Shaper: Simon Devonshire

Show aired on 7th February 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was James Brown of course with Cold Sweat Part 1. It’s me, Elliot Moss, hello, good morning and it is Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business; a Business Shaper. I am delighted to say my Business Shaper today is Mr Simon Devonshire; he is none other than the entrepreneur in residence, yes you heard me right, the entrepreneur in residence at the Business Innovations and Skills Department with the British Government. What an amazing title. He is also a serial entrepreneur. You are going to be hearing a lot of useful stuff from him very shortly. In addition to hearing from Simon, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon De Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that, you know what’s coming, some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, including Eliane Elias, Gregory Porter and this from the Neil Cowley Trio.

The emotive sound of the Neil Cowley Trio with Sparkling. This is Jazz Shapers as I said and I am Elliot Moss and I am joined today by Mr Simon Devonshire and he is as I said, not just a serial entrepreneur but also the entrepreneur in residence at the Business Innovations and Skills Department. Simon I have got an entrepreneur in residence in residence. Thank you so much for joining me.

Simon Devonshire
Hello. Thank you.

Elliott Moss
Tell me and we will go in to all the different things that you’ve done over the years and that you do and obviously you have a busy mind. What does an entrepreneur in residence for the British Government do when he is at home?

Simon Devonshire
So there are two things really. So the job title officially is entrepreneur in residence – scale up. So my job is really to help Government come up with the policies and the plans that are going to help British businesses grow so fundamentally I do two things, firstly just to inject the spirit of entrepreneurism within Whitehall; so that’s just applying the kind of energy and motivation that you would typically associate with being entrepreneurial and secondly it’s to be a participant in the conversations that are happening that actually shape the policies to effect business.

Elliot Moss
And in those conversations you have been doing the job for how long now? That job?

Simon Devonshire
So it’s an annual appointment so typically it lasts for between kind of nine to twelve months or so and I’ve been – I was appointed in July so I am about half way, just gone half way through that period and it is a one day a week kind of commitment.

Elliot Moss
And have you found that business has a place in the thoughts of British Government that is positive, that is actually real or is this lip service?

Simon Devonshire
I think its incredible actually, I mean it has been a real eye opener for me. Firstly just how impressive the talent is within Whitehall. I don’t know quite what I was expecting but there are some people who are phenomenally talented, they have an ability to draw a real broad spectrum of people who work within the Civil Service, both the academic and the elite through to you know, very conventional people who have worked their way through the Government hierarchy and absolutely, business by virtue of the title of the department, Business Innovations and Skills is fundamental to the whole existence and they are passionate about success of business.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to hear much more from Simon my Business Shaper. He is also the founder or one of the co-founders of Concept Cupboard, Coding Cupboard and he is also involved with a business called Wayra which we are going to be talking about and even if you recall when I talked to Mr Duncan Goose a while ago, one of the founders of One Water, he was one of the ideas men behind that too. Time for some music, this is Gregory Porter and Lonesome Lover.

Gregory Porter with the melodic Lonesome Lover. Simon Devonshire is my Business Shaper and as you heard earlier, he is the entrepreneur in residence in BIS which is the Business Innovation and Skills Department in the British Government. He is also as I said, a serial entrepreneur. Now let’s go back in time before we talk about all the things you came up with. You are a marketing guy originally if that’s not an unfair thing to say. You’ve done the kind of agency thing. Lots of different agencies which gives you great exposure to big clients.

Simon Devonshire
Yep.

Elliot Moss
Your first foray into your own business – what was it and what made you think ‘you know what I am not just going to do it for other people and come up with great ideas, I’m going to do something for myself’. Do you remember what precipitated that feeling?

Simon Devonshire
Absolutely. I remember it vividly. So I had worked for fourteen years in marketing agencies and advertising agencies and I met the delightful Mrs Devonshire and made a transition in my career from working on the agency side of things to going into a client side organisation, a big corporate in fact because I felt that that would not only further my career but also it was about you know, balancing life and everything else. And when I got there I found that I didn’t fit at all. Talking from like a cultural perspective and I found the experience quite a stifling one and one of the obvious things to do is then to just sort of give up on it and return back to the land that you know well and feel more comfortable in and I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t feel, I didn’t feel that was a compelling option, I didn’t want to quit.

Elliot Moss
When was this roughly?

Simon Devonshire
This was in 2000. So I joined Yellow Pages to help create Yell.com which was a big gig and I was proud to do it and I had to commute quite a lot as part of that job in order to get to the office and I read a lot and I knew that I needed to find a vehicle for my creativity and my entrepreneurialism that working in a corporate environment didn’t give me.

Elliot Moss
Had you had those feelings before as a youngster, before University. Had you done things that would have – things you look back now and go…

Simon Devonshire
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…okay that kind of makes sense. I’ve always enjoyed doing that kind of stuff?

