Get ready as we unravel the extraordinary entrepreneurial journey of Simon Squibb, who refused to be limited by homelessness and joblessness at 15.

Today, Simon is a multi-millionaire, the founder of 19 companies, and an investor in 78 more.

Motivated by a personal mission to empower others, Simon established HelpBnk, an investment platform and a wealth of insights shared through his social media channels.

With a vision to equip 10 million individuals with the resources, guidance, and motivation to kickstart their own ventures, Simon’s story serves as a beacon of inspiration for all aspiring entrepreneurs.

In this episode, Simon shares invaluable advice on securing investment, crafting a winning pitch, and understanding the investor’s mindset.

Whether you’re a startup founder or seeking to elevate your business, this is an episode brimming with Simon’s infectious inspiration and proven strategies to propel your business towards success.

Here is his unfiltered advice below:

From homeless at 15 to a multi-millionaire with a mission to give back

Bex Burn-Callander:

I want to start with your roots really and your background, because you’ve talked about it before but it’s such a fascinating story.

Tell us, how did you end up homeless? How did that shape your mindset?

Simon Squibb:

Well, I guess I was homeless at 15 years old because of some sad, bad luck.

My father died of a heart attack when I was just 15, and 3 weeks later, unfortunately due to all the emotion going on at that time, I had an argument with my mum and being 2 stubborn people, she said, “Get out of my house,” and I did and I never went back.

And I was actually technically homeless for about 8 weeks, so I think I wasn’t institutionally homeless but it was a crazy time in my life, very sad time in my life.

But weirdly, I sometimes credit it with the reason I have such a wonderful, happy life today is because of the difficult starting point that I had.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Was it just that you sort of thought, “I never want to experience this again. This is not the life I want and I want security.”

Was that the sort of journey your mind went on at that time?

Simon Squibb:

Partly, but it was also really to do with the fact that I woke up a part of my brain that hadn’t been woken up before.

I’d been in school, of course, like most people, for 12 years at that point, but I had never really used my brain, certain parts of my brain. I call it the entrepreneurial muscle woke up in my brain.

Basically having nothing meant I had nothing to lose.

And by seeing the world for what it really was and its strengths and weaknesses, I saw that I could create something in my mind and make it real.

I could take an idea, for example, my first business I ever did at 15 was someone had a messy garden and I saw that they had a messy garden.

And I knocked on the house, the big house that owned that messy garden, and said, “I’m a gardening company, can I take care of your garden?” And they said, “Yes”, and gave me the work.

And I think it just woke up a part of my brain that I now love, which is if you have an idea in your head, you can make it real.

And I would never have had that experience if I hadn’t been homeless, if I hadn’t been desperate to earn money, if I hadn’t pushed myself out of my comfort zone and did something that was naturally trained in me.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Because would you say that you had any other entrepreneurial role models at that time or previously that might have sown any seeds in your mind about how you might approach life, approach business? Or was it all basically created from scratch as a teenager?

Simon Squibb:

Well, both my mum and dad were entrepreneurs. Well, my mum is still alive, so my mum is still an entrepreneur.

So there definitely was an element in my house when I was growing up, the subconscious years, the 0 to 7, which is the very important subconscious years, was very much like make things happen. So I had that as an advantage, I guess, as a privilege, that access subconsciously to stuff when I was younger.

But I think it never really came alive in me. In fact, both my parents didn’t want me to be entrepreneur. They suggested to me being a lawyer or doing something that was safer in their minds, that’s how they used to talk about it.

So I think being forced out into the world, to then have to make a living to survive, because I couldn’t get a job. At 15 years old you can’t get a job.

You need a National Insurance card in England to get a job, so no one would give me a job, so I had no choice but to start a business.

And I think I kind of thank my lucky stars that I had that hard time because that woke up that part of my brain that maybe was subconsciously there, I think it’s subconsciously in everyone’s mind, but it made me go and use it.

And ever since then I’ve been training that muscle and pushing the risk further and further and learning to take more and more risk. And that’s what that muscle teaches you to do.

With 19 companies comes some failures too

Bex Burn-Callander:

And you’ve started 19 companies. I mean, that number just boggles my mind.

Tell us a bit about some of the companies that you started, maybe some of the successes that we’ve heard of, but also tell us about a couple maybe that didn’t do so well.

