Emma Sinclair on what makes a successful entrepreneur

In 2005, at the age of 29, Emma Sinclair became the youngest person to ever float a company on the London Stock Exchange. She’s a serial entrepreneur and now co-leads tech company EnterpriseJungle, in June she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours for services to entrepreneurship.

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What you will learn from reading this article:

  • Why everyone needs a good work ethic
  • Why you should pay it forward
  • Why naivety isn't necessarily a bad thing

On the stock exchange

Sinclair says that the idea of floating a company never seemed like something that was inaccessible. “When I was little my dad took me to school every day and after we had done stuff like how many red cars have you seen, what’s the three times table, what’s the capital city, I used to also read him his share prices in the morning,” she says. “He had a couple of hundred pounds in a few different stocks. So it just became normal for me.”

Through battling with an enormous issue of the Financial Times she became more interested and says that over time she would remember when they were up or down, and then she started asking questions about how it worked.

“I think that my foundation in not feeling like the stock market is an ivory tower, which I think it is to many people, was because it was the fun thing I did with my dad every day on the way to school for practically 14 years. To me the stock exchange was an accessible thing that I had known about all my life.”

On emptying the rubbish and washing tea towels

To Sinclair, the less glamorous jobs are just as important as the ones that everyone wants to do in a business. At the age of 16, she got a job at McDonald’s as she was, “absolutely desperate to get a job”. She says: “I remember sitting down with the manager and him basically saying to me, ‘You’re overqualified.’

“I had good grades and I’d filled out the section that asked about other hobbies so I’d filled in my Duke of Edinburgh award, and this and that and I was treating it as the most important thing that I’d ever done.”

Virgin Disruptors 2016: The Panel Discussion

But she says that the job at McDonald’s gave her a “real sense of equality, a lack of entitlement and also the importance of not asking people to do things I wouldn’t do myself” – and that’s why as well as completing the tasks within her role of working on the tills and making fries, she also cleaned the toilets and emptied the rubbish.

“Sometimes I think there’s a real cult around entrepreneurship, which I appreciate because it’s what makes people interested in you. But I often say, in my old business I used to wash the tea towels as much as I ran the business. And I think that always working, especially in jobs that weren’t my dream job, was really important, because I can get my hands dirty, I can roll up my sleeves and do whatever it takes to get the job done and I think that that is really important if you’re building a business.”

On paying it forward

During the panel chat, Sinclair said that she doesn’t think it is important for a business as a whole to have a purpose, but that its leaders needed one. “I really believe in paying it forward every day and doing a random act of kindness every day,” she says. “That’s something I try and teach everybody that works for me.”

But what do those acts of kindness look like? Well, mainly a Whatsapp group. Sinclair has girl gangs to rival Taylor Swift and says that “on a regularly and daily basis, I connect people together”.

“We just send a message and someone always has a, ‘I can connect you to,’ ‘have you thought about,’ ‘I have access to…’ and so on, on a daily basis really.”

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On naivety as a positive

While Blockchain founder Peter Smith said that being a successful entrepreneur is about giving everything up – being “totally exhausted, 30 pounds overweight and single in three years”, Sinclair thinks that there’s more to it. “There’s something about naivety,” she says. “If I think to myself, would I have done all of the things that I did in my 20s if I knew how hard it was going to be? I’ve got to be honest I’m not sure that I would have done. But now I can do nothing else, I am unemployable by anyone else.”

If you joined us in London and would like to share your highlights, and how you've been inspired to make a change in your world, drop us an email on social.media@virgin.com with the subject Virgin Disruptors 2016.

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