Richard O’Grady is a recently graduated History Undergraduate from Merton College. He started two part-time businesses while at Oxford: The Oxford Book Club, a pop-up second hand book store selling affordable, high quality books to students predominantly for their courses; and Gin & Phonics, an events company showcasing young, student talent across Oxford. This year, he is expanding Gin & Phonics, aiming to become the leading talent platform that aims to support and promote young emerging musicians, DJs, and spoken word artists. At the core of Gin & Phonics are the performers themselves, whom Richard provides with video/audio content, contacts, basic management, and exposure. Via online personal profiles for each performer combined with large, effective social media reach, Richard is hoping to take Gin & Phonics to multiple cities by the end of 2017, including Bristol, Cambridge, London, Manchester, and Glasgow. Gin & Phonics is still in its early stage, with seed investment a fair distance into the future. Richard is the only full-time employee, but works with a large team of performers, promoters, and free-lancers, using the student talent pool as much as possible.
Q: What is your background? Why are you doing this?
A: I wanted to jump off the machine, and do something different. Now is the time to try – I am lucky enough to not have anyone I need to provide for. My dad started his own company at a similar stage and he has had a substantial influence on me over the past few years.
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: The optimistic naivety to think that you can change the world through what you create; and the brave stubbornness that forces you to do it under your name.
Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: I desperately wanted to work for myself – to be able to take ownership and responsibility for what I created. I couldn’t face working in a company with an embedded hierarchical structure.
Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: Purpose: believing that your business will actually change the world around you in the long run makes it worth the financial difficulties, the strain on personal relationships, and the hours of unpaid work that you are most likely to suffer.
Self-Discipline: with both your time, money, and vision, you have to know what you want and be rigid enough to map out the process of how you are going to achieve it.
Self-Confident resilience: being honest with yourself and having belief that what you are doing is what you should be doing, particularly when things are not going your way.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: Ownership of your work; after helping someone or making an improvement, and being able to say, ‘I did that; without me that wouldn’t have happened’.
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: Brainpickings.org was certainly a big influence. Maria Popova works exceedingly hard in a blog/company that has changed so many people’s lives. (A fantastically simple business model through the Amazon affiliate programme too).
Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: Has your business ever been more than an extended hobby?
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: Putting on the first Gin & Phonics events at Freud – we had between 450-500 attendees and everyone was listening, smiling, laughing, dancing. It was such a great occasion.
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A: I have wasted a lot of time on social media without truly finding out how it functions.
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: It’s filled with so many talented people, not just students, but around the city. It’s such a diverse place with so many interesting little things going on, there is always something new to try, which can influence how you run your business. The lack of proximity to the majority of ‘the establishment’, particularly labels, can slow the process of creating contacts however.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship information or resources in Oxfordshire, where would you send them?
A: My time with Oxford Entrepreneurs, the society at Oxford University, proved a great learning curve for me. There is no substitute to getting out and doing yourself however.
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: If you have a valid idea, test it; no one is going to start up a business for you.