Simon Squibb:

Well, I mean, first of all, 19 companies, not all one after the other. I’ve started a few businesses that have spawned into other businesses.

And ironically, one of my biggest successes is a company called Fluid, which I sold to PricewaterhouseCooper, but one of my biggest failures was a company called Fluid Comics, which isn’t far from it.

And in fact, funnily enough, I’ve got it sitting on my desk now.

This is a big failure that I had, this is a product called DevaShard. This product lost me $1 million, I completely failed in this business.

It’s a great example though, it lost a lot of money, but I still hold the product with pride. In fact, I love the product itself.

If you look inside, it’s beautifully created.

The whole theme of the idea of the business I still love, which was what if Superman landed in China? What if Batman was born in India? What would that look like?

And exploring cultural differences and how that could play out, superhero movies in foreign countries. I still love the premise of the comic book business, but it just didn’t work as a business.

But I learned so much in my failure.

In fact, I would say I’ve learned more from my failures than I’ve ever done from my successes. There’s just so many lessons I’ve learned from having businesses that don’t work.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Just for the people who are listening purely on audio, I’m just going to describe what you held up there, which is the graphic novel, black background, and a picture of the sun with a man sort of being born out of it.

A very muscled man, he’s got some serious abs going there.

And it’s like super fantastical, futuristic-looking comic. It looks great.

Simon Squibb:

Modelled on me, totally modelled on me, this character.

Bex Burn-Callander:

There was a similarity there.

Don’t run a business that isn’t aligned to your own purpose and don’t overspend

Bex Burn-Callander:

And when you say the failures taught you more than the successes, can you tell me about a failure? What was it that you got wrong, for example with Fluid Comics?

Was it just that you presume the market was bigger than it was, or you spent too much money? What was the specific failure that you learned from and you never repeated again?

Simon Squibb:

I think it’s very important to take the right sort of learnings from failure. Sometimes that is one of the mistakes.

When someone fails, they think, “Ooh, entrepreneurship, better not do that again.”

Kind of the wrong lesson. A lot of people take the wrong lessons from failure.

I mean, I have a whole list of lessons that I have learned from a business like DevaShard, the name of the comic book that actually failed.

The first is it wasn’t actually my mission, it wasn’t my purpose, it was someone else’s idea and they just got me excited about it. And that’s fine, but I was the person leading the business.

And if I look back now, I realise that I should have just been an investor supporting the person whose dream it was. The person whose original dream it was, was a banker, and they weren’t going to give up their banking job to do it.

So I ended up taking the reins, but I shouldn’t have been the person taking the reins. I believed in the idea, but it was someone else’s idea, I shouldn’t have been running the business.

So that was the first thing.

The second thing is I overspent, and it might sound like an obvious thing, but I was 27 at the time, 28, and I just believed I was invincible.

And I had a movie deal on the table, a subsidiary of NBC Universal wanted to take the comic book and turn it into a movie.

So I thought it was just a question of cash flow and we were going to make hundreds of millions from the movie, but I had no knowledge of how the movie industry works.

So they did buy the rights to the movie. It was a small deposit to buy the rights for the movie. And in my head I’m like, “Well, if someone’s paid the deposit for the rights, they’re going to make it into a movie. This is going to be a movie. We’re going to make hundreds of millions.”

And I spent like it was going to happen, not knowing the industry.

So the industry, they often buy products, IP, and then never make them into movies. But to me, I waa thinking, why would you spend money on a deposit for something and then never make it into a movie?

It never even crossed my mind that it wouldn’t actually be greenlit, as they call it in the industry, to be made into a movie.

So I spent like it was going to be a movie, and that’s why I lost so much money because I spent more than I had coming in.

And I know it, again, sounds like a very boring thing. But in a world where we hear people are raising hundreds of millions for their businesses, I really like to build businesses that are equally measured.

Investment equals a return, and build the business slowly, not fast. The comic book business was massive very quickly, but it came down just as quickly.

So I learned really to just be patient when building a company and build it with a strong foundation ideally. And those are the lessons, some of the lessons, I took from that failure.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That is such good advice. The deal is not done until the cash lands in your bank account.

Until then, act as though the deal has not been done and you are still on your own or you still don’t have that cash forthcoming. It’s great, great advice.

