From a very young age, Simon Dolan was more comfortable making money than sitting in a classroom. He flogged photocopies of the Rubix cube solution to his classmates back in the eighties and, at 16, took a job in Chelmsford market selling eggs and cheese. And the 41-year-old believes this kind of entrepreneurialism is not to be discouraged. School is not for everyone, says Dolan, and the pressure on young people to go to university is entirely detrimental.
"It's a con," he says. "I'm not against university as an institution but the idea that all you need is a degree, any degree, to get a job is just wrong. The degree courses available are easier and easier to get on and pass and getting less and less relevant to the things you need to survive in the real world."
Dolan's comments come at a very interesting time. While students protest increased tuition fees, Dolan suggests they be raised yet further. "I think fees should be much higher," he says. "If they were £25,000 or £30,000 like in the States, people would take university much more seriously. At the moment, it's just a place to have a great time, get pissed and get laid. If students were going to leave uni with £100,000 of debt, they'd think twice. It would force school-leavers to think about the alternative: to get a job, start at the bottom and work their way up. Or assume the £100,000 debt."
It's an aggressive stance, but one he has backed up by writing a pseudo manual for school leavers who subscribe to his view: How To Make Millions Without A Degree. "I am encouraging self reliance," says Dolan. "Being a success and getting a job has nothing to do with a piece of paper."
Of course, Dolan's view completely bypasses the idea that attending university broadens horizons, inspires young people who don't yet know what they want to do, and forges friendships that can be invaluable down the line. But this is perhaps because Dolan has always been very clear on his prime motivation in life: "a desire to make money," he says.
Dolan has achieved his aim. He is a serial entrepreneur with business interests spanning three continents and several sectors. Dolan's core expertise lies in finance: he owns SJD Accountancy, Easy Accountancy and Contractor Umbrella, but has also recently invested in lifestyle firm She Who Dares, taken a stake in new mental health glossy Uncovered, runs airline Jota Aviation and heads up a motor racing and engineering business - Dolan is a champion racing car driver to boot.
He makes it look easy. Indeed, he believes it is easy. "I was completely unable to be an employee," he says. "Compared to that, starting a business was easy. Anyone can do it."
Dolan is putting his money where his mouth is. He was the world's first 'Twitter Dragon' taking 140-character pitches over the social media site. He has invested in three start-ups through Twitter to date. But he's not so keen on joining the Den for real. "The BBC approached me about the show," he says. "But Dragons' Den perpetuates the myth that it's difficult to start a business and that it needs lots of money. That's wrong. It's easy and it doesn't take much money. Being an entrepreneur is not an unattainable goal."
Here are Simon Dolan's top ten tips on starting a business:
1) Develop ability in sales - everything in business, and indeed life, comes from sales. Whether you're pitching for a bit of business or chatting someone up, you are selling yourself. Sales also enhances your numeracy and broadens your confidence.
2) Avoid the big wide gate, look for the chink. Avoid overly saturated markets and concentrate on the niche and unoriginal which always more often than not, EFFECTIVE.
3) Duplicate. When you sell your time, which is ultimately what any person that starts out in business does, that there's a limit to how much you can earn. The limit being the hours in the day. If all of a sudden there were two of you, you could earn twice as much. If it there were 200 of you, you could earn 200 times as much, and so on. Short of rapid advancements in genetic engineering, the only way to duplicate yourself is to hire staff. Start engineering your business so that it can be replicated… and run by individuals who follow the system.
4) Your business plan should be five words long: "Get and keep more customers!". Without customers you haven't got a business, and by customers, I mean people who spend money.
5) Know when to quit - if you've tried everything and it's not getting any better, cut your losses and move on.
6) Self-belief is an entrepreneur's most precious commodity.
7) Never, ever spend a penny more than you need to. You don't need a PA, receptionist, junior, nice furniture, an office, a company car or a photocopier - get the picture? And definitely don't spend money on advertising. All you need to do is create a web page.
8) Realise that you have to sell. Yes, you will have to pick up the phone and ask for business, If you can't do this, don't start a business.
9) Realise that the only purpose your business has is to make money. Save the World once you've made some, in the meantime, leave "social enterprises" to charities and government.
10) Read everything you can about people who have started businesses from nothing - preferably biographies and autobiographies - everything you need to know is contained within those pages