December 14, 2018, by The Ingenuity Lab

Lessons to Learn for Entrepreneurs

Ingenuity19 is looking for the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators to create scalable social and commercial enterprises that can transform Nottingham, the UK and beyond.

For the first time, we are open to the public and looking for future leaders from across the city. This includes everyone from the student community, to Nottingham’s biggest businesses, as well as those from the public and third sectors. We are looking for everyone to come together and discover problems worth solving, and are offering you the tools to create scalable sustainable solutions.

This week, Ingenuity19 spoke with Jason Watkins, Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Nottingham: 


Ingenuity19: What would you say are the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far in your life as an entrepreneur?

Well, three things immediately spring to mind when you ask that question.

Firstly, People.

Good people are worth their weight in gold. Human Capital, as Adam Smith referred to a workforce, are your greatest asset. I’ve found it’s a false economy to try and underpay people or to try and micro manage someone if you truly want to get the best out of them. They may accept your job, but it will only ever be temporary. Reward good people, give them space, positive feedback and empower them to make decisions.  After years of employing people in various companies I’ve come to realise that if someone you employee is reliable, turns up on time, has a good attitude and shares your values, be very happy even if they turn up dead on 9am and leave at 5pm, on the dot. Don’t expect someone to work until 8pm every night or work weekends if you’re only paying them until 5pm. I used to think that I was getting more out of someone if they worked late into the evenings. Today I’m happy when I know I can depend on someone to do the job they’ve been employed to do reliably.

Secondly, keep learning.

One successful business, or even several, doesn’t guarantee your next one will be. Even with multiple successes behind you it could be easy to rest on your laurel’s and believe you have the Midas touch. One way to keep the odds in your favour and avoid developing a false sense of perception is to keep learning. Watch, listen and read as much as you can about the market you’re interested in. I’m always very careful about where I put my time and effort and I generally only get involved in opportunities I understand and know a little something about.

Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself.

Remember to smell the roses and give yourself a pat on the back once in a while. It may be a cliché, but stopping to enjoy the moment, is not arrogant. I used to feed a negative image of myself with the following fuel, “I failed because I’m not good enough or things turned out the way they did because I’m not good enough”. I had a generally low self-image of myself. It’s a fairly common false belief, held by more people than you might imagine and is usually picked in your adolescence. It took me a long time, well into my early thirties to change my mindset. No matter how tough the challenge was, as soon as I reached the summit, crossed the finish line or sold the business I was immediately thinking about the next mountain, race or business venture. Because I’d managed to achieve the goal I believed it wasn’t hard enough in the first place. I know how that’s sounds now, but it took a long time to figure it all out.

Now as part of the journey always stop to take in the view, enjoy the moment and give myself a pat on the back, metaphorically speaking.

Ingenuity19: If you could change three things in your business journey, what would they be?

Better Timing, (Become good at Fly Fishing)

If I look back at my successes and failures in business, I would say one of the main reasons for the failures was timing. Being too early isn’t always a benefit, regardless of what ‘first mover advantage’ might tell us or how great you believe your idea might be.

Understanding what consumers want and how markets are evolving in terms of sophistication, engagement, user experience and taste is difficult enough, but you also have to consider the pace at which technology and innovation is enabling these changes to happen. Getting your timing right takes more than luck, its takes vision to see where the market you’re in or you’re entering is heading and understand the impact technology and innovation is likely to have three to five years out.

I think timing today, in fishing terms is a bit like trying to land a fly on an area the size of a ten pence coin moving downstream in a strong current.

Your gut seldom lets you down

Another thing I’ve learnt with experience and looking back at some of those low moments along the road is, listen to your gut, it’s usually right. I can remember several times ignoring my gut feeling about something or someone, only to regret it. Its cost me a lot of money but more importantly a lot of wasted time. The money can always be recovered in another venture, but the time cannot. So, trust your instincts and go with your gut. I think Steve Jobs phrased it slightly better when he said the following;

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life”. — Steve Jobs

Letting go (Knowing when to walk away)

There is a slight irony in walking away from a business as entrepreneur, because as an entrepreneur you’re expected to pick yourself up when you have a set back and keep trying, again, and again, and again. Like Sisyphus in Greek mythology who was sentenced to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again a entrepreneur is expected to just keep trying.

Unlike Sisyphus though, you can always throw in the towel and walk away. The million-dollar question is when and where do you draw the line? When is enough, finally enough? There is no simple answer to this. Obviously if it’s destroying your marriage or the stress is literally killing you then it’s probably time. I’ve certainly spent far too much time and money on several past businesses. The truth is, it’s hard to know when to walk away. I’d like to think I’ve got better at the selection process, I certainly love what I’m currently doing. That said, if it got to the stage that I no longer felt like that, I would probably feel it was time to do something else.


In our Future Technology Summit, we’ll look at powering the future, while helping participants to create scalable, global solutions to make Nottingham a thriving ‘Tech City’. By exploring tech-related consumer trends, we’ll discover how participants can build their own technology businesses. Finally, we’ll explore humans’ ongoing relationship with technology, and how this knowledge can be used to create future-proofed, Nottingham-based businesses with global impact.

It’s time to innovate and shape our futures; register for Ingenuity19 now:


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