Get a thick skin, fast! There will be many in your personal and business life who will not understand your passion and vision for your start up. Ignore the haters and any close mindedness. 20 years ago someone said to me ‘you’d never be able to run your own company, 20 years later, who runs the award winning company no? Me!
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenny Bater-Sinclair.
Jenny is the founder, director and head tutor at Hip Hop Pop Ltd, an award-winning dance company of 20 years. Hip Hop Pop specialises in street dance, providing education platforms, professional dancers for events, and knowledge of dance and associated health.
From a work background in arts marketing and business development and a passion for all things dance since Jenny was a child, Hip Hop Pop dance company was born. Hip Hop Pop has blossomed into a small empire over two decades, training over 20’000 students and providing dancers for events all over the world.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was a very active child, and every day of the week would be filled with either dance training or tennis training to the point where I could compete in both competitively. I also did well at school; I enjoyed academic subjects, particularly mathematics, so I wanted to be a secondary school mathematics teacher at one point.
During my higher education, I also volunteered at a local theatre as a technician and dabbled in a little marketing and front of house task or two. At this point, I become very interested in working in theatre and successfully obtained progressive roles from Box Office assistant, to Box Office Manager, to Marketing Manager to Business Development Manager to Sales and Marketing Manager and so forth.
Meanwhile, I was still training as a tennis player and a dancer and my passion for dance, and in particular street dance, grew larger and larger as I grew older, to the point where I produced a very small-scale show of my own with a cast of eight talented dancers. The show’s success opened my eyes to potential opportunity in a career in performing arts, and some serious decisions were to be made as to my future: Should I stay in my current job, as I was doing very well in marketing? Should I pursue my goal of being a mathematics teacher? Should I flip the switch and look at a career in dance or as a dance teacher?
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The success of my first dance production was a complete eye-opener as to the opportunity for more; I hadn’t expected it to have that effect. The show was meant to be a one-off chance to express myself and share the talents of some local dancers. I took shows to the next step and produced a larger show with a cast of around 60 dancers; it was at that point that the demand for training in street dance in my area was off the charts, and there was an opportunity to be had.
I’ll openly say that at the beginning of starting my dance education company: Hip Hop Pop, I had very little clue of what I was doing business-wise, yes I had a background in marketing, but running your own company requires a stack of skills I was yet to have. I was running on pure passion for sharing my love for street dance. As the years have gone on, I have learnt an awful lot about what it takes to run a company and what it takes to grow a successful one, which hopefully I’m going to be able to share some of those learnings here in this interview.
I think I had two a-ha moments. The first was the demand to begin a dance education company, but the second was a-ha: this could be a viable business for my future, not just a side-hustle which I enjoyed.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
I must thank my manager at the theatre at the time when I began my journey, who encouraged me to pursue my passion for dance and producing shows and therefore creating a dance education company. He made it possible for me to transition from my full-time position slowly out and into the world on my own 2 feet as a self-employed company director.
I was also inspired by my drive to overcome others who perhaps were less supportive of my ideas. It’s integral to follow your dream or creative ideas regardless of what others judge of that because you never know what you are capable of. At the start of my journey, I was told in a roundabout way that I’ll never be able to run my own company, but now look, two decades later and I’m running a very successful award-winning company that I’m proud of that makes thousands happy.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Understanding and community: Our company culture is very family-oriented; staff, volunteers and students all feel like they are part of a family or community. It’s a safe place for people to be themselves and to meet like-minded people with similar passions. I believe our company stands out because everybody is welcome there is no judgement here and every achievement, whether that be from staff or students, is celebrated. There is competition within the dance industry, but here at Hip Hop Pop, competition is very friendly, meaning everyone has and deserves the right to enjoy dance and better their physical and mental well-being through the medium of dance.
I believe we also stand out in terms of the dancers that we provide for events, our dancers are fairly given the opportunity to perform at professional events we do not favour a particular height or size a dancer, they all deserve the right to perform, and for that reason, I believe we stand out as a great company to work for.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Having taught over 20,000 students of varying ages and levels over the two decades, we have seen students grow in confidence within our classes and their school life and work lives. As a company, we lift people and celebrate their wins, no matter how big or small, and genuinely make them feel happy.
