They said it would never work: The entrepreneurs who succeeded despite doubt

It can be hard to find funding, buyers and the right people to work for you. But sometimes simply convincing people your idea is a good one can be an entrepreneur’s biggest challenge. Remember that Edison’s electric lightbulb idea was deemed a “conspicuous failure”.

Jonny Nicol is founder and CEO of Stratajet, a platform that offers customers direct access to the private jet market. But the idea proved unpopular in its early days so he took to the skies to prove its worth.

Commercial air travel uses aggregators such as Skyscanner as a means of providing cost comparisons. But there are a number of variables that go into calculating the cost of a private jet flight.

“With private jets, every single flight has to be tailor-made from scratch according to the passenger’s requirements,” Nicol says. “As a result, pricing up a private jet flight is extremely complicated, resulting in a convoluted and inefficient booking process for the flier.”

He set out to change this in 2011 by inventing a technology that could automate it and make the industry more accessible. “This had previously been deemed impossible, and the trouble with inventing something – by the very definition that you’re doing something for the first time – is that you don’t know what the challenges are and how long it will take to overcome them. You can’t have a full idea of what’s going to be involved until you go out and actually do it.”

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He adds: “I knew building the technology would be very challenging but never in my wildest dreams did I think that it would take almost five years.”

Challenges included filtering calculations and programming algorithms but the next hurdle was convincing industry players that he had something that could be of benefit to them. “Due to the old-fashioned nature of private aviation, operators were wary of change and reticent to adopt a new technology,” says Nicol.

So, to bring the supply on board he gave physical demonstrations to each and every operator: “We bought a battered old twin-propeller Chieftain aircraft and, as a former RAF and commercial freelance pilot, I flew the team door-to-door around Europe, conducting 150 face-to-face meetings in half as many days.” The team then repeated this across the United States, conducting 496 meetings in 197 cities in 92 days.

Now that the platform is live, Nicol says, “we’re seeing a fascinating trend of more and more people (and a younger audience of fliers) engaging with private jets.” 

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Simon Crowther knows the feeling only too well. He established his business Flood Protection Solutions Ltd in 2012, and it has since grown into one of the UK’s leading flood defence companies. He says, “We have disrupted an industry that traditionally relied on sandbags to move it forward.”

Crowther launched the business whilst studying for a civil engineering degree. “The student loan was not enough to cover my rent, let alone living costs too, and my parents were unable to offer any financial support,” he explains. “I went to meet with the student finance support team who advised me I should stop running the business and take up a part-time job to earn money. Ignoring them and continuing anyway was probably one of my best decisions.”

Five years on Crowther now oversees a multi-million pound operation, thanks to his Water-Gate flood barrier. He says, “Being an entrepreneur is to take the untrodden path. You’re often faced with obstacles, whether that is people questioning why, or having to prove yourself as credible.”

It wasn’t just investors who needed convincing. “Initially my father said that I wouldn't be taken seriously as I was only 18,” Crowther says. “I was stubborn and believed I would, as I had already been awarded the Arkwright Engineering Scholarship. Flooding hugely interested me and I was determined to help others reduce the upheaval, expense and stress that flooding causes. Flooding is the biggest threat to the UK as a result of climate change. I was determined it was worth investigating.”

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Crowther’s company now works with residents, communities, businesses and agencies across the UK, including supplying most water companies across the country.

Dror Ginzberg is co-founder & CEO of video creation platform Wochit. He’d been working in online video since the 90s and says he saw a “seismic shift” coming. He says, “I came up with the idea for Wochit based on the prediction that production and delivery of dynamic content were going to be essential to the publishing business."

But the investors weren’t so quick to see the light. Ginzberg laughs, “In my early meetings, they’d look at me like I was crazy – not only did my idea need a complex software build, there were also copyright issues that necessitated partnerships for our pre-cleared content library – still one of our greatest differentiators.”

So Ginzberg thought, “If we build it, they will come. My partner and I both invested a bit of personal money, then sought a small round from a firm that already knew and trusted us. And with that bit of capital, we built our first working product. We quickly gained traction and continued building out the platform and our business, and now we’re helping some of the world’s largest media companies navigate the complex social video landscape.” Not bad for a hunch that nobody else shared. 

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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