Learn to manage your resources and get funded fast! There are many battles an entrepreneur faces and resource availability and control are major ones. It’s the reason many businesses fail and is likely to be one of the most difficult aspects of being an entrepreneur. I have some stories to tell in this area and have previously failed not because I had a bad idea or was unable to execute, but because I had no funding to support myself and a startup at the same time. I got into a trap of personal survival needs fighting with the business needs for an extended period of time and in the end, the personal survival needs to be won. Many businesses are trapped in this quagmire and fail because of it.
Without adequate funding to achieve your entrepreneurial goals, everything that is difficult becomes extremely difficult. I typically advise entrepreneurs to make securing funding no. 1 priority because it’s really key to everything else and because you need to convince experienced people to invest in you, it will positively guide your value proposition and product development.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Toks Adebiyi.
Toks Adebiyi is an author and entrepreneur with over fifteen years of property and tech experience. Global brands his company has consulted for include Prudential, Visa Europe, G Research, LexisNexis, Lloyds Register, Regus, and European Medicines Agency. He is the author of Joyful, a truthful guide to finding peace and living a fulfilling life. He is also the founder of Clooper, a purpose-driven real estate technology company that is transforming the way people manage their properties and is on a mission to be the most home-centric platform in 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 born in the UK whilst my mum was studying as a medical practitioner but I spent my early years in Lagos, Nigeria. I then moved to the UK in January 2000 to further my education and have been based there ever since. Although my mum was an employee for her entire career, it’s weird that I actually come from a family of serial entrepreneurs as everyone else is doing some form of business or the other. I started my first business in 2003 which was a platform for students and was way beyond its years at the time. I remember my cofounder and I went into a local HSBC branch to seek a loan and will never forget the look on the branch manager’s face when we explained what we were trying to do. Since then, I have had a property investment club, an estate agency/property management company, a couple of Starbucks-style cafes, and a tech consultancy.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Having experienced life as a tenant, homeowner, landlord, and property manager, I had gone through many years of managing my home and properties the traditional way with piles of paperwork ranging from tenancy to maintenance to finance documents and so on. Although I was an experienced landlord with established systems, I found the process to be time-consuming and frustrating. Having to go from system to system to system for each part of the process was the most frustrating thing and I don’t want to even mention the paperwork.
It reached the boiling point when I had to sort urgent property maintenance issues whilst on much-needed family holidays. I was upset the tenants were disturbing my much-needed family time, the tenants were upset that I sounded upset when they needed something fixed.
This was the tipping point for me. As much as I wanted to be a good landlord/property manager, I also did not want to spend many hours going through websites and calling contacts to find reputable local tradespeople to get quotes, whilst on a short break that was meant to be an escape from it all. I thought about all the people that might be going through similar frustrations when really everyone had a similar goal to keep the property in good condition. I thought surely there must be a way to make everyone’s life easier.
My life’s purpose had been (and still is) to help people live joyful lives and I wrote a book about it called “Joyful”.
Then I had a dream about Clooper. An idea that would connect people to resolve the pain of going helter-skelter to fulfill the end-to-end journey of renting or managing a property.
Finally, landlords would be able to claw back their precious time whilst providing a great service to tenants and tradespeople would be able to find more work and earn a living. Homeowners too will be able to save time and hassle by finding good local tradespeople and manage repairs and improvement works all from their phones. The idea was a win for everybody and would result in better housing provision for society and more joyful life for everyone…. This was the beginning of Clooper.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Being an entrepreneur is and has always been in my DNA. I explained that in my family, my mum is the only one who was an employee. The rest of us are extremely entrepreneurial and I think we got it from my dad. As far back as I can remember, I always knew this would be the right path for me.
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?
There have been two great influences in my life, one I am very proud of and the other not so much anymore. The first was Richard Branson, I am a huge RB fan and have always been. I think studying him helped build my confidence to launch out into the unknown.
