Simon Tefula is a serial entrepreneur. He started out with a Law Degree from Manchester University & a Masters in HR & Business Studies but quickly found his way into the Startup world where he is now, among other things, a start-up coach. I chatted with him to see what drives him.
AL – So you have had many jobs, which we will get to, but what was your first job? Did you have a job at school?
ST - My first job was at B&Q stacking shelves, it was when I was at school. I always just worked, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t work.
AL – So you were quite academic too?
ST – Well at school I did Law, Economics and Business Studies for A-Level, so quite academic. My dad just wanted us all to get a good job. I then went to study Law at Manchester University. After realising Law wasn’t for me, I decided to study a Masters in HR & Business Studies at Aston.
AL – What was that like?
ST – I really liked learning Law, but I’m quite a creative person, and at trials for instance you have to wear really straight, modest, grey clothing that has no personality and I didn’t really like that, I like to wear bold clothing, so I wanted to do something different. I decided to get a job at a Start-up after uni that helped companies apply for EU funding. At that time there was a lot of EU funding available, it was easy funding so we helped them fill out all the necessary legal forms to apply.
AL – It must have been pretty interesting to see all the companies?
ST - Yea, definitely it was nice to help them, and it was quite easy to do, but if you don’t know how to do legal paperwork it could have been really tough to approach stuff like that.
AL – I can confirm that trying to figure out a lot of paperwork is incredibly daunting. I think the first time I did anything like that I went over it, knowing it was probably common sense, but I didn’t want to miss one thing and pay for it. How long did you stay there?
ST – Exactly! If you don’t know it can be confusing, but once you do understand it it’s straight forward.
I was there for about 18 months, and then I decided to go and do a Masters in HR at Birmingham. My parents lived there, but I lived in Uni Halls. It was quite good. HR is really all about understanding the psychology that motivates people. This course taught me how to understand people and their psychology. I also learnt how to create and run training programmes.
AL – Why a masters in HR?
ST – I wanted to understand people a bit more, I also wanted to try something different from Law but complemented Law. It was 2008 so it was around the time companies first started using Social Media to engage with customers. It was really interesting to see, so I did my dissertation on how companies could use social media to engage customers before it was really a mainstream thing. I also looked into whether or not companies could create an internal social media networks for their employees, kind of like an internal Facebook. I thought it would be such a good idea. It was quite funny because really just after I’d completed my dissertation, a company called Yammer started licensing an internal software that provided just that. Yammer did so well they were eventually bought by Microsoft.
AL – That’s pretty cool, quite fortuitous of you. Your dissertation also sounds quite fortuitous, were many companies using Social Media back then? Maybe it’s my age, but I thought it was a fairly recent thing?
ST - They were using it a little, it was only really Facebook then, and also websites. At the time my brother and I were just having a bit of fun and started taking pictures of people wearing quite weird, and interesting things around campus. We did it just for fun, just because you would see some colourful outfits. We turned it into a blog called studentfashionblog.co.uk. Really basic idea, but we did it enough and eventually fashion brands started contacting us saying they would give us free clothes for these people to wear if we photograph them. It was just as a joke really but it was the first time we had seen brands offering free stuff for content.
AL – That is pretty early, I really thought brands would have been slower to uptake that kind of content. What happened to the StudentFashionBlog?
ST - Eventually we sold it on. A guy offered to buy it from us and we were never really in it for the money, just for fun, so we sold it to him.
AL – And then what?
ST – I went to work for a PR firm for a bit. They needed someone to help with their Social Media and I now had a bit of experience. I wasn’t there for too long though. I got an idea for this platform, kind of like Twitter but for fashion. I realised that the problem with the fashion & beauty industry was that they promoted a distorted and harmful image of ‘beauty.’ I believed then and still believe now that every single person is a unique and beautiful individual in their own way. I decided to create fashion social network that enabled anyone to celebrate and share their individuality through fashion while getting rewarded. The idea was for a website or software where people could post pictures of themselves and start their own trends while getting rewarded by brands. I hired developers to build the first version of it. However eventually I got too nervous. It wasn’t my industry, and my business model relied on too much advertising. I realised that I’d need hundreds of thousands or even more people to make a success of it so I decided to park the idea as I was not going to be able to afford developing and maintaining it while we try to secure advertisers. In between that I went back into full time jobs while trying to figure out my next move.
AL – You thought it would take too much time?
ST – Yes. It was just a big risk, and I wasn’t sure. Eventually I decided to spend some time travelling to East African. It was really good for me. People in that part of the world are very entrepreneurial so it was great checking out the opportunities available there.
AL – Are they just always hustling?
