Friday, April 12, 2013

The Creative Entrepreneur: Combining art and business

This is the story of how and why Narus came to be. It is a rather personal story, but an important one in understanding why the company functions the way it does, and, in the spirit of our people-centred approach I feel it is worth sharing. 

It all started with the concept of Entrepreneurship. 

Entrepreneur is a pretty hot word these days. I don’t think I even knew what it was a couple of years ago, but now I see it everywhere. It seems to be the hope for the future in my generation graduating from university into a time when jobs and funding are being cut left right and centre. We are the ray of light in the doom and gloom of the job crisis. 

On finishing my MA back in September I happen to have lucked into a new scheme known as the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa. It replaces the post-study work visa which allowed graduates from UK Higher education institutions to stay in the country for two years and work, which was was cut in April 2012. 

The Entrepreneur visa is meant, I suppose, to weed out the brightest and best. It is for:
graduates who have been identified by UK Higher Education Institutions as having developed world class innovative ideas or entrepreneurial skills, to extend their stay in the UK after graduation to establish one or more businesses in the UK.
I often describe it as being a bit like some twisted reality tv show, minus the potential for public shame or glory. Angels Den meets Survivor. You have one year to build a successful business or get voted off the island.

But given that I wanted to stay in England and had no immediate marriage prospects, I had few other options. Having been endowed by nature with more than my due share of stubbornness I set about playing their game.  This meant I had about four weeks to come up with this world-class innovative business plan.

Floundering around for an idea I started attending conferences and expos and quickly learned that rule number one of Entrepreneurship is that “problems” become “opportunities.” At first I was somewhat resistant to this opportunity, but have eventually realised that it is a rather valuable viewpoint to hold. 

Now, it is worth saying that there are many flavours of Entrepreneurs. At their lowest they seek not only to capitalise on but to perpetuate problems, and thus guarantee themselves endless profit. Then they start making even more money by selling you a book or a seminar on how to get rich (but the meta-wealth market is a whole rant I had best not begin.) People who in one breath extoll the power of unselling by showing you slides of the extra features their Ferrari, and in the next extoll the virtues of outsourcing your secretaries from the Philippines because you can pay them a fraction of the cost. 

At the other end of the spectrum are those who genuinely want to make the world a better place. Who take a problem, and don't just patch it over but come up with a creative new solution. You are less likely to see this sort of person standing onstage at Entrepreneurs 2013 (though there may be a few that slip in), but these are the people who truly make a difference across all levels of society. 

The idea of Narus was first cemented when I was at a rather soul-destroying trade show listening to pitch after pitch on the values of social media marketing,  SEO (that's search engine optimisation... or in lay persons terms, where you show up in google) and how to convert all that traffic into sales. I'm afraid these pitches were aimed much more at the former type of Entrepreneur, more concerned with their own profit than in giving people something they actually need. 

But a thought struck me... why can't we more actively use these techniques and tools to promote really worthwhile things? 

In the course of my MA I worked with many theatre companies (and spoke to even more) who struggled to bring in audiences. Many of these companies have website thrown up sometime in the early 2000's that hadn't been touched since, and who simply didn't have the time and energy (let alone the expertise) to run an e-mail marketing campaign. Their directors sometimes serve quadruple duty as production manager, marketing, and accountant. 

I also started thinking about my favorite London theatre company, Graeae. From the very beginning its founder Nabil Shaban was out there promoting the company (before they even had a show in fact... you can read his fascinating article on the early history of Graeae here.) That grounding in addition to the strong artistic team is part of what had enabled Graeae to become the force for change and world class and innovative that it is today. 

The business and the arts world are often so completely separate from one another, but maybe it's time for that to change. Time to move beyond the cliché of the struggling actor or director, and the expectation that people should be satisfied to be scraping through by the skin of their teeth. I firmly believe that this can be done without sacrificing quality of work, and that it will build a more sustainable arts sector. 

However, business is not the strength of every artist, nor should it have to be. That is why we collaborate. This was the problem-turned-opportunity that Narus was created to capitalise on. As we say in our tagline, we want to facilitate creativity; to provide creative people the support to do what they do best without having to constantly worry about whether their next grant will come through.

We may not yet have the perfect solution but we are committed to trying, and our business model is such that it is in our interest for everyone to succeed (not least so they can pay us for our services!)

On a personal note I have an extra drive to succeed. If i don't I could well get chucked out of the country. If that isn't motivation, then I don't know what is! 

But have no fear... this will not taint my morals or my commitment to building a good society as well as a good business. I would much rather go back to California than become the next Simon Coulson. 

My commitment to our clients, staff, audiences, and anyone else I come into contact with is to do my utmost to make the world a better place through collaboration and creative solutions.



1 comment:

  1. Having understood, at an early stage of knowing you, the dedication and drive you describe above I am pleased to be in a position to help when required. Having come to understand your genuine desire to improve the community with which you come into contact I am happy to give my time and energies in helping you to make NARUS the success it deserves to be.