Carolyn Dailey is the founder of Creative Entrepreneurs, the movement she launched in January 2016 at No. 10 Downing Street, to help creative people turn their ideas into successful businesses. We talked to her about what inspired its development, creativity in the UK and plans for 2018.
What was behind the decision to set up Creative Entrepreneurs?
I had worked in the creative sector for all of my career, at Time Warner, and left to start my own business. I was clear about the client offering but realised I knew nothing about running a business.
I got up to speed with help from friends with creative businesses. But when I asked, “How did you know how to do this?” they all said, “We had no idea; we muddled through, made mistakes, and didn’t grow quickly.”
Only the US and the UK have globally successful creative sectors, amazing considering the differences in size. Yet here, while there is support for tech and entrepreneurship, there is less for creative businesses. So I looked to bring together all the online resources and, in person, through events and courses, to connect creative entrepreneurs across sectors and with the wider startup ecosystem.
Carolyn Dailey: founder of Creative Entrepreneurs.
Creative Entrepreneurs is often described as a movement. Is that what it’s intended to be?
Yes. From the early stages of mentioning the idea, I had overwhelming responses from people. I was passionate about it and saw how much it animated others.
The late, great architect Zaha Hadid, one of our founding ambassadors became involved because she believed it was so important to fill this gaping hole and something that we must do. This way of thinking and bringing people together – and the great passion it stirred – felt like a grassroots movement, one that we needed to give a place to live.
You’ve highlighted that the creative industries are second only to banking in economic terms but that’s not reflected in perceptions or support. Why do you think this is?
It’s hard for people to think about entrepreneurship and creativity together. Change is needed around the wider societal dialogue informed by the media. It tends to focus on creative output rather than how someone started out. But how people launched businesses, most often with no business background, offers fascinating stories.
The absence of these stories doesn’t facilitate public discussion about entrepreneurship and creative success. This means the next generation don’t get encouragement from parents and schools, or exposure to creative founders, the all-important role models.
That’s why we launched our ‘Founder Files’ events, to feature these creative founders, individuals our community can relate to and learn from through their stories. People tell us they learn more from the Founder Files than structured learning, because these stories are so filled with real world examples, advice and inspiration.
Carolyn at the launch of Creative Entrepreneurs at No. 10 Downing Street in 2016, with from left to right, entrepreneur Rohan Silva of Second home, then minister and current MP Ed Vaizey, fashion designer Anya HIndmarch and filmmaker and owner of SBTV Jamal Edwards.
What are your key pieces of advice for someone starting a creative business?
You need to think about the basics: What is your business? Who are your customers? Why are they going to buy your product or service? Who are your competitors? How will you make money?
Part of entrepreneurship is that you don’t have all the answers at the beginning. But you need to be sure enough to give your concept room to grow, without wasting time or hurting your financial status.
Creative people aren’t always told about these basic questions so it’s important to help. That fundamental question of ‘what do I need to know?’ is why we have started our new Startup Essentials courses – our next is a three-part course on Business Planning Basics, in partnership with the Design Museum.
What do you see as the challenges for entrepreneurs in the digital media space that VIDA supports?
There are challenges around controlling media content; for example on a platform where content is free but you may wish to have a paid subscription area, presenting difficulties technologically and in terms of intellectual property. Yet this is core to many digital media businesses.
Business models are also changing rapidly. If a model is based around dedicated followers paying a subscription that’s a stable income, but you need high quality premium content and that’s very expensive. If it’s advertising-based, you’ll need huge numbers engaging with you in the face of global competition. Revenue streams are the biggest challenge for digital media.
What are your plans for Creative Entrepreneurs in 2018?
We’re launching an event series all about mentoring and networking in focused groups, featuring experts in key business areas, with the opportunity to talk one to one. It will be hands-on mentoring across disciplines and sectors.
We’re also launching a new membership programme that lets us provide key tools for members. These include a free legal helpline from law firm Lee & Thompson, discounts on essential startup services like banking alternative Tide.co, and MOO.com for design needs, along with discounts on our Founder Files events, Startup Essentials courses and other events.
In terms of digital content, what brands or businesses do you admire?
I love the digital content from ‘The School of Life’ – from their website to their stunning videos. The content is highly engaging and entertaining, while delivering serious learning on emotional intelligence. And every drop of it reinforces The School of Life’s brand and mission – they’re really getting it right.
Do you have a favourite piece of branded content?
Any branded content from Patagonia always kills it - totally mission driven, extremely witty and always makes you do a double take. They’re a crazily successful brand that understands their fans don’t want a ‘brand’ in the traditional sense. By being their authentic selves, with a large dose of maverick thinking, they demonstrate the power of branded content.
Carolyn interviewing Will Hudson, founder of It's Nice That, as part of the 'Founder Files' events.
Is there any piece of niche media that you really like?
I am obsessed with It’s Nice That – although it’s so influential now, I don’t know if we can still call it niche. At first glance their mission is deceivingly simple: ‘championing creativity.’ It’s their discipline in sticking to it that lets them produce magic. Interviewing INT’s Founder Will Hudson about his entrepreneurial journey at our Founder Files event was a huge inspiration.
And are there any quotes that inspire you?
Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” We all sit and speculate and strategise, but it’s amazing what can happen when you just start working. I’m also inspired by Steve Jobs’ idea to “Create something bigger than yourself.” He said it was Apple Inc. – versus any particular Apple product – that he was most proud of, something that would carry on and have a life of its own.
That’s what Creative Entrepreneurs is about: we want creative people to think big, be ambitious and do all the things that they can and have the potential to do. It’s exciting to create something bigger than yourself.
Patagonia: a great example of strong branded content.
Creative Entrepreneurs’ next Founder Files is with Bella Freud on 6 February 2018 at Second Home Holland Park.
Their next Startup Essentials, the Business Planning Basics course at the Design Museum, starts on 12 February 2018.