Every month, we catch up with London’s top girls in tech. In 2013, Yolina from Thoughtworks gave all graduates some useful tips, this month we chatted with Yasmina Siadatan.
Yasmina is an entrepreneur and BBC’s “The Apprentice” series five winner. When she is not running the award-winning restaurant she co-founded – Mya Lacarte – she is the Creative Director at Start Up Loans Company, a government funded scheme to provide loans and mentors for entrepreneurs.
Q: How can one know if being an entrepreneur is the right choice?
A: If you’ve got a feasible business idea – because you need an idea – and if you are prepared to put in the hard work, I think you should definitely come forward and explore becoming an entrepreneur. Running your own business is not easy and not everyone is able to do it. If you can show in a business plan that:
a) you know where your revenue is coming from,
b) you know who your competitors are,
c) you know how you’re going to be able to supply that product to the market,
plus, if you’ve got the confidence and the streak of character to do it, then we definitely would urge you to come forward and apply for a loan with the Start Up Loans Company.
Q: What advice you would you give to a person at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey?
A: I think the piece of advice I’d give is “Don’t wait around!”. Time goes so quickly, because often when you’re at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey you think “I’ll put it off another year” but it doesn’t get any easier. If you have an idea, you should just go for it!
Q: Having been in the TV program “The Apprentice”, you must know media very well. What would be your marketing advice to startup entrepreneurs?
A: Nowadays, so many things are important. You need to get your branding right, social media is also essential. You need to have a good website and it has to be, in my opinion, responsive to mobile and tablets because so much traffic comes from mobile phones, so you have to consider that from the beginning. Having a good presence on Facebook and Twitter is a really easy and quick way to get the message out to the right client. And if you’re based on location I would strongly advise to go and speak to the other businesses and neighbors in your area and develop a strong network. Go and speak to people, meet with them, go to the right events, just put your face and name out there. At this stage in your business, because you don’t have a heritage, your business strength relies on your brand and you have to build it by PR-ing yourself. This is a very cost effective way to market your business and product.
Q: Let’s talk women and entrepreneurship.
A: Typically the percentage of entrepreneurs is always skewed towards males and it always has been. In the UK, women make up only 19% of registered company owners, whereas the number of women coming forward to the Start Up Loans Company is 37%. It’s a lot more than the national average and we’re of course very proud of that. We believe that the statistic is so much higher because:
- The job market is much more fragmented now, it’s much more difficult for everyone in general to get jobs now, including women, so more people are looking towards entrepreneurship as a viable career option
- The Start Up Loans Company scheme is particularly attractive to both men and women because it’s a government scheme. Everything we do, from branding to communication, we make sure to attract both genders and even though we talk about business, (often considered a masculine topic) we make sure that in our imagery we highlight more women than men, I would say, so that the scheme doesn’t feel targeted to men only.
- We also lifted the age cap, we were only offering loans to people aged 18 to 30, but now one demographic we’re very much interested in targeting is women returning to work after they have had children. Mainly professional women in their mid-30s and 40s that want to go back to work but not in a 9-5 environment. Because of the cost of childcare, they’d rather stay at home and set up their own business from there, so they apply for a personal loan. Being an entrepreneur suits the modern mum lifestyle.
Q: What role does technology play in startups nowadays?
A: It’s hard to define technology. If by technology you mean a business involving technology, there’s not one that isn’t. Mainly all of our businesses have websites and use computers and generally all of them have a presence on social media. Tech is at the heart of any startup. But if we talk about businesses where tech is the core of the business itself, like businesses revolving around an app or software, then we’ve seen at the Start Up Loans Company that the technology sector ranks 2nd. It’s a growth industry here in the UK and we’ve got the skills set in this country as well, with people coming out of university having degrees in that area and turning their hobbies into a business, which is great.
Q: How does the Start Up Loans Company work?
A: It is an independent company fully funded by government, which we’ve been set up to provide loans and mentorship to people who want to start their own businesses. These loans are small-sized loans; the average loan is £5,700. Loans are repayable over a 5-year term at a 6% interest rate. We require no collateral or security on these loans, which are not provided by traditional financial routes (i.e. banks), but are provided in order to get people off the ground who want to start businesses. So far, we have loaned to 9,800 businesses and we’re aiming to reach the 10,000 goal quite soon. In only 13 months, this is quite an achievement. Our goal is to help 25,000 businesses by 2016, as we’re working at the pace of 30 businesses every day.
Q: What are the requirements to apply for a loan?
A: We accept people into the program at the very beginning of their entrepreneurial journey, those who have a fully prepared business plan, or those who are already trading. However, we only accept businesses that haven’t traded for longer than 12 months. If they have an idea we help them turn it into a business plan and get it funded, as well as provide a mentor for 12 months. Every loan gets a mentor based on the need of that business.
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