9 life lessons I learnt at an entrepreneurs conference

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Last Friday I took a day off work and went to an all-day conference for entrepreneurs called Like Minds. The very fact it was advertised and promoted as a ‘start up to scale up event’ for entrepreneurs meant that my expectations of the day were low given that I was neither ‘starting’ or ‘scaling’ up and I certainly don’t consider myself an entrepreneur.  However, I went because you simply never know what you may hear/learn or the connections you may make.

And though I haven’t yet hyped it up on here or even on my social media, I’m right on the cusp of launching products that I hope will become great tools for helping aid mental health conversations (and those that suffer feel comforted) so, despite my reservations about the day, I went and here’s a few things I learnt or observed:

It’s (still) a man’s world

Once the room was at capacity it seemed to have a split of approximately 85% men to 15% women.  As disappointing as that was to see, it also isn’t surprising.  It’s not that we, as women, don’t have ideas or aspirations to be businesswomen but we are inherently taught to be risk-adverse and therefore are likely not to take steps to push through with our plans.  However, it also means that the women who were there felt even more important to remind us that you can be a success in a still male-dominated sector.

Emotional intelligence is key

James Poulter from Lego was the first key speaker and I’ve got to say, my favourite, because the emotionally intelligent culture of Lego aligned so much with my own values.  Though he didn’t specifically say ’emotional intelligence’, he spoke of the need for a workplace to lead with empathy and a playful culture.  He recognised that we are all competitive depending on the prize but that it doesn’t need to be aggressive and that without an open, playful culture you can’t encourage people to challenge each other and therefore nothing ever changes for the better.  He reaffirmed that great cultures are built on great values and though I’m a one-woman band, my ‘company’ is all of you, my community, and I think we’re working on a great set of values!

Mental illness is everywhere

This wasn’t anything spoken about by any keynote speaker but something I had reaffirmed for myself.  I had in-depth conversations with approximately 4 people throughout the day (on top of quick chats and “hellos”) which started because they saw the words ‘mental health writer’ on my badge and wondered what I ‘did’.  All 4 of those conversations were with men (obviously; it was a numbers game) and out of those 4 conversations, 3 of them shared their struggles with me.  They’d had a breakdown.  Or been depressed for a while etc.  And not only did I feel so incredibly honoured that these total strangers would open up to me (proving that we’re all desperate to talk about it if only we’d just ask and listen) but it reaffirmed to me that targeting men’s mental health on my launch seems like the right step.

Be Yourself

I think you all know by now that I’m honest to a fault.  It’s the non-bullshit honesty that has made this site and community what it is today but it felt good to have the speakers reaffirm that this is a key way to do business.; that people invest in people, not companies!  We all ‘scale up’ our resumes when applying for a job but when you’re starting out a business and meeting new people there’s a temptation to ‘fend off the bear’ (as I’ve just decided to call it) because if you’re ever faced with a bear in the wild, they tell you to make yourself seem bigger than you are.  However, we forget that people come to us because they connect, in whatever small or large way, with the people behind the words and the values they hold which builds trust and once you have that, you have everything!

Fake it ’till you make it

(otherwise known as Business Bullshit) Never to be confused with being dishonest, it goes back to ‘fending off the bear’ from the point above.  I sat there and for the majority of the day felt like a fraud with a huge dose of imposter syndrome especially when any of the speakers used business abbreviations which I had to Google just to understand what they were saying.  And though I don’t advocate half-truths or bullshit, sometimes, you have to bullshit yourself.  You have to consistently affirm that you deserve the right to be somewhere or to have an opinion on a topic even if the voice inside your head is telling you otherwise.  I may be able to start conversations with strangers but it doesn’t mean that I’m not a nervous wreck on the inside when speaking.

Creativity & Meaningfulness are everything

I attended a workshop by Chris Moss (a ridiculously talented creative man who helped set up Virgin Atlantic with Richard Branson) in the afternoon and he reiterated something I was starting to realise of late; that creativity underpins almost everything in life.  That you have to allow people the freedom to be creative (even in traditionally non-creative sectors) to get the most out of your people and therefore the business which perfectly married with the point another speaker made earlier in the day; that your work has to be meaningful.  That doesn’t necessarily mean your job or business is trying to change the world but that your own role has to feel meaningful.  That you, as a human, have to feel valued and that your job is purposeful (something I try and explain to employers) or you become demotivated and leave.

Find your tribe

This is something that many of the speakers touched on throughout the day which reinforced what I have discovered over the last few years in particular; find your support network.  Whether it’s professionally or personally, find your people.  The ones which thrive on honesty.  Belief in each other.  Treasure time spent working to keep the relationship going.  It took me years before I finally realised that I was allowed to walk away from friendships,  quit jobs or leave relationships because they no longer worked for me. The networks I find myself in now?  Wholly supportive.  That doesn’t mean that they don’t challenge me or call me out on my bullshit but that they do it in an encouraging way.  You can still supportively challenge and disagree with someone without being a d*ck about it! #spreadkindnessnotdicks

Numbers aren’t vanity metrics

My second favourite talk came from Jason Miller of LinkedIn who broke down the thing we all avoid discussing as bloggers and digital entrepreneurs; numbers.  Like most things in life, if you start researching into things properly; reading articles and books etc on a specific topic, you can lose yourself down rabbit holes of information.  Digital influencers are no different.  Everyone is looking for that perfect formula to take their work stratospheric except that I realised, after listening to Jason, that I’m not.  I have always gone for quality over quantity which is what he suggested we aim for.  To slow it down.  Write longer articles but less often.  As other speakers had advised beforehand, be a storyteller.  His talk was a great, unintentional, reminder that I’m working in the ‘golden’ way.  The fact that I have 3 articles ranked number one on Google search listings says it all!

Walk your own journey

Again, not a lesson I learnt from any of the speakers but more a self-realisation I came to throughout the day.  Throughout the conference I heard people talk about getting investors, shareholders, structuring their business and whilst that massively highlighted my imposter syndrome, it made me realise that just because we may have a similar goal, it doesn’t mean we have to take the same path.  I’m starting my commercial journey as a sole trader.  I’ll be self-funded.  I’ll be ordering tiny sample product batches. All with the stoic philosophy that I expect to fail but hope that I don’t.  Why am I doing it this way?  I chronically suffer with major depression which not only means that any failure could be detrimental to my already struggling mental health but because I simply don’t have the physical or mental energy to dedicate to taking huge risks or spending 40 hours ‘hustling’ as Gary Vee likes to call it on top of my full time job.  This is my journey and I make no apologies for how I take it.  As Dupsy Abiola said on Friday:

The world will always tell you how impossible something is, so push on anyway.

Despite the lessons learnt and the people I met who will hopefully come through for me, I can’t say I loved it.  That’s not a slight on the organisers or even the event itself, I just realised that I didn’t belong there.  I’m not an entrepreneur and I’m not even trying to be.  I’m just a woman on a mission to make mental health sufferers feel a little more comforted and a little less alone in their struggles.

The very fact that I ditched the evening drinks (despite promises to appear) to spend Friday night with an acquaintance I’d never met before to help him through his own mental health crisis says everything I need to about my journey and I’m ok with that!

  • Aji Issac


    Great summary of the event. Highly enjoyed it.

    • Toni

      Aji – thank you! Really enjoyed what you had to say on the panel; it was great to hear your perspective on your employees, culture and how to grow whilst still making your team feel valued and appreciated!

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