This is the golden age for starting a business

Bex Burn-Callander:

And I guess having started so many businesses over a extended period of time, is it always relatively the same in terms of how tricky it is to start a business?

I mean, I know interest rates go up, they go down, but in terms of the best time to start a business, was there a golden age? And how does that compare to people maybe wanting to start a business now in 2024?

Simon Squibb:

I actually think this is the golden age for starting a business right now, today.

I think if you’ve got a mobile phone in your hand, you have a supercomputer in your hand. I’m starting to show my age now, but when I started, computers were new. It took a whole room up just to have a very simple processing idea.

Now though, with the phone in your hand, you can go live on social media. One push on free platforms, social media platforms, you can reach millions of people. It costs you nothing except the video you create.

It’s a golden era. People will be talking about this time as the golden era in the future.

I think that are some interesting elements of building a business today that don’t change. I believe with all my heart that people should have a purpose, it shouldn’t just be a business for the sake of a business.

If you’re a talented designer, you should have a design company. If you’re a talented artist, you should have an artistic company.

I think that people should lean into what they love to do.

And if you lean into what you love to do and you apply all these amazing technology things that we have available now, free marketing, that I didn’t have when I was around.

If I wanted to do marketing, I had to go to a rubbish event and network with people all day long, or I had to go and spend lots of money on TV. It was hard work.

And now, I personally, I built a massive company in 12 months, but if I’d tried to build the same company back in 1990, it would take me 15 years to build the same company.

And it’s all been done through social media. And so not that social media is the only way to do it, but I think that it’s really quite an interesting time.

Again, in down times, economic down times is a great time to start a business. And I think we’re in right now a middle ground where it’s not an up and it’s not a down, but people are struggling, cost of living is high.

Actually now, more than ever, people are willing to perhaps work at a startup to give themselves a chance to get out from the basic salary and the basic job. You give people a chance, they’ll work hard.

And I think that creates a great foundation for a startup looking for people. Talent is still key, even in an AI world, it’s still key. Finding people that can help make your business work.

And I think right now is the time. I think right now people are willing to take a chance more than ever. People are more educated than ever, thanks to things like YouTube.

People are aware of more things, they know what’s going on around the world.

Starting a business now and getting people, if you have an aspirational business with a purpose and you leverage technology, you can’t lose.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I love that. I love your energy. And it’s so nice, amidst all the doom and gloom and talks of a silent recession and all this other stuff, that there are lots of opportunities out there as long as you leverage the assets and the people, the resources that you’ve got, in a really smart way.

What is HelpBnk and how does it help businesses?

Bex Burn-Callander:

I want to come back to your point about social media because I know you’ve just got this insane social media following, but first can you tell us a bit about this business you’ve built in 12 months? Tell us about HelpBnk. What were you trying to achieve with it? Why that business right now?

Simon Squibb:

Well, basically when I left school at 15, I felt like my education had let me down.

It hadn’t taught me how to sell. It hadn’t taught me how accounts work. It hadn’t taught me how money worked. I hadn’t been taught financial literacy.

All the things that I think are part of real-world life hadn’t been taught to me.

So I went into the world and I found it hard. I really struggled. I felt lonely, and I built a business through no choice but to build a business, but it was painful and took me decades.

And I said to myself during the process of building it on my own, that one day I’m going to go back and fix the education system.

I’m going to go back and insert financial literacy into the school system. I’m going to teach people business. I’m going to teach them that we’ve got this muscle in our brain, we’ve all got it, that you’ve got an idea, you can make it real.

The headphones I’m wearing, the laptop you are looking at, the chair you’re sitting on, these were all ideas in someone’s head once and they made it real.

And so I vowed that the day I could afford to do so, I would go back and teach the 15-year-old me, these things. And that came at 40.

It took me 25 years to get to a point where I could financially pay all my bills, not worry about money, and I can start helping people for free.

So that’s what I did.

Initially, it wasn’t called HelpBnk at the beginning, it was just called Simon Squibb on TikTok. And I would just go on TikTok and I would just let people ask questions and I would answer them.

It was just purely, I’d retired, I’d sold my company, and I just wanted to help that 15-year-old me realise that their only option wasn’t go to university. Their only option wasn’t to get a job that they don’t love.

