Andrew Barnes is a man on the move. A Rhodes Scholar and Oxford University student (MSc Education – Learning & Technology), he is an impeccably polite, and possessed of an energy which calls the phrase ‘human dynamo’ to mind. A serial entrepreneur who started his career as a teenager, Barnes is the CEO and co-founder of GO1, an online learning management software platform called Aduro. With a long list of international clients , a host of awards, and several startup ventures already under his belt, the fastidiously dressed Barnes was invited to speak at the Oxford Launchpad last term, before a packed audience.
Barnes greeted guests with his infectious smile and Aussie hospitality. Wielding his remote control and walking back and forth across the front of the room in his blue blazer and striped button down shirt, Barnes shared some inside stories about his journey as an entrepreneur, including lessons he had learned, struggles he had faced, and successes he had experienced. “Ideas are the easy part,” Barnes explained to his eager listeners. Launching a viable product or service, he continued, requires tenacity, adaptability, and dedication. Startups by their very nature are risky, and they often pose significant sacrifice and financial uncertainty. Nevertheless, he said with sincere conviction, being in business pays many dividends, particularly for those who want to move beyond the confines of more dependable career paths.
He stressed the fact that business leaders must exude confidence even if they are not completely sure on every detail themselves. Faking it, he assured his audience, is sometimes part of the job description. He also pointed out that growing and expanding businesses requires scalability. Having a product rather than a service makes it easier to maximize revenues while reducing costs. Ultimately, he advised, it is simpler and smarter to duplicate products rather than hiring more people. Businesses need to possess a proven value proposition and to address real market needs. Since success breeds success, it is important to build on previous achievements and to acquire a reputation for excellence. As a businessperson, people constantly judge you, he confessed, and it is imperative that you give them your best. Furthermore, we are living in an age where clients and customers want the very best and are able to acquire it anywhere in the world. Just being good isn’t good enough anymore, since entrepreneurs are now competing in a global, winner-take-all marketplace. Today you need to be a superstar to really make your mark. Businesses also require creativity and flexibility, so they can adapt to new circumstances and changing conditions. Coca-Cola, Barnes noted, was originally a medicinal drink while eBay was first envisioned as distribution site for Pez candies. These businesses would have shut down years ago had they not adapted their marketing plans.
Some of Andrew Barnes’ personal stories and anecdotes also shed valuable light onto the life of an entrepreneur. In the early stages, he said, the startup founder does everything, from scrubbing the toilet and taking out the garbage to answering every phone call and paying all the bills. However, as the company grows, the founder’s role changes from direct hands-on involvement to a managerial position. Founders who cannot make the switch will discover that they create a bottleneck in the system that in turn inhibits and discourages growth. The answer, Barnes said as he turned to his audience with, eyes passionately aglow, is to hire outstanding people who complement the skill sets already possessed by the business leadership.
Modest and self-deprecating, Barnes admitted that he had made mistakes along the way. In hindsight, Barnes realized that had he been more knowledgeable about the red tape, he would have avoided many of his early mistakes. “Always get things in writing,” “don’t make the same mistake twice,” and “don’t let your lack of knowledge stop you but learn quickly,” he counseled. Wrapping up the evening, Barnes saved one of his best morsels for last: “Done is better than perfect.” Do not let perfection paralyze progress, Barnes exhorted his listeners, because nothing is truly flawless and everything can be improved. Like a polished professional, Barnes ended the evening just as he had started it – in perfect synchronicity with the clock. He’s been in business long enough to know the importance of time management.
PHOT/ Philip Babcock