Daniel Seal Founder & CEO, Unbound talks to Business Matters about what defines his way of doing business and what he would tell his younger self.
What do you currently do?
Most of my time is focused on my role as CEO of Unbound. Since 2013, Unbound has grown rapidly into a powerful, trusted brand with a globally respected voice on innovation. We bring key groups together: entrepreneurs, established corporate business, dynamic brands, governments and trade agencies to inspire communities and fuel a digital future.
We encourage innovation by showcasing pioneering ideas and empowering entrepreneurship, creating digital ecosystems around the world. Unbound provides an opportunity for a two-way interaction between our speakers and our attendees. Speakers can share their thoughts and opinions but also, and crucially, our audiences can explore and clarify those views.
Those that speak at our events – whether that’s senior business leaders, ministers or royalty – truly value Unbound for that – and it’s why we have a fantastic calibre of panellists but also a growing number of attendees in our audiences.
The real benefit of Unbound though is attendees get to meet each other to share knowledge, exchange ideas and create business partnerships.
Our track record speaks for itself, each year we have more speakers, more start-ups and more innovation and its clear the market likes our product otherwise they wouldn’t keep coming back and we wouldn’t be growing at the speed we are.
Most recently my time was taken up organising Unbound London which took place in mid-July. During the two-day festival we welcomed 5,000 start-ups, investors and businesses, who heard from top-level speakers, uncovered pioneering ideas and who took part in immersive brand experiences, hackathons, start-up battles and networking sessions.
Outside Unbound, I sit on the boards of, and mentor, other businesses across a range of sectors. In short, I am an entrepreneur and an investor.
In what free time I have I love kitesurfing, skiing, scuba diving, playing airsoft and going to Burning Man.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
I always think there are two types of inspiration for businesses. One comes about almost instantaneously; what people describe as a light bulb or eureka moment. The other is much more gradual.
Unbound was more of the latter and came via my observation of disconnects between governments and corporates; both were trying to interact with the innovation ecosystem. Governments were organising events aimed at start-ups and pitching to investors, while corporates were hosting events promoting and encouraging innovation.
This is where I saw the opportunity for Unbound. No one was bringing these three groups together and connecting them.
At the same time, my belief is that success in business is based on several factors including luck, opportunity, the business environment and being in the right place at the right time.
Those all played a role, because as we see the in the world around us, economies are ever increasingly becoming digital- centric and start-up led with governments and corporates all looking to promote innovation whether that’s in London, Singapore, the Middle East or beyond. That meant there was a great opportunity and almost perfect timing for us to be the platform to bring together these disparate groups and create these innovation ecosystems.
So, it was these two things that were the inspiration for founding Unbound.
What defines your way of doing business?
I have two thoughts on this: my personal way of doing business and how this has led to how Unbound conducts its business.
When I do business with a client, I always think to myself how do I make their business better? The challenge is to put yourself in their shoes. I will always work with a client to solve issues and make something happen. This comes about through a huge amount of hard work and not being a ‘yes’ man.
I hope that Unbound reflects the way in which I do business personally. We prioritise the client. We offer exemplary customer service and a competitively priced product that is truly there to serve our clients.
I also make sure our conferences are of a high quality and something that I would be happy to queue up for. The acid test for me is that I wouldn’t let people sit through something I wouldn’t do myself, and I have a quite short attention span. I aim to put on events where you can meet good people, have great networking conversations and ultimately events that are as enjoyable as they are informative.
In short, I give everything I’ve got, and I am never complacent.
Who do you admire?
I do not think I could possibly name just one. I have had many role models in a business-sense.
I have always looked up to Sir Martin Sorrell. I think he is an incredible entrepreneur. He has built a business and become a world leader in his profession.
In an innovation context, it is very hard to look past Steve Jobs, who created an exceptional product and decided to change the way we do things through design.
I don’t think I am able to talk about role models without mentioning Bruce Springsteen, I am a huge fan. What’s incredible about him when he performs, he gives 200% and you can really see it.
In the political sphere there are plenty to choose from, but Margaret Thatcher and Barack Obama instantly spring to mind. I know they are very different, but they share similar qualities.
All of these role models and their different sectors, be they politics or business, reflects the wide range of sectors I get my inspiration from.
What would I tell my younger self?
A very good question! Well firstly, things do not always go at the perfect speed you desire. All good things come to those that wait. Sometimes you will have to wait just that bit longer.
Also be sure to delegate! Avoid trying to do everything yourself. You really can’t do it all. That doesn’t mean you should avoid hard work, in fact the opposite embrace it!
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
It doesn’t matter what your background is, I studied biochemistry for example. But I have been involved in many start-ups and have been a lifelong entrepreneur and I think the main thing that I would say, is that you always need a market looking for a product not the other way around.
Also, that if you have a good idea get a great team around you and crack on! If you have an interesting idea, it doesn’t matter whether you are 16 or 60.
But that said, business is hard. Making money is difficult. If you are not going to push yourself, you are never going to be successful. My belief is that success in business is based on several factors including luck, opportunity, the business environment and being in the right place at the right time.
There will come moments where you have no idea what’s going to happen. When you are in these moments you don’t often know if you’re coming through. What you must do is work hard, push through and finding that balance between never giving up and knowing when to quit.
Along the way, you can learn from successful business leaders and pick up hints and tips from them to apply to your situation but ultimately there is no ‘secret formula’ for business success. If there was, everybody would do it.
Ultimately, being successful is a marathon full of risks along the way, not a sprint. If anyone tells you that you are going to get rich quick, they are talking rubbish.