We talk to Guy Tolhurst about who inspires him in business and what he’d do if he could turn his business clock back.
What do you currently do?
I run three small businesses in and around financial services; Intelligent Partnership, in:review and MICAP. Together, and in different ways, my businesses help investment capital flow into hundreds of UK businesses. This is my passion, because I believe effectively deploying capital not only helps businesses grow faster, but brings untold benefits to entrepreneurs and has a positive impact on society.
To recognise the impact of capital on businesses I launched the Growth Investor Awards and more recently the 100 Stories of Growth – Capital at Work campaign (100stories.co.uk). 100 Stories is an evidence-based, story-led, evergreen initiative that investigates the vital capital, incentives and support available to fast-growing SMEs across all sectors in the UK.
Through research findings, founder storytelling and thought leadership, we are creating a roadmap for high-potential business success. Together, with 100 entrepreneurs, we are kicking off a much needed ‘capital debate’ in the UK.
Through our work, we are teaching investment gatekeepers about the risks and benefits of investing while also uncovering the ‘invisible’ growth journeys of high-growth businesses and how entrepreneurs get the funding and support they need to startup, scaleup and stayup.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
In 2007 I identified a need to better educate financial advisers about the benefits of alternative investment, the financial crisis that followed brought this into focus for a lot of people. Fast-forward a few years and a higher proportion of investment was flowing into alternatives, but through a lack of understanding or fear not enough UK entrepreneurs were taking on investment – and this is still the case today. Only 10 per cent of UK entrepreneurs take on investment whilst 49% take on debt, even though we know for many businesses it’s essential for growth.
We need to demystify investment to help it flow into businesses to fund innovation, nurture talent and fuel expansion. I want 100 per cent of businesses to understand the hidden benefits of deploying capital including financial, intellectual, human and emotional capital.
For me, running a business and investing in entrepreneurs is about so much more than making money; it means the creation of new jobs, accessing wealth for all, enhancing productivity, diversity and skills, and creating more optimism across the whole of the UK.
What defines your way of doing business?
I’m an entrepreneur myself and don’t have a background in finance, which I like to think allows me to look at the investment industry through a different lens. It’s helped me to spot ways I can educate and innovate in financial services to make the whole investment universe less mysterious for entrepreneurs and more attractive to investors. If you look at the low number of SMEs that are aware of the investment options available to help them grow, there’s clearly a need to change the way we educate the business ecosystem to support their ambitions.
Who do you admire?
I’m inspired by people from all walks of life but what really gets my attention is the founders I meet that are changing things for the better. These change-makers have a purpose beyond money, and are a force for good in our fragmented society. Picking out an individual, I frequently tell the story of Alfred Nobel. His most famous achievement was the invention of dynamite, which totally revolutionised mining and construction.
However, when he read his premature obituary, he was horrified at how he was to remembered. The rather blunt obituary stated Dr. Alfred Nobel “who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday”.
Armed with this accidental foresight he made a dramatic change, altering his will and leaving the majority of his estate to fund the Nobel Prizes. However you interpret his actions, he made a positive change to put his legacy first for the benefit of society. A legacy that continues long after his actual death. We may not have his fortune or foresight, but as business builders we can each effect how our achievements are remembered.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Asked for help and taken on investment much earlier. I have never met a founder who didn’t believe in their idea, and I was no different. Starting a business at an early age is full of, often blind, self-belief – and when you’re so passionate no-one wants to “pee on your chips”. To coin a more polite version of a phrase I picked up in Yorkshire – where I started my first business.
As natural risk-takers the belief systems of entrepreneurs are distinctly different, their self-belief oscillates daily and so does the emotional capital they need to put into their businesses. I was lucky enough to find a great mentor and secure investment eventually, but it wasn’t until much later in my journey and I’m 10 years in now. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and with the right sort of investment partner you can get support when you need it the most. The long dark night of an innovator can feel like a lonely and scary place, but it doesn’t need to.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Be kind to yourself, find a way to get from emotion to action and always sleep on it. Entrepreneurs by their very nature tend to trust their gut, but an emotive knee jerk response (especially over email) can damage a relationship, de-motivate a colleague or derail a deal.
We’re plugged into our businesses, financially and emotionally invested. So we tend to react differently when things go wrong. Getting from an emotional state to a productive state of having an actionable next step is a habit everyone should master, and once you’re there – sleep on it. Even in this hyper-connected world, there a few things that can’t hold out for ‘one more sleep’.
Finally, be kind to yourself – you, your business, colleagues, investors and family need the best version of you. You don’t need to be superhuman to run a business. Give yourself time, space and permission to take out some of what you’re putting in. You and your business will be all the better for it.