MSc Entrepreneuship graduate, Liam Farquar now runs t:issue Marketing
Liam Farquhar graduated from the University of Nottingham with an MSc in Entrepreneurship in 2010. Here, Liam gives some thoughts on entrepreneurship, his experience at Nottingham and tells us about his new venture, t:issue. Liam, over to you.
"I remember the time I began telling people I was to undertake the course, and being met with some pretty strange looks. Perhaps I had some food on my chin? It’s certainly possible. But what became apparent was that many people seem to frame entrepreneurialism in, what I considered to be cinematic terms: the lone ranger against the odds, or the sum of efforts centred on defeating adversaries at all costs. The fearless buccaneer! More ingrained though was the belief entrepreneurs had mostly inherent qualities, born within, ones which couldn’t be learned.
"This is a very different attitude to somewhere like the US, where perhaps due to its pioneering history and meritocratic advance, the country seems to nurture a more entrepreneurial spirit; where failure is considered experience, risk is progress, and legal contingencies are indeed put in place to protect such attitudes. Plus the sheer number of incubators, start-up accelerators and wealth of accessible resources for entrepreneurs are testament to this, not to mention entrepreneurship programmes being highly sought after at the top US business schools.
"But that’s the thing, entrepreneurialism is very much an attitude, and one that can be tapped into. I do of course concede that there are certain commonly understood entrepreneurial traits that, although not impossible, are harder to teach - things like being passionate, tenacious, driven etc. But personal qualities can be refined too, given the right mind. And then there are all the things that can only be understood by actually taking the plunge and doing them. But what entrepreneurship programmes do help with is to put new experiences and tacit knowledge through a conceptual framework, one that encourages things like learning, sharing, mistakes, action, creativity, critique, open-mindedness, flexibility, sincerity, respect and humility, to name a few. Although one mustn’t be naïve, I consider these to be some of the true qualities of the entrepreneur, not the rarefied or even Machiavellian ones many people unfortunately seem to think of. Not to say such qualities don’t exist and should be ignored, but I’m an optimist at heart, and in a world more connected and vocal than ever, I’m hopeful such practices will become the exception. There have been many recent examples of corrupt corporate and governmental practices being publically found out that help endorse this feeling.
"And we are making some progress. Incubators and start-up accelerators are beginning to pop up across the county, and entrepreneurship courses are slowly becoming more popular. New mentoring programmes like www.mentorsme.co.uk are being launched too, realising the pivotal role good mentors can often play in the success of a start-up (I know – my mentors have already helped me to sidestep some awful decisions. A logo concept that looked like “a cock and balls”, as one mentor put it, springs to mind). And then there are shows like Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice. And although I would say the former is a platform more for inventors than entrepreneurs, and the latter a platform for jesters, both shows in their own, albeit unrealistic way, serve to engage the public in the language of business. But there is still much that needs to be done if we are to create a culture that truly demystifies, encourages and celebrates the entrepreneur.
"Speaking on behalf of the RSA, Gerard Darby recently addressed the issue on the radio when talking about creativity in education. He sides with Oscar Wilde who asserts that things worth knowing can’t be taught. But he argues they can be learned. This, he argues, requires turning our backs on the traditional educational system where there is typically a right and wrong answer, and instead allowing students a space to discover things for themselves, where they learn how to learn, where risk taking and experimentation are encouraged rather than stifled, and where there is an emphasis not as much on what students think, but instead how they think. Broadly, it was this type of environment offered to me at NUBS that I learned how to become an entrepreneur.
"And I believe I did learn it, and any inherent entrepreneurial qualities I had before were merely recognised and encouraged as a result of learning. Before deciding to attend NUBS I had no idea what I wanted to do. Perhaps I would be a creative (whatever that is), a researcher, a humanitarian? God only knew. But then I spent 12 bizarre and beautiful months in Japan, where I came across many innovations that I thought might work well in the UK, and it was there and then I decided to have my own business. So I enrolled at NUBS and the rest is history, so to speak.
"The concept I decided to bring back from Japan is called tissue pack marketing. Each year in Japan billions of packs of tissues displaying promotional messages are given away to targeted members of the public on behalf of organisations. It’s now a ¥bn industry there and remains a staple element of the Japanese marketing mix. Tissue packs are used because they are cheap to produce, have enough space on them to carry a persuasive message and will be accepted and retained, so the promotional message will be looked at repeatedly for the life span of the pack. It’s a very simple idea, but one that is quickly spreading to other parts of the world and is proving to return up to 10 times the conversion rates compared to established forms of marketing for a fraction of the cost.
"The challenge now of course is to educate the UK market to the benefits of this unfamiliar marketing platform. But with the lessons learnt from the NUBS course, the excellent minds I’ve surrounded myself with for support, and the desire to succeed, I hope to achieve this and grow my company, t:issue, into a successful business that is a joy for others to work at. And I look forward to learning something new each step of the way whilst doing so.
Liam Farquhar, Director t:issue Marketing
Posted on Thursday 26th January 2012