Yesterday, I attended a talk by Stelios Haji-Iannnou, founder of Easyjet (or just Stelios, as he prefers to be known). I have to confess that prior to attending, I did have some pre-conceived ideas about what the talk would entail. Nevertheless, it was definitely interesting to see the contrast between the different styles of entrepreneurship, particularly after seeing Muhammad Yunus speak last week.
Of course, famously, Stelios started his first business with funding received from his father. However, it was refreshing that Stelios talked very candidly and openly about this, even joking that the first step for entrepreneurs should be to get themselves a rich father.
One member of the audience asked what Stelios would do if he did not have a rich father, and his advice was to start a franchise. This did not strike me as particularly entrepreneurial. It seem the sole aim of this kind of business to only make profit. Perhaps this is a rather romanticised view of entrepreneurship, but I believe that there should be some other objective other than to just make money.
Despite being a serial entrepreneur, Stelios represents a very conventional way of thinking about business. He was particularly disparaging on the issue of social entrepreneurship, saying that he could not understand what the difference was between Easyjet making money and then giving it to charity. The point is that social entrepreneurship empowers the poor to work for themselves and I believe that it provides a long-term viable solution to mass poverty.
To some extent, the contrast with Muhammad Yunus demonstrated that there is no formula for being a successful entrepreneur, and of course, different people are inspired in different ways. For me, however, entrepreneurship is inspiring when it invokes out-of-the-box thinking and challenges conventional concepts. I am inspired by Guy Kawasaki’s first rule in the Art of the Start to “make meaning” and this is what impresses me about social businesses.
The airline industry at the moment is under a lot of pressure to reduce carbon emissions, and going forward, the environment is likely to be a key issue for all businesses. At the same time, consumers are becoming increasingly cynical and demanding greater transparency when it comes to ethical consumerism. It will be interesting to see how traditional industries will adapt their approach meet the demands of the consumer.
Overall, it was interesting to see a different approach to entrepreneurship. Stelios is quite the character: an engaging speaker with a great sense of humour. You’ve got to admire his guts for the risks he took, both with innovating a new business model and experimenting with the Easyjet brand. In addition, he’s taken that brand and diversified it into many other industries, taking a substantial risk that not many entrepreneurs have been able to successfully pull off.
I’ll just round off with the infamous story of the launch of Go.com, where Stelios managed to get ten tickets for the first ever flight. He then took ten staff members, along with him, all dressed in orange jump suits, boarded the flight and handed out free Easyjet tickets to all the passengers, thus stealing Go.com’s “thunder” and transforming their launch into a promotional event for Easyjet! Most certainly, an innovative branding strategy. 🙂