ST – Most people in East Africa, have to be very creative due to the lack of job opportunities. Those that are lucky enough to have a job also have other jobs side hustles/jobs. When I was in Uganda, one of the things that I noticed was that many NGO’s and charities that are meant to be helping the locals tend to employ a significant number of western staff and few locals. The majority of their products and services were very much procured from western countries. Their cars, the food, the clothing. This lead me to question whether most people in the west truly understand how these international charities really operate on the ground.
AL – And how did this help you when you came back to the U.K.?
ST – It made me appreciate all the opportunities that I had living the UK. I decided to invest in myself and improve my skills as you can never go wrong with that. I wanted practical skills, so I decided to get my LPC* at Cardiff. While in Cardiff I struggled to find an Afro Caribbean barber that was close enough to my flat. This created that light bulb moment to create a platform that connected people with skill in fashion and beauty to clients.
AL – What is TRENDiPEOPLE?
ST – TRENDiPEOPLE is an on-demand marketplace for bespoke fashion products and services. We connect clients to fashion professionals that make bespoke fashion products and services like Tailors, Dressmakers, Seamstresses, Alterations, Personal Stylists and shoppers. The idea is basically to get people in contact with makers and small entrepreneurs. We want people to sell their skills.
AL – That idea came along quite awhile ago now, around 2013 you were at Cardiff, so what’s happened since?
ST – The idea has obviously evolved from what it was originally. Initially it was just going to be a social network for fashionistas. However that idea was parked when I realised that it was just not feasible. In it’s current form, it’s bespoke fashion marketplace.
AL – I know when I first started there were so many questions I came across, I think I was lucky because I had parents who taught me to use common sense, but when lots of things like bill’s cross your desk you need to have your whit’s about you, so I can see why people would like your workshop. Has this helped TRENDiPEOPLE then? It looks like this has helped you experience wise, and maybe capital wise?
ST – I still do motivational talks to encourage and empower people from under-represented background to be the best versions of themselves. I now also do the Simon Tefula show which showcases emerging entrepreneurs and small business owners, but yes, I’ve been working with developers to launch TRENDiPEOPLE.
AL – Do you think you do too much? I know I feel like sometimes I have too many projects, and people always seem to hammer away saying entrepreneurs should always focus on one thing, do you think this at all?
ST – You know I will eventually do two to three projects max hopefully, but right now I need the funding so you have to juggle. The side gigs help for funding. I like what I am doing, it’s hard, but it’s supporting and empowering people so it’s okay.
AL – Can I ask how you stay motivated then? Juggling isn’t easy especially if you are working partially as a solo entrepreneur so what do you do? I mean do you ever struggle?
ST – I believe in doing work that empowers people and makes our world a better place. I definitely get imposter syndrome, however I know I don’t like 9-to-5 jobs, and I know I love motivating and empowering people, so you know you just have to make sure you keep yourself balanced.
AL – Final question for you, any advice for entrepreneurs? Even just one tip you stick by?
ST – That’s hard. But I would say three things: firstly, Just get started. There’s no such thing as the perfect time to get started. If you wait for all the ducks and stars to align, you’ll be waiting forever. Start where you are, with what you have and do what you can. Secondly, Network, Network, Network. Find like minded supportive people with similar interests that will keep you going. Finally, Upgrade your software, read, watch YouTube, whatever, but make sure you teach yourself all the time. It’s important to keep improving your knowledge.
AL – Thank you Simon! It’s been really interesting to hear how you have ended up where you are. I think it’s pretty incredible to see how you have successfully adapted to so many different jobs, and how you have been helping motivate entrepreneurs, I know it can be hard so it’s pretty impressive work. I’m also intrigued to see how TRENDiPEOPLE goes.
Keep an eye out for TRENDiPEOPLE coming soon! If you are looking for a personalised/bespoke fashion item like a dress, suit or fancy dress outfit TRENDiPEOPLE is UK’s first marketplace for bespoke fashion. If you want to hire a Tailor, Dressmaker, Seamstress, Personal Stylist or Shopper check out our TRENDiPEOPLE or directly email firstname.lastname@example.org and him and his team will help you sell your skills or connect with the right team! For the past year at least once a week, Simon has publishing a one minute video of motivation, inspiration and encouragement called #SimonTsays on Instagram and Linkedin.
- The Simon Tefula Show - https://open.spotify.com/show/7a5AQp9jStblV6kJhMlEP5
- Refined Creatives - http://refinedcreatives.co.uk/
- TRENDiPEOPLE - http://www.trendipeople.co/
- Simon Tefula - http://simontefula.com/