This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
My name is Mandy Nyarko, I’m a mum, with a beautiful son who is 9 months old, I was born and raised in North London, and I am in love with seeing people especially women win in entrepreneurship. I have been building business accelerators for corporates and private companies now for 5 years, as well as helping startups secure early-stage investment from angels or venture capital funds. In total, I have coached over 200 startups and helped them to secure over 15M in pre-series A investment. The combined turnover of the businesses I have supported is 20M. I have been an entrepreneur before and made all the mistakes you could possibly make, and I am now co-founder of Startup Discovery School.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
I co-founded Startup Discovery school, a virtual business incubator and accelerator to help founders who are not in the startup ecosystem test business ideas quickly to gain validation. We also support startups who have achieved proof of concept but are looking for product-market fit. We help these businesses to focus on gaining traction, measure key metrics, build their operations and secure investment.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
I think I watched a video of a “thought leader” giving some advice to early-stage entrepreneurs and it was all wrong, and one of my pet peeves is seeing “consultants” or “sector experts” who have never worn the t-shirt try to tell startups how to grow their businesses. Starting a business is so different from corporate life, being a manager in a large institution vs being a CEO in a dynamic ever-changing startup is very different.
I also got tired of seeing startups pitching to investors way too early and potentially damaging their chances of ever raising with them because they just don’t understand the concept of when to raise, and from whom. Not all businesses are venture backable. So I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and stopped helping individual founders in silo groups, and decided to run an online incubator for first-time founders who have started their entrepreneurship journeys but have hit a brick wall and are stuck, or any person who has an idea but doesn’t know where to start. We focus on tech and tech-enabled startups as we believe technology is the future, and we’d like to help even more traditional businesses apply tech to their current business models to gain traction.
What were the initial challenges you came up against, and how did you overcome them?
My initial challenges were more mental than anything, Trying to get my inner critic out of my head, and imposter syndrome was my main struggle. I started reading a book called Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren; it really put things into perspective for me about my Purpose and how it is bigger than me. Once I started looking at it from that perspective, I was able to get out of my own head.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
When 10 people signed up to the programme and were getting so much value from it, now we have refined the programme and added another segment to it to support more later-stage startups.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
We are currently self-funded. We are running the programme after working hours so time-wise except for prep we wouldn’t need much startup capital. Also, we have been doing this for the last 5 years so we know the curriculum, and don’t need much material support either. However, if we plan on scaling up fast, we will need a cash injection of which we’d consider an investment.
What has been your best investment?
My biggest investment has to be in my first startup, had I not tried tested and failed, I wouldn’t know what the fundamentals are when building a business. From a mindset perspective, it has positioned me to be more experimental about my decisions and not too fixed on my idea or solution but rather love the problem and the journey.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Yes, starting a company without properly validating who my core customers are, and assuming I know them just because I have the same problem. I am not my customer! Constantly validating with your customers is the best indicator of success.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the startup ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
As a woman in startup my experiences have been actually pretty positive for the most part. If there was ever a time for a woman to start a business its now, we have so many women paving the way for us. I think I personally could be more ballsy about decisions I’ve made and negotiations I’ve been in. I’ve allowed my inner critic at times to creep in and not allow me to just ask for what I want. There’s a second-guessing thing that takes place at critical times that I just see men do less of. If anything in my mind needs to change, it’s that. Being more ballsy
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
It’s an adventure…enjoy the ride. As a startup you will encounter many failures, many No’s and many reasons to throw in the towel. You have to manage your mental state when building a startup; it’s a constant battle of the mind more than anything if I can master my mindset I’m always in a good place to make sound decisions for the business. Secondly know if you’re an operator (business person) or a visionary (entrepreneur). I say this because the uncertainty of cash flow in a startup can really weigh heavy on you if you haven’t prepared for the journey. If you are more of an operator, you should consider ensuring you have 12-18 months runway in the bank it just gives you peace of mind.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
Yes, I worked really closely with an angel investor for the last 3years, and he really helped me to make sound decisions when it comes to an understanding of the fundamentals of business building. Learning how numbers are key to business was an eye-opener for me. Also, I’d say working closely with startups also mentored me in learning how to build businesses from concept stage to pre-series A. Seeing many businesses go through the same journey allows you to identify the patterns that become a formula or recipe for success.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Besides being on a beach in Zanzibar…I’d say to have a programme that is global, helping tech and tech-enabled founders from all backgrounds, especially underrepresented backgrounds scale their businesses and secure investment.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
To support at least 50 startups to get their ideas off the ground.
What can our readers do to support your business?
If you have a business idea, or you have started a business and are trying to grow it, head over to www.startupdiscoveryschool.com and sign up to our incubator and accelerator courses. Or if you know anyone who is looking to start or has started a business and wants support please signpost them to our website too.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
- Rick Warren Purpose driven life
- Eric Reis Lean startup
- Follow Joe Procopio on Medium or sign up to his newsletter
- Follow Andy Ayim on medium and sign up to his newsletter
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
- Focus on understanding the problem you are solving and need you are fulfilling for customers not the solution you have in mind
- See yourself as a researcher right now in search of a repeatable scalable business model not a mini version of an established business. This will allow you to focus on real outcomes and not vanity metrics.
- Make sure you have passion and bulldog tenacity to purse this idea as you will need this during the tough times.
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About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
An elevator pitch is a concise ‘sell’ of your business idea; it can also be of you, if you’re using it to sell your capabilities.
The Ask provides coaching & content for people pursuing courageous career paths: think founders, freelancers, or anyone doing work they believe truly matters in the world.
I’ve been freelance writing for four years now, and almost all of my dream clients had come from Instagram.