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Knowing when to keep going, and when to stop

Updated Thursday, 3rd February 2011

Yo! Sushi founder Simon Woodroffe shares what he learned about business start-ups as he established his restaurants

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Evan Davis

So Simon, I'd like to talk about entrepreneurship and setting up a business, which you have successfully done more than once.  Entrepreneurs get a lot of what I think of as rather clichéd advice about stick at it, never give up, always pursue your dream, the sort of stuff you read in books, but you and I must know that that’s not really practical, it’s not really sensible.  Often it’s absolutely right to give up and it’s right to drop your dream and see that it’s going to fail and not to commit yourself to something that is going to bring you down financially.  Tell us how you can, a young person or an entrepreneur setting up a business can draw the distinction between a case where it is worth pursuing something and where it’s worth dropping.  Did you ever, when you set up Yo! Sushi, think this isn’t going to work, I should let it go?

Simon Woodroffe

You see I think there are, I think it’s a very good point you make.  There’s a million self-help books about what you should do, and people read them by rote, and actually what you should do is you should read them to educate yourself, and as you educate yourself you should then go back and make your feeling by gut feeling not by a system that somebody else has given you.  It’s like gambling, there is no system.  So where were we going with this?

Evan Davis

Well did you ever lose faith in Yo! Sushi?

Simon Woodroffe

Yes.  So I think the question in a way is what does it really feel like when you're actually starting a business?  And the thing you have to remember, although I started Yo! Sushi and it took me two years to get the thing up and running and then when we eventually opened it was successful, I'd had 30 years’ experience of running small businesses and failing, you know, or not, at least not being a big success during that time, 20 years anyway.  And, you know, it is - first of all I think you have to have, as an entrepreneur doing something that’s difficult you have to have something that drives you.  There has to be, because why would you give up a reasonably safe, secure job with some nice friends around to do something, and often it’s, you know, I think I could do this better than somebody else, I'm absolutely furious that it’s not being done this well, or in my case I need to earn a living and I don’t have any qualifications to fall back on.  And I always think that enthusiasm, if you can find some enthusiasm for the thing you're doing, some genuine enthusiasm.  I never did anything in order to get rich, you know, I did a lot of things in order not to be poor, but if you can find enthusiasm, that will then drive you through to getting things done.

Evan Davis

But does it ever drive you too far though, because your passion for your baby, your corporate baby, does it ever drive you to do things that are really stupid and irrational?

Simon Woodroffe

Well Felix Dennis said, he said to win it you’ve got to be in it, but never be late to quit and cut bait.  Meaning yes, you should never give up but don’t be stupid, if it’s not going to work, stop.

Evan Davis

Right, but were you ever stupid?

Simon Woodroffe

But you only, you don’t know that by a book.  There’s nobody, there’s no consultant who can ever tell you that.  Instinctively you know when the time to do that is.

Evan Davis

But the difficulty as I see it for entrepreneurs is that in any good business there are going to be times when you look at it and say I'm never going to make it, I want to give up, and only on some of those times should you give up and on others of those times you really should stick at it, and it’s very hard I think for an entrepreneur to tell the difference.

Simon Woodroffe

Well you get a lot of, you know, people say that’s business, it’s different to real life, but actually it’s not true.  We’re all dictated to by our emotions, and one of the ones in business is fear, you know, you get very scared of what’s happening.  So one of the reasons - or you get very tired or you just get fed up with the whole thing.  But one of the reasons that you think I'm going to get out of this is because you're scared or you don’t think you’ve got the energy to do it any more or you keep making mistakes, and there could be an argument saying you should get out if you're doing that.  And another one is that you feel out of your depth or you're not going to go there.  But often, if you are out of your depth, that’s actually quite a good place to be.  I always talk about getting outside your comfort zone, which sounds like one of those books you're talking about, but it is true; if you're in a fearful place and slightly outside your comfort zone you're probably in the right place.  But have you got the courage, have you got the determination, is there something that drives you to stay there to get yourself through it?

Evan Davis

How long should you pursue a business without it making a profit before you realise it’s never going to make a profit?  Because any start up, I mean Yo! Sushi didn’t generate a proper income from day one did it?

Simon Woodroffe

No.  Your question is how long should you keep on following something, and I suppose it must be as long as you have the belief, the genuine practical and realistic belief that it will come right.  When I can't look you in the eye and say this is really going to work, that’s the time to get out.

Evan Davis

How long did it take for Yo! Sushi to become profit generating?

Simon Woodroffe

Well that said, I had two years in which I tried to get the thing together and there were a lot of moments of this isn’t going to work, but I was so far in I sort of had to do it actually.  And actually that is one thing is if you get in the deep end of the swimming pool you have got to swim.  It’s like when you gave up smoking, you say if you tell all your friends you’ve got to do it.  But Yo! Sushi opened, in the first week nobody came, it was empty.  And that was close to suicide of moments then.  But the second week we had a queue down the block, and that was a moment, that was an incredible tip over moment, and of course the money was rolling in and I was running the business so the money was rolling right back out again, and that’s when you decide that you, or when I decided that I needed to get really good people in because I couldn’t do it all myself.

Evan Davis

There’s a lot of bluff involved in being an entrepreneur isn’t there, you have to get other people as well as yourself to believe in the business, because you're not going to get suppliers to supply you on reasonable terms if they don’t believe the business has got a chance.  Was there a bit of that?

Simon Woodroffe

I don’t know, I mean I've never really been a sort of a BS merchant or a bluff merchant because I don’t think you can do it for very long.  Even a good gambler will tell you that you can only bluff on a few hands.  And yes, sure I bluff from time to time, but basically you have to believe what you're doing.  That’s why, for example, when Ford brings out a new motor car they spend a vast amount of money doing presentations to their own staff because if the guy in the showroom actually believes that that is a really, really great motor car he’s going to be able to sell it to you.  So you’ve got to get yourself to believe it, but sometimes you have to act as if you do in order to get to the point where you do.  But getting to the point where you can really believe something, that’s where confidence comes, and actually entrepreneurs need confidence.  And confidence is like imagining winter when it’s summer, you can't, and vice versa.  When you haven’t got confidence you can't fake it, but you do have to fake it a little bit to get there.

 

Evan Davis

Simon Woodroffe, thank you very much. 

 

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