Getting into Entrepreneurship

Are you considering starting your own business, but wondering whether it’s definitely for you? In this guest blog Christian Nellemann, CEO of XLN Telecom, explains how he became a successful entrepreneur and how you could too!


If you count being hard-working, persevering, passionate and enthusiastic among your character attributes, as well as having an eye for an opportunity, then you might just have what it takes to not only be your own boss but to strike it rich along the way.

What is entrepreneurship?

Wikipedia defines entrepreneurship as “the process of identifying and starting a business venture, sourcing and organising the required resources and taking both the risks and rewards associated with the venture”. To me, it’s doing something you love. If you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work anymore. That doesn’t mean it’s easy – it most definitely isn’t – but when the going gets tough the fact you’re doing something you love helps pull you though.

On a practical level, business is all about problem solving. Deconstructing complex problems and putting them back together in an entirely objective manner is something that I use constantly in business. And having a head for numbers in today’s data-driven world is also a distinct advantage.

Routes into entrepreneurship

There are innumerable ways into entrepreneurship – from spotting an opportunity in a seemingly unlikely place, like realising the opportunities a change in regulations might open up, as I did with the telecoms industry, there is no right or wrong way.

For me, my entrepreneurship started first with a desire to emulate my father, a successful entrepreneur in his own right, and one of my earliest ‘ventures’ was taking apples from the neighbours’ gardens and selling them door to door at the age of six.

But it was higher education that gave me the foundations I needed to get into business properly. There are many examples of self-made men who didn’t go to university, but I did my BSc Economics and Business Analysis and feel that a business related degree and then an MBA, are both important preparation for a life in business if you can get them.

That said, a certain amount of flexibility can be important. When I was a student my original plan back in the late 80s was to study economics, go to the US to take an MBA,  then go to Austria and learn barter trading (trading without money) with a view to setting up in Taiwan in preparation for the Chinese economy to open up to the world. I know this plan would have worked but when I was studying in the US I came across a great opportunity in stationery which I then took to the UK right after university.

Learning doesn’t have to be in an educational institution either. It can be just as important to work for people and learn from them, as long as they themselves are smart people and they are willing to teach you. You might also discover you can do it better than them and decide to strike out on your own.

My chief piece of advice, once you have started a business from scratch, is to watch the pennies. Only spend money to earn money, so spend it to directly drive sales rather than on luxuries such as branding. Expensive branding can come later when you have more cash at your disposal.

In this way, generating money creates your proof of concept. At that stage, drawing up a business plan to secure funding from either friends and family or commercial sources may be necessary to get the business to a point where it is growing fast or making a profit. From there you will be in a better position to secure the larger funding from institutions that you will need to make it really big.

Entrepreneurship checklist 

  • Be hardworking, dogged, determined, passionate and enthusiastic.
  • Today, the business world is driven by data. Being able to interpret numbers and turn them into something you can act on will work to your advantage.
  • Pursue higher education in a business related subject, and be patient. When you’re young you can afford to spend the time building your experience and education.
  • When you’re getting started, only spend money that makes money.
  • Working for other people can be a valuable experience – as long as they’re smart and you can learn from them.
  • Never be afraid of failure – you will make mistakes (trust me) but it’s only a failure if you give up.

Christian Nellemann is a two-time winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and his current venture is XLN Telecom.

If you would like personalised advice about starting up your own business, or would like to discuss your business idea, get in touch with Spark – the University of Leeds business start-up service.

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Filed under Advice, Getting into..., Self-employment

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