As a dance company in Essex in the UK, teaching a dance style that originates from a different era a different country, we appreciate that we are guests in the culture. I feel that we are doing our absolute best to pay homage to that culture and its history and playing our part to educate the next generation in the UK properly.
Making dance education accessible, inclusive, and super fun encourages thousands of people to become more physically and mentally well. Statistics show that dance can reduce your risk of dementia by up to 76% compared to 38% by reading nightly. (Reference: New England Journal of Medicine)
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
A thick skin: Not all people in your personal and business life will understand your passion and vision for your start-up, you need to ignore the haters and any close-mindedness. As I said before, people who didn’t understand my passion and drive for the company said I’d never be able to run one, but now look at the success I have.
Good acting skills: You’re going to need to fake it till you make it. You’ll learn so much as you go along in your journey and you don’t have to be a master of one thing or everything. You just simply need to keep stacking up your skills, but until you do, keep faking it until you make it. I can honestly say I thought I had impostor syndrome initially, I never felt like I was quite good enough to fill the shoes that I built for myself, but now I feel empowered and like a leader within my community in the service that I provide.
Being OK with being ‘uncomfortable’: Progress comes from outside the comfort zone; believe in your abilities and try new opportunities if you feel that they fit your values, even if they seem out of reach, you need to get uncomfortable and stretch for them. There’s been many a new project that I’ve said yes to because I really want to do it, however I’ve not always felt that I have the past experience to perform well and I’ve had to muster the courage to push forward regardless. In 99% of the situations, I have felt incredibly proud of what I’d achieved and realised that my abilities are greater than I thought.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
There is a belief that running your own company means that you have to work 24/7 and give it everything you’ve got, and to a point, yes of course, you do have to give it everything you’ve got, but not every second of your time.
Over the last five years, I realised that time is precious; it’s not about how much time you put into the company; it’s about how well you use that time. I’ve spent way too many hours over the years not making traction and progress in projects, simply just working for the sake of working, thinking that time means progress.
In the last five years I’ve mastered the art of time blocking. Time blocking is where I manage my time in 1-hour blocks according to my values; once the hour is up, move on to the next block’s task. In a start-up, you’ll likely wear many hats juggling many responsibilities, if you block your time into hourly slots and do the priority work when you are the most focused, for me that’s first thing in the morning, you’re going to be much more productive. You’ll then have time to enjoy life’s personal joys whether that be a picnic with your partner spending time with a child etc, it’s essential to make the best use of your work time so that your personal time stays personal.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I feel fortunate not to have had many hard times. One general thing that I found challenging, which I’ve more recently learnt, is the art of saying no. When you’re starting up a company, you might feel the need to say yes to every single opportunity or lead, but before saying yes, I’ve learnt now to ask myself: does it align with my objectives and values? Is it a good use of mine all my teams time?
In previous years, especially the first years, I would say yes to every opportunity that came in, to the point where I would barely get sleep because I was constantly overworking. I think the hardest thing is not just saying no; it’s learning that it’s okay not to take every opportunity. It’s not something you’ve missed out on; you’ve made time for the critical projects; it’s about learning to re-frame how are you feel about turning something down.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
Through my ability to put myself in uncomfortable positions, as I’ve said before, I was able to experiment with saying no, then reflecting on the repercussions of that decision and therefore learning that the repercussions don’t exist, what I have gained is more time to make traction.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
This too shall pass: That is a statement that I’ve had to embed in my mind many a time; there’s been situations that are uncomfortable or just simply out of my control, and knowing that they will pass and things will get better has kept me going on many occasion. A perfect example is the 2020/2021 pandemic, the actual medical difficultness this world has been put through aside, as a company, it was a scary, scary time, with a company culture so embedded in community, how on earth would we continue that culture through a screen in different locations? This too shall pass, and it is passing gradually, as a company, we proved our versatility and I resilience and even managed to continue to build on our community culture through that time.