Simon Devonshire
So my father was originally a graphic designer but they moved into the family business and I grew up – so he owned his own shop for forty years as a florist – so I grew up in a shop effectively and my brother is six years older than me and was always very entrepreneurial and I kind of started my first job when I was nine as an assistant paper rounder and always had money and always sort of understood the concept of money and the value of money and you know, how to enjoy it and so I had always had that kind of entrepreneurial spirit and in my advertising career – I am not proud of the fact that I am probably the least qualified person you will ever meet – but typically you know, people in advertising tend to have come from very good academic backgrounds and so I was lucky to get a job as a runner. Literally delivering art work around London and instead of delivering it I used to arrive at the client’s office unwrap it and go and present it and that’s how I got into the client service side of the business and so I knew when I was in a corporate world and I wanted a creative vehicle, I was sort of actively looking for it and I read about a village in Indonesia that had horrific sanitation and water related problems and they were desperate for a solution. They wanted a hundred thousand pounds to fix their problem, a hundred thousand pounds in my personal life was an unaffordable amount of money but in my professional career it was kind of nothing. I thought ‘there must be an application for my commercial talent to fix this’ and that’s where the idea for One Water originally sort of came from.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to hear what happened next with Simon Devonshire, my Business Shaper today. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom for your burgeoning business idea that you may be having right now from our program partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning you can catch me talking to a brilliant person from the world of business, a Business Shaper. If you have missed any of the programmes and you want to look them up then go to iTunes. If you happen to be delving into FT.com you will find us there or Cityam.com. I am giving you lots of choices aren’t I, or even British Airways Highlife when you next fly. Simon Devonshire is my Business Shaper today and he is not just the entrepreneur in residence for the British Government, he is also a serial entrepreneur in his own right and he is also running an incredibly interesting tech incubator called Wayra and I am going to come onto that in a moment. I want to pick up the story where we were Simon and you were saying ‘how could I, I am sure I could find the way of raising one hundred thousand quid for this, this village, this place which didn’t have clean water and the sanitation issues and so on and so forth’. It was the beginning of One Water. It was the beginning of the global ethics business which as I also mentioned Duncan Goose was the guy who has kind of taken it on and ten million pounds later and so on and so forth, extraordinary stuff. So you helped create that one?

Simon Devonshire
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
And then what? Did you get a flavour for the fact that ‘hold on a minute I can do this’.

Simon Devonshire
Yeah I suppose so – well kind of yes and no. So I think the first thing, so One Water is a very simple concept, we sell bottled water over here to fund water wells predominantly in Africa and as you say, Duncan has done the most remarkable job of, of building that business up to its success. It has celebrated its tenth birthday last year and that it has generated and donated more than ten million pounds but the start of that journey was actually borne out of my frustration, not only at the problem and I think for any aspiring entrepreneur you know, figure out what’s your ‘it’s not right’ you know, for me it’s not right that two billion people in the world are dying because they don’t have enough access to clean water. You know, so figure out what is your ‘it’s not right’ because it’s the passion that can help drive your business forward. I think the second thing is having worked in advertising one of the things that – as I know you also work in advertising – I think a measure of talent is often generosity of people’s willingness to share their ideas and creativity and just to be really clear you know – the initial stages of this concept of selling bottled water I couldn’t make it work and I shared that thought with a group of very close friends of which Duncan is one of them and I was astonished the extent to which they leapt on the idea and Duncan eventually took it on and actually made the business what it is. So I think you know, don’t just harvest your ideas and put them in a bottom drawer. Recognise when you are getting stuck and seek you know, the help from – you’d be amazed how generous people are when asked an earnest question.

Elliot Moss
And I imagine that the ideas that you have come up with and are still living, breathing businesses and I mentioned Concept Cupboard very briefly and Coding Cupboard very briefly as well – these are your babies…

Simon Devonshire
Yeah absolutely.

Elliot Moss
…that you have helped create but then you, it sounds like you bring people in very naturally because you want to because actually you are kind of going – it feels like you are saying – it’s not enough just to do one thing, I’ve got lots of problems to solve so can you help me solve the problems?

Simon Devonshire
Exactly.

Elliot Moss
Not many – I don’t meet many people that do that. A lot of people I meet have focussed on one thing. What is it about you and the way that you’ve seen the world that you go ‘but I don’t want to stop at one thing’. What’s the serial bit about really?

Simon Devonshire
I guess just an overwhelming sense of curiosity that keeps driving me on to the next thing and you know, I just see a world that’s just so full of possibility and opportunity. I just you know, virtually everything I look at where people sense a feeling of frustration or friction, you know I see a business opportunity and I am keen to kind of think about how you can convert whatever that hassle is into something that is going to benefit everybody’s lives and in doing so create a meaningful, sustainable robust business that is going to generate revenue and employment.

