Some lessons to be learnt, an interview with Syd Nadim
Tuesday 25 October 2011
"Admitting you have faults, realising that the things you believed in turn out to be fallacy, appreciating that change is important - and that the change may have to come from you."
These are some of the things that come hand-in-hand with creating a business and building it up to be a successful, profitable entity. Syd Nadim is a man who seems well adjusted to these ideas.
Syd is the CEO and founder of Clock, an award-winning digital marketing agency. He began Clock when he was 23 years old, redundant, and with no home. In fact, the roof over his head was the small office he had rented in order to follow his dream and create his business. His ambition, personality and hard work are paramount to his success, but he continually attributes it to “the inspiring people he has around him.”
What have your experiences brought to the way in which you deal with belief – whether in people, religion, or business?
“My childhood and teenage years were spent in a cult. It was strict and even prohibited us from celebrating birthdays. Eventually, one of the fascinating things I learnt was that something that I completely believed in was proving to be utter bollocks. So, whilst I’m fairly dogmatic, if someone shows me a better idea, I’ll happily change and do something different. I think it’s important for employers to accept being proved wrong. Be prepared for change and accept that you may need to adapt, if you want to work with people. Your ideas may be great, but there may be someone who will implement them in a way you had never thought.
"One of the most important things to me is life-skills and dealing with people. Businesses are filled with people working for people - you have to understand, or at least try to understand, how people work.”
You started out as a very young man and you didn’t go to university – a decision that many more young people are making. Do you think it’s hard for young people to find investors who will really take them seriously, especially if they don’t have a degree?
“Of course. It’s hard for kids who haven’t been to university, but then you’re often not taken seriously when you do have a degree. Young people need to remember that. It’s all about you as an individual and what you’ve done. It’s just finding that lucky break to start with. You’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself.
If you want to go and learn about life, take a year off – go and read, go and travel. People are often going to university for the sake of it – not knowing what they want to do. For certain things it’s essential of course, but you have to think carefully about wracking up £30,000 debt – university is not always the best option: Experience is, in my opinion, one of the most valuable things to have. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be a dissuasive factor to starting a business if you are inexperienced in the business world.”"
So, you mean that despite the lack of experience, youth can entail freedom?
“Exactly – I was able to live in the office, sleeping on the floor by my desk because all I could afford was rent for that room. I was just living for myself at the time. I find that a lot of young people like to feel quite settled but it is the time to be doing stuff and taking risks.
Just go for it. There’s never the perfect time to be living hand-to-mouth, but a lot can be said for going for it when you don’t have a mortgage or young family to think about.
How important do you think it is to take advice from people around you?
“I take advice all the time. I’m sure people think I don’t listen to them, but I do. You’ve got to be fairly dogmatic with good arguments to back up what you think.
"Recently, we were setting targets for our management team and the team were saying, 'it’s too high', but I was convinced that it wasn’t. But I thought, ‘whether it is or it isn’t, they think it is, and they’re quite united on this, so you’d better react to it.'
You have to ask yourself, what do you want to achieve? You have to think of the end game. We created more manageable targets and we’re now smashing them. You must get people on side. You cannot do this by just rail-roading all the time. Don’t be stubborn!”"
What are the key attributes to what makes a good boss?
“Don’t reject feedback or you’ll alienate yourself. In my business, it’s all about the people I have surrounded myself with. You need to notice the diversity in the skills or your employees: highlight their strengths and weaknesses and what they most enjoy doing so that you can adapt the roles.
"Flexibility is important. When you’re starting a business you have many hats to put on – such as the marketing hat, PR, sales, finance, recruitment. You can’t do it all. If you’re trying to do it all, you prioritise things and forget about the small stuff. You therefore need to listen to those around you.
You also have to allow your colleagues to make their own mistakes. You can still give leadership and your vision, but you have to actually let them do the tasks themselves – guide them, encourage them, advise them. Letting go can be quite challenging. “"
At what stage do you have to start letting other people in?
“Immediately. When there were only 11 of us, I remember thinking ‘Syd, if you go under a bus, the company would fold.’ If you genuinely care about the individuals in your business – and the business itself – you have a duty to ensure that were you to leave, or die, the company could continue without you.
"Involve people and engage people from day one. Although they might buy into your idea and vision, they also have great things to add.
If you give responsibility and trust, people will become responsible and trustworthy in response.”"
Syd Nadim is the CEO and Founder of multiaward-winning digital agency Clock.
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