Some of my favourite moments in life have been because of the work I do, for example, in 2016 there was a moment on stage in South Africa, I was performing with three other dancers, who are great friends of mine and just as we finished the show and the crowd went crazy applauding, I closed my eyes for that moment and soaked in that joy in the atmosphere, it’s a feeling and a moment I will never ever forget. There have been many other moments that my work life has created that I will cherish forever, so as hard as it gets sometimes running a company, those moments make it all worth it.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
I’m not sure I can fully answer that question because the beginning of my company was a very natural progression from a personal project to a very small venture, to now being quite a small empire. I did bootstrap the entire way, however, there has been the odd project where we have been lucky enough to gain arts funding to get the project off the ground. As a person who built almost everything from scratch who came from a family with small incomes, I can say I feel proud of how I’ve managed to grow the company from a small seed into what it is today.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
I’m going to cover much of what I’ve said in previous questions because I believe that these five things are the reason why my company is now so successful. As a company director for 20 years I’ve learnt many things the hard way, if I could help my younger self to avoid pitfalls and know what to focus on I would say, here are five tips for you:
- Get a thick skin, fast! There will be many in your personal and business life who will not understand your passion and vision for your start up. Ignore the haters and any close mindedness. 20 years ago someone said to me ‘you’d never be able to run your own company, 20 years later, who runs the award winning company no? Me!
- Learn to say no. As a start-up you might feel the need to say yes to EVERY opportunity, but before saying ‘yes’, ask yourself does it align with your objective and values?
- Time block. Manage your time according to your values and most focused times of day. Asa start up you’ll likely wear many hats juggling many responsibilities, block your time in hourly slots, do your priority work in the 1–2 hours when you are most focused, for me that’s first thing in the morning.
- Push to uncomfortable places. Progress comes from outside the comfort zone, believe in your abilities and try new opportunities if you feel they fit your values, even if they seem out of reach, get uncomfortable and stretch!
- Fake it till you make it! You’ll likely learn so much as you go along, you don’t have to be a master or the best at EVERYTHING or even ONE thing, simply keep stacking up your skills, and as you do fake it till you make it!
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The most common mistake I see is having a fantastic service or product and passion for said service or product, yet they don’t put enough time or thought or funding into telling people about it. It’s all very well having the best product out there, but you need to tell people it’s there. Spend time on a business plan, spend time on a marketing plan, reflect on both regularly and continually improve them.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
Make time for yourself, start your day how you mean to go on, try not to just roll out of bed into the office. Go to bed earlier, get up earlier, make time for yourself, focus on making your body and mind the best they can be so that the time you use them for work or personal activities, they are working to the best of their ability for you.
It’s taken me a long time to find a routine, even though I’m a dance teacher, of looking after my body properly. I now go to bed early, I get up at (what I call early) at 7 am and I have an hour for me. I do a 30-minute workout, meditate, and say my daily affirmations followed by an awakening shower and a nutritious breakfast. By the time I sit at my desk, I feel charged and ready for my day.
Before I time blocked or started my exercise and meditation regime, I would quite often work into the early hours of the morning, and as much as I’ve gotten a few extra tasks done, I was quite slow in my speed of work and didn’t really make as much progress as I would in the daytime. Of course, the next day I would feel super tired so it’s important to make sure that you’re giving your mind and body the best chance of being healthy and working it’s best with rest.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d love to help make dance a regular activity in everybody’s life! Dance releases feel-good endorphins. Dance has even more benefits than other heart-pumping activities as music and dance is primal, therefore naturally activating the reward centres in the brain! We all love to feel good, right? We can work on our mental wellbeing together in a fun and primal way.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Neil Patel. I love how he makes every piece of advice on business and marketing actionable; he has great insight into what it takes to build a company without cutting corners, and I would love to chat to him about my company and how I could scale it to not only benefit us as a company but to get so many more people dancing.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow us on socials: @hiphoppopdance on Insta, Twitter and TikTok or @hiphoppop dance on Facebook and Youtube
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!