The second is Donald Trump, yeah, the Donald. Lol… My wife teases me all the time about it because I am so the opposite of how I once admired him. As someone in the property market, I previously looked up to Donald and found him to be a fascinating and inspirational character. I read so many of his books too like “The Art of The Deal” on how to win in the Real Estate business. However, his recent trajectory goes against everything I stand for in my Christian faith and beyond. So I am no longer a fan.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
At Clooper we are building something truly special and important. Our purpose is to help make a world where everyone has a place they can be proud to call home and live joyfully.
One of the benefits of being a former consultant was that I got to experience many business models and have learned what works and what doesn’t. Some of these lessons have caused me to focus more on collective achievements rather than individual achievements. We truly believe in team spirit and we help bring out the best in each other. Any reason why we are special is that we are one of the few companies out there that actively encourages our staff to have other interests outside their normal work e.g., side gigs. We want to see our employees thrive in and out of Clooper and if they go on to become something great outside of our business, we will be very proud to have helped them get there.
There are many others but I feel these are enough to show how special Clooper is.
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?
My team and I successfully completed nail-biting funding round with no money in the bank. What kept us going was the fact that we believed we would achieve it and that belief triggered the creativity and motivation we needed to achieve it.
Everyone in the team played a vital part in our fundraising campaign and we went over and beyond our skillset to achieve our goal. An example of this was when we needed to create a campaign pitch video without a budget to do so. Everyone in the team put heads together, we shared tasks, and delivered a brilliant video which I wouldn’t have been able to deliver on my own.
For me, this is a super important trait. I believe entrepreneurs need to be focused on specific goals around raising finance, building a good product and scaling. Everything else is a distraction during the early phase of the startup lifecycle.
For example, for my business, I knew we would only be able to go so far without raising finance, so I prioritized this as an activity and was able to secure £200k for 4% equity before we launched our minimum value proposition.
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?
I believe leaders need to be open-minded and not only listen but also seek advice from mentors, customers, and more. However, I also believe a leader must be confident enough to push through a strong conviction or belief. There is a reason why you are the leader or founder of whatever business you are in and you possibly have a unique experience that may be well suited to take particular risks or decisions.
Remember, the buck stops with you and you will not always agree with a popular opinion. A good example of this was when my mentor gave me what sounded like good advice to drop a particular function because he did not believe it could work. He felt it was too difficult to do and was highly competitive. However, having been in the specific industry for 15 years, I knew that function alone could lead to the rapid adoption of the platform. I went with his recommendation initially but my conviction kept telling me otherwise. In the end, we reverted back to my original plan and I wished I hadn’t wasted the time doing otherwise.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
I would tell them to focus on prioritizing the success of the team over individual success and actively encourage a healthy work-life balance.
I would also encourage flexible working in terms of time and location. There is no one size fits all because of individual circumstances and Covid-19 has proven that you can be just as productive with remote working.
Lastly, I would encourage a focus on ongoing training to build on your employees’ strengths whilst managing their weaknesses.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
The first advice I would give is to build social proof by writing and commenting on key issues in their industry and sharing this widely.
The second would be to build a reputable product that delivers on its promises. Nothing erodes business trust like a crappy product.
Treating employees well is also an indicator of how trustworthy and credible a leader is. Show me a company where the employees thrive, and I will show you a credible leader at the top of it.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Social proof is now a very important way of building credibility before you and your brand gain traction. It’s well known that word-of-mouth referrals is one of the most effective growth strategies, and social proof is a step in that direction. Publicizing partnerships with reputable brands, participating in reputable podcasts, publishing articles on relevant topics, etc.. all help to build trust with a likely skeptical audience.
Once a user crosses the first hurdle and decides to give your product or service a try, you get one shot to keep them or lose them. This is where a good quality product/service can clinch the deal.
Startups typically struggle with the traction vs perfection dilemma. My advice would be to target reaching a Minimum Lovable Product as soon as you can whilst gently testing with a small user base. This way you are getting the best of both worlds. You have some users and are getting crucial early feedback to improve fast.
Employees are the life of your company and potentially your biggest brand ambassadors. Treat them well and they’ll likely wear your T-shirt and sing your praises everywhere. Personally, I am always interested in companies that have great employee satisfaction.
