Twitter Dragon Simon Dolan, who earned his nickname after investing £800,000 in startup businesses via Twitter, has a vast business empire encompassing areas from accounting to motorsport.
With a fortune recently estimated at around £100 Million, Simon is certainly testament to what can be achieved without going to university.
Dolan left school at age 16 following clashes with his teachers, and spent a brief period of time trying to make it in the music business.
When this didn't work out, he decided to follow his father's advice and joined a small accounting firm as a trainee. But when his boss refused to give him a pay rise, Dolan left the company to find something new. After several attempts at different jobs, Simon eventually found himself unemployed and living off credit cards aged 23.
When the money inevitably ran out and there was no more credit left on his cards, he decided to spend his last £10 placing an advert in the local paper offering to do cheap accounting for small businesses. Three weeks later he received a phone call from a local florist, and SJD Accountancy was born.
Dolan's accountancy firm is now the largest privately owned practice in the UK, and has branches in every major city. Outside of the office Simon has won a competitive kickboxing title, and enjoys driving an Aston Martin racing car for his team Aston Martin Jota Sport. He is also the author of the book "How to Make Millions Without a Degree".
We spoke to Simon in order to see what advice he could give to aspiring young entrepreneurs who didn't want to go to university. This is what he said:
BB: When you spent that first Â£10 placing an ad in the local paper offering to do peoples accounts, did you have any idea that it would lead you to where you are today?
Simon: None at all. To be honest it was a last ditch attempt to keep the wolf from the door. Not for a second did I think it’d occupy the next 20 years of my life and earn me millions of pounds!
BB: What do you feel is the single most important skill or attribute that a young person starting a business needs to have?
Simon: An ability in sales. And I mean proper selling, as opposed to the old fashioned, hard closer types. Selling these days may be face to face, or as likely through the web. Whatever anyone says, if you don’t have any idea how to sell your product or service, you stand absolutely no chance in business.
BB: What’s better; having an amazing business idea that’s executed averagely, or having an average business idea that is executed amazingly?
Simon: The latter. Most people make their fortunes in very mundane things it is very rare that an incredible new thing hits the market and is a runaway success.
BB: Do you think that not going to university made it in any way harder for you to create a successful business?
Simon: No, on the contrary. Had I gone to Uni I believe my choices would have been limited as I would have felt pigeonholed into one particular area related to the degree. I also would have been a few years older, had no practical experience, and even deeper in debt than I was.
BB: What’s the biggest obstacle that you’ve had to overcome in business so far?
Simon: I get asked that question a lot, and whilst it’d be neat to come up with something I can honestly say I haven’t really had any major obstacles. I think I, like many business people, actually overcome hundreds of small obstacles rather than one large one.
BB: As well as achieving huge success in business, you are also a champion kick-boxer and racing driver. How important is maintaining a good balance in life outside of your business?
Simon: Not sure. I think what you end up doing is working all hours in the early days and then as you get more successful you have time for balance. In the early days you don’t have the luxury of balance. Its just flat out work.
BB: Do you have any business role models or mentors that have helped you along the way? Do you think having a mentor is important?
Simon: I didn’t no. I do however think it is useful (but not important) to have a mentor. You probably won’t always listen to them or carry out their advice, but it can be a handy way to avoid the more obvious mistakes.
BB: What advice would you give to young people who are thinking of starting a business instead of going to university?
Simon: Go for it! But have realistic expectations, don’t spend any money until you really have to, sell, sell, sell and look to the mundane before you try thinking of a brand new product or service.
BB: Any final thoughts or comments?
Simon: Being an entrepreneur isn’t a special thing. it’s just a name given to someone who has got up off their backside and sold something to someone. It’s not a special thing reserved for the lucky few.