Hi Ed and welcome to InspiredStartups.com! Firstly, please tell us a bit about yourself. How did you begin your entrepreneurial journey and what has motivated you to break away from your 9-to-5 job to pursue your own startup project?
"So I guess it’s worth mentioning from the offing that I never really had a 9-5 job, in fact apart from an internship I did in college I only ever had 6 months of a “proper” job which was a temp contract! So for me it was more the non-persual of a 9-5 after that!
In terms of motivation there were a few influences which really stick out in my mind as having convinced me I should try and start my own thing. Namely:
• The movie "Office Space" - which really had a pretty profound impact on me, even though it is a comedy film!
• The book “The 4-Hour Workweek” - once you’ve read this book… you’ll be pretty unemployable pretty much straight away
• The book “Let my people go surfing (the education of a reluctant businessman)” - taught me about how cool it would be to have real pride in what you do.
The final straw/indicator was when I finished in the top 10 in Slideshare’s worlds best presentation contest, which made me realise that maybe I was good at this presentation stuff after all and should try and make a go of it."
You are one of the entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity in the crisis and found a niche to explore. How did you come up with the idea? What is it you exactly do and how do you help other businesses?
"I had always been comparatively amazing at presentations throughout my commerce degree, and then in the workplace, so that’s where my interest in crafting good presentations came from. As time went on I got pretty good and I thought that maybe people would pay for such services!
Also, the cost of starting your business now is pretty much as close to zero as you can get. One weekend I registered a business name, got a wordpress website and ordered some business cards… and that was me up and running!
What I actually do is to help people a) talk about what they do to investors and clients and b) come up with visuals that help communicate that message in an understandable, memorable and impressive manner! Short version: I make awesome presentations for clients."
You have successfully grown your startup business during a recession. How did the recession stimulate your entrepreneurial spirit in the past 4 years? Do you have any tips on starting and running a startup in a difficult economic climate?
"The recession hasn’t really played much of a role in how I have approached things tbh, I think when you are determined to do something you just do it no matter what the circumstances. Given that I mostly work with people that hold that “who cares about the recession” outlook that means there are plenty of people for me to work with.
• Be nice (aka don't be a an asshole) - there have been many times that I could have charged some extortionate “rush fees” like agencies would for last minute work, but I haven’t because I know that if I scalp someone today they aren’t going to like me all that much going forward, and I’d wager that they won’t go around recommending me. Be nice and approach clients like you’d like to be dealt with yourself.
As Yvon Chounaird, Founder of Patagonia clothing would say:
“How you climb the mountain is more important than reaching the top”
• Realise where your customers are, and then hang out there - In the beginning I was going to any/all networking events, once it became apparent that tech startups were the people most in need of my services I started attending events where I would find them rather than wasting time at other events.
• Try loads of stuff, some of it will work, some won’t - In the beginning just tried everything. I offered free trials, entered competitions, send unsolicited emails with presentation advice. Some of it worked, most of it didn’t, but experimenting early on is very important.
I remember one of the more outlandish tactics I used would be to find people’s powerpoints online, download them, redesign some slides and send it to them out of the blue. I got quite a varying range of responses to that tactic."
I suppose there were times when you wanted to quit? How did you manage to pass over crises?
"There haven’t been times where I WANTED to quit, but maybe times when I THOUGHT I should quit. The first year was pretty lean to say the least. I remember I had zero jobs in June and July of that first year… this certainly made me think perhaps I had made the wrong decision starting my own business.
I passed the crisis by knowing that I had a small amount of savings in the bank and knew there was nothing more I’d rather be trying to do. I also knew that if I needed to go back to the search for a 9-5 job I’d be equipped with way more skills and experience! Boring jobs will always be waiting for you if you need to go back to them.
It’s funny though, looking back now that was a pretty pivotal period. During that free time I did a lot of free samples for people, one of the people who took me up on that offer ended working with a very successful startup 3 years later, which led to me working on a presentation for that very successful startup that appeared at the globally renowned TechCrunch Disrupt startup competition, which in turn led to a lot more work.
So as I say try a whole load of things now, you never know what effect they will have a few years down the line!"
What were the times where you felt you could be successful?
"Maybe I am easily satisfied, but I remember how happy I was when I managed to register a business bank account! It’s just another one of those small things that makes you realise you are trying something difference. I remember leaving the bank having officially set up the account and just smiling uncontrollably, as I say, maybe I am easily satisfied :-)
I suppose the more major milestones for me have been:
The first time I got paid for a job! The first time I had my slides presented on a big stage: The Web Summit and the first time my slides appeared on a global stage: TechCrunch.
Early-stage startups often struggle to generate sales. Looking back, what was your experience attracting prospects and converting them into first-time customers? What advice would you give to starting businesses?
This is probably a bit of a rehash of my previous statement, but find out where your prospective customers hang out (event’s, meetups, conferences) and then go there. In the early stages just talk to as many people as possible. Some might turn out to be a customer, but more likely somewhere down the road someone they know might need your product/service.
Put some proper effort into your branding, and branding doesn’t just mean a logo.
Your product or service is probably pretty great. But to people making first contact with your brand the small things count. As the author Tom Peters would say “Packaging matters, A LOT, in a crowded world.”
How do you go about building a presentation from start to finish for your client? What is your typical day?
"Well, no two jobs are the same really, which is part of the appeal really. The process tends to involve an initial meeting where we just chat about the product or service in question and talk about the sort of presentation that is needed, an investor deck is very different from a sales deck, and a 5 minute presentation is very different from a 20 minute presentation!
Then I work with clients on turning their rough content into a story that flows, and then after that point I get to work on the visual side of things.
Typical day… well, I suppose I don’t really have one. As many clients will tell you I am far more likely to be working late than working early. This is partially caused by my love of watching NBA basketball, live from the US… so yep, not an early riser. But I really have always been more of a night owl, with my best hours often coming late at night, so it’s great to be in a position to work the hours I want! Not everyone is at their peak between the hours of 9 and 5."
You have been working on 2 pitches that your clients delivered in TechCrunch Disrupt in New York last week. Willing to tell us more?
"Yeh I was very proud to work with those guys. Two great startups Evercam.io and Sedicii were pitching as part of the Disrupt competition and they both did amazingly. I was actually watching the live stream here at home and felt as nervous as I do when I watch my little brothers basketball games. It’s awesome to feel that involved in your work."
As a Chief Presentationist, do you have some great tips or best practices on building and delivering presentations that you would like to share with our startup audience?
Why yes… I have an entire presentation on the topic of presentations here:
Coming back to the entrepreneurial part, what are the key lessons you've learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey?
• Just get started! It’s never been easier to start something as 2 wise men would say:
“80% of success is just showing up” - WOODIE ALLEN
“You miss 100% of the shots you never take” - WAYNE GRETZKY
• Find your local startup community and attend as many events as you can. You’ll meet people who are similarly minded to you, with similar struggles and solutions
• Be nice and be yourself
• You'll never know what will work out - so try loads of stuff!
As a startup CEO, what are your favourite website resources, productivity tools, mobile apps or hacks?
"Twitter, I wouldn’t be where I am without it."
Three words to describe yourself?
"Tall, bearded, friendly."
How do you picture Clear Presentation Design in the next 3 years? Any new developments?
"Good question… I guess I’d like to put together some sort of training course, both in person and video."
Finally, where can our startup community find you online? (i.e. Twitter or personal website, etc.)
Y’all can find me at @clearpreso or www.clearpreso.com
Thanks Ed for such a great interview. We wish you a continued success with Clearpreso and many happy customers!