Elliot Moss
It sounds so simple when he says it doesn’t it but he is actually doing it as well. Amazing stuff. Stay with me for more from Simon, my Business Shaper today. Time for some music, this is Duane Eubanks and Dance With Aleta.

That was Dance With Aleta from Duane Eubanks, my sources tell me from Pennsylvania, did accountancy, hated it, became a trumpeter. Very happy he did to. Simon Devonshire is my Business Shaper today and he is a serial entrepreneur, business entrepreneur, entrepreneur in residence with the British Government and also in charge of something called Wayra and I am just going to quote here from someone who described you Simon, I think it was Tech City back last year as ‘an established figure – that’s you – an established figure in Britain’s Tech Eco System’. Now I am sure if knew what that meant I would be amazing, not joking but you, you obviously are a bit of a mover and a shaker in the technology start-up space. This Wayra incubator that you have created, just explain a little bit about what it is and what you think makes it special?

Simon Devonshire
So I think firstly it is a real privilege to have the opportunity of running Wayra. So Wayra is a business accelerator that belongs to Telefonica. It was originally created in Latin America and it is a very simple concept. We build a physical space, we run a competition, we try and find the best digital start-ups so we invest in them and we grow them and I was asked to do that I think predominantly because of my experience of actually being in their shoes and being an entrepreneur but I think the reason is it so special and why it is so significant is that we are witnessing the birth of the digital economy. I think this is the best time to be an entrepreneur. There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur than right now. I think the digital is the thing that enables us to add more value than ever before, we have more con-activity, more computer processing power, more open source software than ever before and Wayra is effectively looking for people who can see that and are pioneering new tech, new businesses, new opportunities and we are trying to get behind them and grow them.

Elliot Moss
Now how do you know because it always intrigues me and you are one of those people that does know because you have been asked to sit on panels that you know, back certain entrepreneurs and certain ideas. How do you know that that person and that idea is going to fly because you are going to see thousands of them aren’t you? What is it that kicks in in your head in terms of deciding whether that one’s going to make it, that one’s not?

Simon Devonshire
Okay so – in the last three years I have invested in nearly two hundred and fifty businesses and they are selected from more than fifteen thousand applications and you are right, we do filter through an awful lot of pitches and an awful lot of entrepreneurs. In a word it’s talent and so what we are looking for really is a proven track record, people who are going to succeed tend to have a track record of achievement whether it is commercially or professionally or in sport or in some facet in their life they have really driven. Secondly they’ve got an idea and they are able to articulate it and then thirdly, they, they have got just the conviction, they don’t just see this as an opportunity and a possibility, they’ve got this feeling of absolute inevitability that they can, you know, sort of this desk is sat in front of me right now and this thing is going to happen.

Elliot Moss
Well if that’s you then you know you have got to go and do it and if it isn’t you, well just carry on listening anyway because we are going to hear our final chat with Simon Devonshire and play a track from Eliane Elias and that is after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

A touch of Latin before the end of Jazz Shapers today, that was Oye Coma Va from Eliane Alias. Simon Devonshire is my Business Shaper just for a few more precious minutes and he is a serial entrepreneur, you have been hearing, he has given you if you are thinking about a business pitch, a lot of good advice about how to shape it. You’ve got to have that conviction and I am sure you have seen plenty of people that have and you will continue to see them. In your career Simon and it is really, you’ve gone as you have said interestingly from agency to clients to kind of a bit of a start-up guru to your own businesses to advising people, often people are good at doing things but necessarily very good at giving advice. You are obviously both. Where have you gone for advice yourself? Who have you looked to through your working career for kind of solid and interesting things to think about and has that changed and improved your own ability to do what you want to do?

Simon Devonshire
So I think there is no question in my mind that the person who has advised me most and contributed most to my career successes is Mrs Devonshire. So Jules is just you know, a phenomenally talented business person in her own right and that’s an invaluable resource if you are lucky enough to have somebody like that you know in close proximity to you but I think also my parents have been a great help and what is interesting about that from my point of view is the difference between the two of them. So my father was very commercially driven, my mother was very kind of socially driven and I think that as a blend is quite powerful. It is having empathy with your fellow colleagues and having a sense of purpose and of legacy I think is invaluable. It is quite easy to be successful in business, you can do it just by being completely ruthless and horrible to people. It is much harder to do it with a sense of ethics and care and genuine concern for people’s welfare. And I think the third thing is that I have just been so lucky to work with the most extraordinary talented people and people who’ve had a transformative impact on my life because of the generosity of the input that they have been willing to share with me and the guidance they have given.

Elliot Moss
Now you strike me as someone who hasn’t encountered failure much which is a sort of strange thing for me to say perhaps and you will tell me ‘no, no, you don’t know the whole thing’ but over the years I am sure you had some difficult times and if you have, how have you gone through them?

