Corse Concierge is a project management and business support consultancy based in Greatworth, North Oxfordshire. With a founding team of three, they apply the fundamental things about project management and processes they learned in motorsport to add value to businesses across multiple sectors.
An award-winning business and operations director, Ella carved her career in the ambitious world of motorsport. Since graduating, she has worked in professional motorsport and engineering in a variety of technical and commercial roles. If your business needs someone with a strategic mind, an eye for process and an unwavering determination to do things better, Ella’s the person to call. An advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM, she is also an active volunteer and speaker.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I gained a Mechanical Engineering degree at Leeds University, and then returned to Oxfordshire to study for a Masters of Science in Racing Engine Design at Oxford Brookes University. Around the time I was leaving Brookes, I started to become really aware that where I was adding value to projects and part-time roles with racing teams, wasn’t actually my knowledge of engines and control systems. It was my ability to talk to people, get stuff done and anticipate problems and solve them ahead of time. When I started full-time roles this became a repeating pattern; starting more technical, ending up in commercial and managerial roles. In my last employed role, I realised that there were a lot of SMEs that wanted proactive and practical support. There was a gap between virtual administration services and full-blown management consultancy. Outsourced project management fitted in there and I decided to take the plunge.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
I tend to refer to myself as a business owner rather than an entrepreneur, however, I’m slowly coming around to it. Entrepreneurship can be associated with ruthless growth and a cash focus, but as I meet more and more purpose-driven founders I’ve learnt to let go of that notion. Now I would define it as a person or group with a dream that they are making into profit-making reality. However financial profit isn’t always the main motivator.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
When we’re winding down our roles elsewhere we sent business owners, investors and advisers we already knew a tea bag in the post. It was just a low-cost, slightly cheeky way to say “Can we have a cup of tea and talk to you about what we’re thinking of doing here?”. There were a handful of people who didn’t get it, but those that did were really generous with their time and opinions. Those conversations were enough to give us the confidence to get started, and helped us understand what might work and what probably wouldn’t.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Problem-solving; You are problem-solving every day on some level in a growing organisation. Coming from an engineering background I feel like the underlying logic is embedded in me, but I think it’s a skill that entrepreneurs from all disciplines can foster.
Clear communication; This is something that doesn’t come as naturally to me. I can use 10 words when 3 could suffice! We work with a great copywriter on external messaging, and then use tools like Slack to help our internal comms flow.
Listening; You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion! Prospects, clients and your team give you lots of clues to help you with skills one & two when you stop talking and start listening.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Being able to wear yellow trainers and leopard print to give a pitch! It sounds like a very flippant thing to say, but it is a great example of being able to be yourself in business. Coming from motorsport when you are paid to be a moving billboard for sponsors and partners, you don’t get to choose what you wear, and often are very censored in terms of what you can publically say. We’re growing a business where we encourage individuality in our team and our client organisations and will continue to do so.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I have a lot of time for Basecamp and their leadership team. They have grown a successful and sustainable business with minimal external funding, and aren’t afraid to share that they’ve learnt along the way.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
They are radically transparent for a privately-held organisation so perhaps how they kept true to that principle as they grew and become remote-first.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Don’t just hire people that think and look like you. It’s something I was definitely guilty of in previous roles, and a mistake I’m determined not to make with our own business. Diversity of experience and thought has been proven time and time again to be a benefit to not only the bottom line, but to every element of an organisation. Soichiro Honda once said “If you hire only those people you understand, the company will never get people better than you are. Always remember that you often find outstanding people among those you don’t particularly like.”
How have you funded your ideas?
Personal savings and lots of contra-deals when we had more time than money in the early days!
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
For a company rooted in motorsport thinking, “Motorsport Valley” (the Milton Keynes-Oxford-Banbury triangle) will probably always be home. We’re surrounded by world-leading engineering companies and agile racing organisations, and we can also benefit from the energy and ecology of the city’s universities. This, of course, comes at a price particularly when it comes to property. Housing costs are high, and that undoubtedly impacts the vast majority of us at some point, directly or indirectly.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them? (Anything Oxfordshire especially!)
Your local enterprise partnership is the place to start; Their knowledge of the local economic landscape is invaluable. Both OxLEP and SEMLEP are fantastically helpful.
For reading materials, it has to be “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hanson – the founders of the aforementioned Basecamp. It’s a series of essays on running a modern business. Every time a friend starts a business I buy them a copy because it’s made such an impact on the way we work. It also has a sister podcast of the same name that explores the themes in more detail and provides great case studies that you can ponder whilst stuck in traffic on the A34.
Any last words of advice?
“If worst comes to the worst, you can always go and get a job”. I can’t remember who said it to me when we were starting the business, but it’s true. When you are worried about taking a chance, or you aren’t sure what the “right” decision is for your business, it’s good to remind yourself that it isn’t life or death in very many cases. Yes, you might lose face, time or money, but very little is permanent.