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?
Not focusing on the principal thing
To avoid this, I typically use the acid test by Gary Keller in his best-selling book called “The One Thing”. Ask yourself “What is the One Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” This simple statement has been a lifesaver in helping me prioritize.
Not having a great team and support system
I believe building a great team is an absolute top priority and I recommend a book called Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed to assist you in getting this right. Your core team can be formed of people you respect and who you even feel are better than you. To get the best ideas I recommend a team that is diverse in ethnicity, culture, and gender.
It can sometimes feel lonely as a founder so, beyond your team, I also recommend having some close friends and family that you can share your journey. People who do not dream killers but listeners who you can confide in from time to time. If they also happen to be problem solvers or entrepreneurs, then you’ve hit the jackpot.
Going for perfection over traction
Having a great product is important but having a good product with users is even more important. In the startup world there is a common trap called “Perfection” and, if you are not a snake oil salesman, you have probably fallen victim to it as well. The problem with perfection is because we live in an ever-changing world, it really cannot be achieved. So, try to focus on a minimum value proposition initially and then build on that by listening to and observing your users’ needs to reach what I call a Minimum Lovable Product.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
I have been both an employee in a regular job and an entrepreneur and from experience, without a doubt, being an entrepreneur is way more challenging with many highs and lows.
Don’t get me wrong, there are highs and lows in any career path. However, employees enjoy a level of predictability and certainty. For example, they are somewhat assured of a paycheck at the end of the month, in most cases a reasonably accurate job description, a somewhat clearer career path, reasonable expectation of benefits and paid holidays, reasonable expectation of decent access to finance (lenders love employees for a reason), etc. The list goes on.
However, as an entrepreneur, all the above tend to be super volatile. You may not get a paycheck for the first 2 years.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
After working for approximately 2 years on Clooper, I remember the day we launched the minimum value proposition version of the platform. I was literally buzzing and found it difficult to sleep that night. I kept thinking about how we were going to become the next Airbnb of property management and transform the global industry.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Having a young family that was dependent on me whilst starting a business and the financial pressures it brought with it was the one thing that gave me many low points. Not being able to pay for what I normally would and the increased financial pressure it placed on my wife was the most difficult part of the journey. It’s not easy watching your loved ones face hardship because of a decision you have taken.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
I had to encourage and believe in myself and the cause for which I was doing it. I practically did whatever I could to reduce the pains at home. However, I have a great partner who believes in me and made things easier by actively supporting me and reassuring me at my lowest points.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Believe it can be done and believe you and your team can achieve it:
I feel this is the most important quality that you can have as an entrepreneur. Having faith that you can actually achieve what you are embarking upon is crucial to achieving it. In my business, Clooper, we are on a mission to help make a world where everyone has a place they are proud to call home and live joyfully. This is huge and what keeps us going strong is the belief we have that we can make a difference and achieve it.
It’s what gets me out of bed each morning with excitement for the day ahead. It’s what keeps me going in the face of formidable obstacles, and there are many. It’s what kept me going during our crowdfunding round despite being significantly below our target with a few days to the end; but we met and exceeded it.
It can feel foolish at times believing in something you cannot see with odds against you but it’s the key to achieving it…. And it’s a choice, it doesn’t just happen. You choose to believe.
Tie your business to a purpose you believe in. Why are you doing this?
This can actually be the first and it goes hand in hand with believing. Without a strong purpose, you may struggle to believe in what you are doing. This is why goals primarily aimed at profits can be short-lived. A strong purpose that is aimed at transforming society in a positive way is something you and your team can consistently believe in. It certainly is the driving force behind Clooper.
Quoting Simon Sinek, start with the why.
Learn to manage your resources and get funded fast!
There are many battles an entrepreneur faces and resource availability and control are major ones. It’s the reason many businesses fail and is likely to be one of the most difficult aspects of being an entrepreneur. I have some stories to tell in this area and have previously failed not because I had a bad idea or was unable to execute, but because I had no funding to support myself and a startup at the same time. I got into a trap of personal survival needs fighting with the business needs for an extended period of time and in the end, the personal survival needs to be won. Many businesses are trapped in this quagmire and fail because of it.