Simon Devonshire
Yeah I mean God I’ve been, I’ve been fired a couple of times and stuff like that you know. I’ve had some, some you know periods of real uncertainty about my future and where its going to go. I have had at least one business venture that I have invested personally not work out and that has been quite tough but from every single one you learn and actually one of the things that I’ve also learnt is the power of your own intuition and having confidence but not confidence beyond your ability, confidence that has got a solid foundation based on consistent achievement and every time you achieve success I think it is always worth just kind of banking that mentally a little bit because then when you are next forced to make a difficult decision you can kind of think back on, on all the… your career history of decisions and think ‘actually I’ve not done so badly’ and when one door has closed another one has opened and for me, fortunately that’s always been actually kind of beneficial if that makes sense. I’ve actually you know, always progressed and gone on and you know, not having all your eggs in one basket, just you know having multiple opportunities at any given time and pursuing multiple commercial ventures means that you know, inevitably some of them are going to come off right so you know, its just about going for it.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of the future for you, I imagine more of the same, more multiple things to think about, more problems to solve, more people to bring through. Is it like that or have you got other big… I mean obviously the election is coming up, you are going to be post that, may be finished in that role. What is going to happen for Simon?

Simon Devonshire
So for me I mean I am very passionate to maintain my corporate career as well as my entrepreneurial career simultaneously. I am very keen to continue to contribute to Government and I am very keen to continue to pursue my own ventures, my own opportunities and particularly on the digital side of things so yeah I think it is going to be a mixture of all of those things but I think, I am genuinely – it is not that I am optimistic, I am actually very pragmatic about the future you know, the economy is going well and opportunities are improving and I think that whilst that could be quite difficult for some people going through periods of change, vulnerability, feelings of uncertainty, generally I think there is more opportunities for everybody.

Elliot Moss
Well that sounds good. Listen thank you so much for being my Business Shaper. Just before I let you go – what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Simon Devonshire
It is Blue Mosque by Don Rendell and the Ian Carr Quintet and I think there is nothing better if you are about to have a romantic evening meal with a glass of wine this is what I would be listening to.

Elliot Moss
Well hopefully someone will be doing that tonight. Thank you so much for joining me. Here it is – it is Blue Mosque, Don Rendell and the Ian Carr Quintet.

That was Blue Mosque from Don Rendell and Ian Carr Quintet and it can be found on the Shades of Blue album. It is the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Simon Devonshire; entrepreneurial to the core. Knowledgeable as well, unbelievably knowledgeable about the place that he is in right now which is the digital entrepreneurial space and incredibly balanced to boot. How about that. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s 9.00am here on Jazz FM next Saturday morning. In the meantime though coming up next here on Jazz FM, it’s Nigel Williams.

Simon Devonshire

Simon built and now Directs Wayra Europe, the business accelerator that belongs to Telefonica. In its first two years, Wayra Europe now has seven academies in five countries, and has invested in c. 150 start-ups that are valued at over €100m.

Prior to Wayra, Simon ran the Small Business division of O2 UK for five years, a €1bn business, doubling the number of business customers in that time.

Originally a marketer, Simon worked on a diverse range of prestigious brands including: Virgin Media, Yellow Pages, Post Office, Total, Thomas Cook, Spillers, and HJ Heinz.

Simon is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of a remarkable portfolio of businesses that includes: One Water, Zopa.com, Local Data Company, Concept Cupboard and Coding Cupboard.

For many years Simon has been a passionate ambassador of start-ups, which he now champions through his active Advisory roles for: The Department of Business Innovation and Skills, Santander, The Centre for Entrepreneurs, www.makeitcheaper.com, www.kiosked.com.

Follow Simon on Twitter @simondevonshire

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“It has been a real eye opener, just how impressive talent is in Whitehall. I don’t know what I was expecting, but there are some people who are phenomenally talented…”

“I knew that I needed to find a vehicle for my creativity and my entrepreneurialism that working in a corporate environment didn’t give me.”

“I kind of started my first job when I was nine as an assistant paper rounder and always had money and always sort of understood the concept of money and the value of money and you know, how to enjoy it.”

“I am not proud of the fact that I am probably the least qualified person you will ever meet.”

“For me, it’s not right that two billion people in the world are dying because they don’t have enough access to clean water.”

“…figure out what is your ‘it’s not right’ because it’s the passion that can help drive your business forward.”

“If you recognise when you are getting stuck and seek help…you’d be amazed how generous people are when asked an earnest question.”

“I see a world that’s just so full of possibility and opportunity.”

“….my father was very commercially driven, my mother was kind of socially driven and I think that as a blend is quite powerful.”

“It is quite easy to be successful in business, you can do it just by being completely ruthless and horrible to people. It is much harder to do it with a sense of ethics and care and genuine concern for people’s welfare.”