbies and I was desperate for a better alternative that didn’t involve getting tied in to a long lease, which simply aren’t suited to growing businesses. Another big issue was finding the right support. Running your own company can be tough, you need to be out there making valuable connections but at the same time you’ve got a host of operational issues to focus on. This all got me thinking; wouldn’t it be great if I could go somewhere that solved all of these problems? Somewhere that provides all the services of a modern office but with a more relaxed culture, somewhere that could connect me with the people I needed to help my business grow, and somewhere that removed the headaches of launching a business, like setting up office infrastructure. Essentially I wanted to launch a site that was solely geared around business growth.

What defines your way of doing business?

I’m a strong believer in the power of true, human-to-human connection. Technology has made doing business easier, but it can’t completely replace all those magic moments that come from face-to-face interaction, since these tend to be the main drivers of business growth. That’s really the driving principle behind the way we do things at Central Working. We engineer business serendipity – we don’t just sit back and hope that our members randomly bump into each other and make lasting connections, we are extremely active in bringing people together when we think they can really help each other. It’s important to us that we have conversations with our members, know their names and their companies, and that we genuinely care about them and what they do.
We don’t go in for gimmicks like free beer. Everything we do is focused on helping our member businesses grow.

Who do you admire?

Richard Branson has always been a hero of mine, since he’s the archetypal entrepreneur. He’s creative, adaptable, and when he sees a gap in the market and goes for it. I was lucky enough to work alongside him in  my early twenties at Virgin, sitting in board meetings with my professional idol. Every day was an entrepreneurial masterclass where I was able to learn from one of the world’s undisputed business megastars. When I finally left to launch my own company, I’m very proud to say that Virgin were our first client.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

I’d just start sooner! Knowing what I do now, I can’t believe how long I took fretting over the initial concept, even though I was quite certain that the idea was solid. I think that’s fairly common with entrepreneurs. Of course you should take time to validate your idea, but with the amount of support available to entrepreneurs today I don’t think there’s every been a better time to launch a business.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to change and adapt. Your idea, no matter how fantastic, will not end up as you thought it would. Central Working has already gone through a number of iterations as we learn more about our members and their needs. I’d also take advantage of the wealth of support out there, whether it’s shared workspaces, mentorship opportunities, funding initiatives or accelerator programmes. There are entire industries geared towards helping fledgling entrepreneurs, so take advantage of them!
It’s also my prerogative to say that, if you’re looking to grow your business and like what you’ve heard about how we do things at Central Working, please do pop in and say hello!