Eight questions that will help you run a start-up business
10 September 2018 -
UNBOUND CEO DAN KIERAN SHARES HIS START-UP LESSONS
Where did the idea for Unbound come from?
This seemed an obvious flaw in the traditional publishing model, especially in the digital age. The Internet hit legacy industries like a wave; we could see the future would be different and so set out to define that change. Unbound is a crowd-funding platform that publishes books.
How has Unbound maintained its sense of purpose as it has grown?
If anything our business purpose has become stronger the more successful we’ve become. It stems from the three founders. We knew that if we were going to run a company it had to have a different ethos and attitude. That ethos is obviously perfectly aligned to a business that sets out to democratise publishing. This has attracted the people who work for us who are similarly focussed and driven. It’s a purpose that our authors believe in too and the 170k readers from 191 countries who have pledged over £6m to support our books.
Read more: How to define your purpose
You were only 35-years-old when you started Unbound, were those around you worried about the risk involved in heading up a start-up?
I was writing books and doing travel journalism before. Both of which were fairly precarious careers, although I made a good living for a decade. My family were worried about me starting a new business because I had never done anything like it before. But, if I’m honest, I have always been a little unconventional so I think they were used to me taking risks.
Read more: Unconventional wisdom from CEOs
When did you first realise that the business could be very successful?
Shaun Usher (the man behind Letters of Note) got in touch the day we launched asking if we would be interested in a book from him. He went on to raise over £100k on Unbound before his book went to print. It went on to be an international bestseller. That’s when we knew what was possible.
You have your own book published next month about how to be an entrepreneur and business leader, what would your top tips be for anyone who manages people?
When you start a company every failing in your character will be revealed. You have to deal with the flaws in yourself or you, and your business, will fail. It takes guts to start a company from nothing but you will never bring out the potential in the people around you if you do not have the courage to be honest with yourself.
In the book you talk a lot about valuing vulnerability. Why do you feel this is so important for a manager?
It’s good business. If you walk into a room prepared to be vulnerable you immediately become the most powerful person in that room. Especially when you are surrounded by other people terrified of revealing their own vulnerability. By being open about vulnerability you disable it. I understand it takes a lot of courage. We still live with very out-dated power models in businesses today.
You also argue against ruthlessness, tell us about this management approach.
Business is an eco-system not a warzone. Without our customers and the people who help us make our books we wouldn’t have a business. Don’t get me wrong, I always get good deals, but they have to be fair for everyone involved. That way you make better products that exceed your customers’ expectations, which retains those customers and helps your business grow.
Staff wellbeing is another topic you consider important, what is your advice on this?
All the people who have done best at Unbound are the ones who were prepared to look into themselves and evolve as individuals through the work they do. We all have patterns of behaviour that are destructive and damaging to us. Many of us fall into the trap of thinking these behaviours are ‘just the way we are’ but everyone can change. And if you have the courage to look at yourself and evolve you will get the promotion and that pay rise you are looking for. The kinds of people prepared to evolve through their work are indispensable. They become the engine of the company that enables it to evolve.
Read more: The CMI Quality of Working Life update
Dan Kieran's book The Surfboard (Unbound, £9.99) is out 27th September.
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