Ketan Makwana aka The “Accidental” Entrepreneur

Exploring Small Business Development with Ketan Makwana

So perhaps you’re a backpacker in your mid-20’s, on a soul-searching journey, preparing yourself to launch the business of your dreams. Is your vision so strong and your ambition so fierce that you’re ready for the challenge of finding investment? Do you have what it takes to go up against a pool of contestants on international television to seek funding from a billionaire businessman? Are you prepared to drop everything, have no Plan B, and dive head-first into entrepreneurship?

Ketan Makwana

Last week we spoke to Ketan Makwana, renowned international speaker and serial entrepreneur. Ketan has a wealth of experience in business development and is extremely passionate about small enterprise development.

Ketan believes deeply in the business philosophy of observing and listening before doing (or rather disrupting). His education, career development, and persona are entirely of his own unique design. As a mentor he tries to bring out particularities in the entrepreneurs he works with as much as from within the businesses themselves.

#BFS16 Speaker: Ketan Makwana, The “Accidental” Entrepreneur

Our conversation with Ketan reveals the story of an extraordinary individual who has learned to tap into his greatest capacities and share those with others. For Ketan, it seems to be as much a lifestyle and mindset as a business. We believe this attitude to life and business is at the heart of entrepreneurship. We tried to capture in a nutshell all the keys to small business success that Ketan discovered during his long and successful career.

“Don’t compare your success to anybody else because it’s your own.” -Ketan

First of all, we were very curious about Ketan’s circle popular label: The “Accidental” Entrepreneur. Successful entrepreneurs can usually locate the defining moment in their career. We obviously found this title counterintuitive because with Ketan (if nicknames are anything to go by) it seemingly happened by accident.

Ketan: I kind of learned my trade through employment. I worked my way up through a series of different companies. I honed my skills and found that I had an appetite for sales and marketing. I built my business development skills through my career.

The reason that I’ve been labeled as an “accidental entrepreneur” is because I don’t see myself as an entrepreneur. I’ve always helped others build their businesses but when I got made redundant in 2009 it was almost bestowed on me that I had no option but to go self-employed.

Having had multiple businesses and multiple exits now, I still don’t define myself as an entrepreneur. I just say to myself, I’m still a businessman. “Accidental entrepreneur” really stands for the fact that had I not been made redundant I possibly wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today.

While Ketan’s journey into entrepreneurship may have been accidental, his education was not at all. At an age when most people are just thinking about getting a degree and using that degree to get a job, Ketan decided to start moulding himself into the best that he could be.

“I feel learning by doing is the most effective way.” -Ketan

Quite different from successful school dropouts like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Charlie Mullins, Ketan decided to leave formal education and acquire the skills he wanted through a combination of on-the-job learning and professional courses. Ketan jokingly told us how he quickly had to learn to pitch, negotiate and strategize in order to share this decision with his parents.

We asked Ketan to explain why he took the educational route he did, and how he feels it has impacted him as a businessperson.

Ketan: Education is very important; it’s the fabric and framework to learning. Without having a form of education you really can’t give yourself the ability to develop.

For me, the problem was I’m not a theorist. I’m a very practical and pragmatic sort of guy. I feel learning by doing is the most effective way. When I finished my secondary and tertiary education — and I did get to university — once I was in the institutional environment, I didn’t feel right or comfortable in the environment I had to learn. I couldn’t sit in the classroom; I need to go out and do stuff.

In my first year of university I made the tough decision that I’d rather go out and learn by doing than sit in class for four or five years, hoping that I would be able to achieve results that would help me advance my career. That was the defining point for me there.

“There is never going to be one absolute answer to any one question.” -Ketan

The more I engaged in new areas and had practical assignments, the more I became interested and enjoyed the work I was doing. I found I was learning a lot more and the appetite and capacity for learning became higher. I got to work on things that stimulated me and because they stimulated me I wanted to learn more. I think that’s a very important part of personal development.

The more I ventured into helping other businesses grow, because of the nature of working in sales and marketing, I started to pick up more. I wanted to do more training courses, so I went back to my employers and said, “This is where I want to go and this is the help that I need.” It becomes a win-win scenario.

When the employer is investing in the development of their employee, they get a much more rounded and productive employee. This means in turn they can generate more sales, revenue and increase the value of their business. That’s how it’s worked for me.

With work that I do now I shy away from areas I’m not an expert on. It’s just become a natural part of my evolution.

It was interesting to hear how Ketan echoed ideas we’d already heard from Shed Simove and Charlie Mullins. The sentiment here is not a disdain for education in itself, but more an appreciation of the fact that, as Ketan put it:

Ketan: There is never going to be one absolute answer to any one question. Why should it be there is a uniform answer with a uniform process? I could take a different route and come to the same conclusion or, more importantly, the right conclusion.

“It gets down to a balance between competence and confidence.” -Ketan

Ketan further explained how he sees the development process of an entrepreneur. The different stages involved in fully reaching entrepreneurship form the basis of why he believes in a practical approach to learning over a theory-based approach.

