Amanda Jones is an award winning pro-profit Social Entrepreneur
drawn to so-called impossible ideas by an inclination to 'have a go
anyway', and adamant that the answers to the problems of society
and planet alike, lie in the development of good businesses.
After she graduated from the University of Glasgow with a joint Masters Degree in Philosophy and Psychology she worked in marketing before teaming up with James Brown to establish Red Button Design in 2007.
If you're a fan of The BBC's Dragons' Den, you'll remember Amanda successfully pitching for investment. It was the first time all 5 Dragon's had offered to agreed to put their money into the business. Though the investment wasn't taken after the show, Amanda and James garnished a lot of interest in their business and are firmly on the path to success.
Amanda is a fellow of The RSA, a proud member of The Courvoisuer Future 500 and Striding Out Future 100 networks, and in December 2009, Amanda was awarded a Cosmopolitan Magazine "Woman of the Year" award for ethical enterprise.
Amanda, to take a product from design to prototype to investment to mass/niche market, how hard is that? What type of person do you have to be to take that journey?
I have to confess, it is harder than I thought it was going to be! Possibly necessarily so! I'm not sure that if I had fully understood what it would entail, I would have had the confidence to proceed in the manner I have done. My business partner, James, is a Product Design Engineer and has been responsible for steering the product development side of the business which has been one long learning curve for me. Above all though, it is a matter of a whole lot of hard graft, unshakeable faith that what you are doing is worthwhile (not necessarily 'right' but worthwhile, as even if we hadn't been able to make the product work both James and I have picked up valuable transferable skills which put us in-demand in other jobs and industries) and finally - luck. Whatever you're doing, there is always an element of having to have a little luck on your side.
How important is gaining important business advice and mentoring whilst building a business? Where do you go to find it?
I don't think it is possible to overstate the need for good mentorship, and I think it is an extremely difficult thing to find. I have a lot of personal gripes about the one-size-fits-all feel to much of the advice available out there. It can be very difficult to get your case heard if you are doing something new, or something not 'in fashion', and you don't fit into the tick boxes available. The best advice we've ever had has always come from individuals who have been-there, done-that and, vitally, spent a little bit of time around us and the business getting to know how we operate. Unfortunately this type of life experience can't be taught, it has to be earnt, and there are a limited number of such individuals, with limited time to spare. So if you have a good advisor, hang onto them at all costs!!
How many hours do you think you work a week?
Too many! I'm not particularly proud of this.. I like to think that I do just what is necessary to get the week's tasks done, however long that might take, but as an entrepreneur you are always creating new opportunities and new work for yourself, so you have to know when to stop. I regularly overestimate my ability to take on new tasks and find myself over-committed and working 70+ hour weeks but even that is hard to calculate when work is always on my mind in some form and new ideas don't necessarily spring upon me during daylight hours!
Do you make sure they are always productive?
No one stays focused 100% of the time and I'm as guilty as everyone else when it comes to being distracted, (Twitter is a particular vice of mine!) However, I am very goal orientated and I create a task list every day which I find helps to narrow my focus and keep me headed in the right direction. It's also a good exercise for me as I keep all my lists and can look back upon the week to see where I have made progress, which tasks I kept putting off or pushing down the priority list and as I learn more about my own working style I make better use of my time. As an added bonus the lists can be used to evidence my activities to James and other shareholders so whilst I don't keep a time sheet per se, there is still a way to measure my input into the Company.
How much of a struggle do you think it would have been without James as a business partner? How important is he?
Red Button Design is a collision of everything James is good at and passionate about, and everything I am good at and passionate about. James brings design, engineering and humanitarian experience while, broadly speaking, I have enterprise, sales, marketing. We understand each other's side of the business, and as time goes on we're learning not just from the journey but from each other. The partnership is a good one specifically because the vast majority of our talents are complimentary rather than duplicated. So as far as Red Button Design is concerned, we're both pretty vital!
Can you explain how important the humanitarian side to you and your business is?
Red Button Design was founded to innovate for some of the poorest people on the planet, and to do so sustainably, profitably and with the utmost regard for society and the environment. We endeavour to produce 'products the world needs, not just desires' and embody the adage of 'doing good and doing well'. As long as social good and personal gain are pitched against each other, our capacity to improve the world in which we live, is limited. However, as soon as you align personal gain with social good - everyone benefits and the capacity to scale appears endless. The humanitarian aspect of our work, therefore, can't really be separated from the entrepreneurial.
What are the biggest mistakes to avoid in business?
Thinking that you wont make any mistakes, being afraid to make mistakes, and not learning from them when you inevitably do!
And your top tips for those students and graduates who want to make a difference and be an entrepreneur?
Well, I'm currently writing a blog series chronicling 12 entrepreneurial lessons I learnt in 2009 so I'd like to think that there are a few hard-won pearls of wisdom in there somewhere! But above all else I revert back to one of my favourite quotes which never fails to remind me of the value of just taking a deep breath and giving it your best shot..
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." (Mark Twain)
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