Without adequate funding to achieve your entrepreneurial goals, everything that is difficult becomes extremely difficult. I typically advise entrepreneurs to make securing funding №1 priority because it’s really key to everything else and because you need to convince experienced people to invest in you, it will positively guide your value proposition and product development.
Build a personal support network. People you trust and can be yourself with to vent, bounce ideas, and release.
Researchers at the University of California found that 72% of entrepreneurs are directly or indirectly affected by one mental illness or the other. It’s a tough road ahead and what also helps me stay on track is having a group of close friends and family I can speak to about anything. Sometimes it’s for advice, other times it’s just to vent and let off some steam but having someone talk to is so liberating for the mind. Just talking about issues is enough for me to feel motivated enough to address them.
A strong team. You can’t do it alone; you are only as good as the team you have behind you.
This is personal for me as I have always favored the strength of the team over the strength of the individual. At Clooper, we value individual achievement, but collective achievement is even more valuable.
I have worked in environments where the individuals were favored over team efforts and know-how toxic they can be. People unwilling to help each other because they are perceived as threats and some pursuing selfish ambition at the expense of other team members to appear “outstanding”. Such environments breed a lot of distrust between team members and there is a lot of evidence out there now that suggests the success in such environments is short-lived.
In a 2015 study by Google, psychological safety where team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other was the №1 key dynamic of successful teams. I can’t overemphasize how important this point is. As an entrepreneur, you will lead in situations where resources are extremely limited, and what makes a difference is the ability for team members to trust each other in such situations to make something great out of little.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I would say resilience is the ability to keep pressing ahead towards a goal in the face of considerable difficulties.
I believe the character traits of resilient people are having strong faith, being purpose-driven (your why), and resourcefulness.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria… Period ☺. Lol.
Seriously though, growing up in Lagos was extremely challenging and helped in forming the character I have today. Another important contribution was coming to the UK alone at the age of 16 and having to work to pay my way through university whilst watching all my friends get funded (mostly from parents) through their own universities. It was tough and I still managed to graduate with a 1st class degree.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Yes, I always maintain a positive outlook no matter what life throws at me. It does not mean I don’t have off days or feel sad or even fearful times, I just draw my strength from my Christian faith in God and in His promises and it works every time.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Life is generally challenging, and I know every member of my team has some personal issue they are dealing with. I have many. Thus, after my prayers and meditation, I start each day by making the effort to inspire my team to focus on the more positive aspects of life. I go for a walk in the woods each morning to appreciate nature and suck in the energy from the environment, then I release it to my leaders before the day starts via a daily scrum meeting. It’s a daily effort for me and I believe it helps to align and motivate the team.
As a leader, you will undoubtedly need to lead your team through many challenging situations and your attitude, words and actions during such time can make or break your organisation. It is very important to stay positive during such times to inspire your team to see beyond the present difficulties.
My personal example of this was during our crowdfunding campaign to raise finance for Clooper. A few days after the expiry of the campaign we still needed to raise a large percentage of our funding target in an all or nothing campaign. Naturally, the team, investors, and sometimes even I began to fret as there was just so much as stake for everyone. However, I kept speaking positively and encouraged myself through my faith, and a day before our campaign was due to expire, we hit and exceeded our funding target.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston S. Churchill
This quote really resonates with me and I know both success and failure are always short-lived. An example of short-lived success from in the year 2007 I felt on top of the world and was succeeding in my property business but little did I know there was a financial crisis around the corner that would wipe out any gains I had made for the past 5 years.
This quote keeps me grounded at all times because I do not know what lies around the corner from either success or failure.
How can our readers further follow you online?
LinkedIn — @tadebiyi, @Clooper
Instagram — @toksadebiyi, @Clooperapp
Twitter — @adebiyi00, @Clooperapp
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!