Ketan: At first you’re unemployed and then you become self-employed. Then you become a business professional, and then you become and entrepreneur. No matter how many text books are written and how many pieces of literature you read, it’s all still theory. Until you go out and do something you’ll never know, you’ll never understand, and you’ll never be able to progress to the next step.

As a public speaker, Ketan has spoken about his vision for the next generation of SMEs that will transform global economies. The current business focus has definitely shifted from large corporations (which Ketan calls “a dying breed”) to startups and SMEs. At Business Funding Show, our aim is to close the funding gap for SMEs and we’re constantly on the search to discover how to more effectively see this sector evolve and succeed. We asked Ketan to share his thoughts with us.

Ketan:One of the most important things about being successful in business is defining what success means. Success means different things to different people at different levels. Don’t compare your success to anybody else because it’s your own. You’ve got to live and work towards that success.

It gets down to a balance between competence and confidence. If you don’t have enough knowledge it impairs or restricts you. If you know too much, it often leads into procrastination. This means you’re unable to make a decision and take action. One of the things I see becoming more current and needed within the SME and startup community is creating more balance.

In the last four years in the UK, we’ve had a real big push in driving the startup market with the mentality of: if you can’t find a job create one. We now have to have a much bigger focus on helping established businesses to grow.

It’s important to understand that growth in an economic environment is going to stem down to how SMEs actually grow and develop. The more they grow, I personally feel you’ll see prosperity emerge in that economy.

Startups have received a lot of support mostly due to the ease with which technological advances can help certain businesses launch. The more traditional businesses that are still vital to economy, creating jobs and wealth, have in some cases been left to stagnate. Ketan’s point is that the increased growth and development of SMEs will also lead to much more financial well-being in communities.

“Where most people fail is that they are not prepared.” -Ketan

A well known root cause of some of the stagnation found in the SME sector is lack of knowledge about funding. Climbing out of the recession, and finding traditional funding solutions are two things that did not go hand-in-hand until the early developments in alternative finance. Business mentoring has also emerged to help close the funding gap. Ketan himself is the Head of Operations at Rockstar Mentoring Group, the UK’s leading mentoring organization. We asked Ketan point-blank what he had to say to stubbornly independent entrepreneurs who are not interested in investing in a mentor.

Ketan:Stubbornness is really based on ignorance rather than arrogance. It’s the fact that they don’t understand what mentoring can do for them. The other side of it is they’re very skeptical. They say “What is it that this person can tell me about my business or industry that I don’t already know?”

At Rockstar, we coach our clients first. We get under the skin of who they are as much as what their businesses are about. And then we curate mentoring and encourage them not to say “I have a mentor” but to say “I have a bunch of mentors; I have specialists and experts in different areas that assist me and guide me to get where I want to be.”

Rockstar mentoring

Last week we spoke to Ketan Makwana, renowned international speaker and serial entrepreneur. Ketan has a wealth of experience in business development and is extremely passionate about small enterprise development.

Interview: Read our interview with Jonathan Pfahl, Managing Director of Rockstar

Because the legend of the “accidental” entrepreneur has been built on Ketan’s ability to work with so many other entrepreneurs, we were sure he could give us an insightful answer to our most important question. What is the key factor stopping businesses from getting the funding that they need to take their venture to the next level?

Ketan:Funding has almost become a natural part of the process of starting or growing a business. However, when I started my first business it wasn’t about funding. It was about proving a concept. Going out and actually measuring that concept, gaining revenue, and reinvesting that in the business. I never had funding or investment in any of my businesses. But see, I don’t sell products; all my businesses have been very service-orientated.

Where most people fail is that they are not prepared. They haven’t prepared at many different levels.

Business strategy, value proposition, proof of concept, modeling of the business. There are people that ask for too much there are people that ask for not enough.

One of the most common questions that gets asked is, “If you get this money what are you going to do with it?” One of the most frequent answers that come in is, “Marketing.”

At Rockstar, we try and help people understand what they need to put their money into. Most of the time it’s not marketing, it’s resource. Whether it’s business development, strategic development, product development — it’s usually about development. That’s where funding should really be focused at.

I meet people that walk through the door to me and I tell them, “There are 3 or 4 key elements missing in your business proposition and model. We could fill this by investing and take more of your business because we are taking the risk.” The knee-jerk reaction of the so-called entrepreneur is: “You’re taking my business away from me.” It’s more of a case of “Yes, I acknowledge I don’t have this. It makes more commercial sense for me to have this kind of support network around me because I’m going to be part of something that will grow exponentially faster as opposed to trying to do it on my own.”

Before you head off to your next item we’d like to borrow two points from Ketan and ask you.

   1. If you get business funding what are you going to do with it?
   2. Have you prepared?

Join us at Business Funding Show ’16 this year as we bring entrepreneurs and finance professionals together to engage towards closing the funding gap. Find out what kind of funding you need from the best in the industry and learn how to make it work for your business. If you liked Ketan’s interview, you’re going to love his keynote (check out our other speakers). After grabbing a ticket for the event, check out Rockstar Mentoring Group and start talking to a mentor today!

Eventbrite - The Business Funding Show 2016