And I wanted to give people that knowledge for free, and it just seemed to blow up.

I mean, every time I went on social and posted a bit of knowledge, every time I went on these platforms and shared what I knew, I realised more and more that there wasn’t actually anybody on these platforms who had done it, with no money and became successful.

Most of the people on these platforms, no disrespect, but were selling a course. And most of the time they’d rented the Lamborghini for a day, and they hadn’t really actually done it like I’d done it.

So I was quite unique on the platforms back in the day, this is 5 or 6 years ago.

So when I started out, I was original because I’d actually done it with no money, and now I was giving my knowledge on these platforms. And slowly my social media clout, as we call it in the game, grew.

And then eventually I realised that I can’t help everybody and that I needed a platform that was more than just me.

I wanted to therefore build HelpBnk, and the idea behind HelpBnk is that we pay people to help people for free on HelpBnk.

You go on the platform, and you can get help for free, you’ll never be charged for help, but there is a community now of 150 to 1,000 people on that platform that will help you.

And we will pay people through our leaderboard model. We have the top 50 who help the most each month, and we pay those people in any way we can.

Money, yes, of course we pay people with cash, but we also pay them with things that money can’t buy, like access to events and to meet their heroes and do things that perhaps isn’t just about money.

And so we say thank you to the people that help people, and that way we’re able to help people for free at scale and reward those that help people.

So it’s a platform not just to help people, but to help people help people.

The Twickenham staircase of dreams and pitches       

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s really cool. And I suppose because you’re an investor as well, there’s the added bonus that if you come on there and you learn from what you’re saying, these people might build a business that you will later invest in, or will come to your attention in some other way.

Simon Squibb:

Well, I actually built a slightly different mechanism to help with that because I feel like a lot of people want to get their business noticed and get it invested in, and so I wanted to teach people a little bit about how that works.

So of course, I give all my knowledge on angel investing away for free on my YouTube channel.

But beyond that, I bought a staircase in Twickenham when it came up for property auction, first staircase ever in the world to come up on auction.

And I put a doorbell on the bottom of it and I said, “If you’ve got a dream, go to that staircase, press the doorbell and pitch it to the doorbell.” And then we edit it and upload it to YouTube, so 6 million people get to see your dream.

It’s kind of a modern Dragon’s Den almost, where people can go and pitch their dream for free, and they don’t have to fill out a load of forms on the BBC.

They can just go there, pitch it, and we get 5 or 6 pitches a day. There’ll be a queue there right now and people about to pitch their dream, and then we upload it so everyone can hear it.

And then on that, we’ve raised money for people.

In the comments people have said, “I’ll invest in it”, or they’ve got clients, because that’s most of the time what people need money for, to get a client.

We’ve had people join that company and that idea, become co-founders. And the last video, the day before yesterday’s video, got 51 million views.

So if you are a new business and you want to get noticed, it’s not a bad way to start.

Most of the time you get all the clients you need, all the income you need, and you don’t need an investor after that.

Bex Burn-Callander:

But this is amazing because it’s a huge outlay in terms of money, time, all kinds of resources for you to basically help people get their foot on the staircase, pardon the pun.

But then, I mean, you don’t have unlimited hours in the day, you don’t have unlimited funds. Why do this and keep doing it for such a long time?

Simon Squibb:

First of all, I’ve built the business as a for-profit, not as a charity. And for me, that’s quite an important thing to do because I don’t want to take any money out of the pockets of charities.

And I think that the charity model, although brilliant for some businesses, it’s not the right model for me.

Because I have an engineer, for example, who I pay a lot of money to that would be coming out of charity funds if I did that.

So Google pay their engineers $16 million a year. Now Google, if it was a charity, probably wouldn’t exist. It’s hard to justify paying those sorts of salaries to people if you’re a charity.

So I run it as a for-profit business. The only twist is that I take all the profit that we make and I give it away to fund people’s dreams.

We want to be profitable. We need brand sponsors, for example, that sponsor us and we have some brilliant partners that sponsor us.

We have a huge amount of revenue that comes in from our social media channels, and we take all that money and it funds the editing team to edit the clips and put them up online. And it funds the copywriters to put that up in the right way, so people get noticed, and it funds the cost of running the staircase, which by the way, isn’t a huge cost.

But I’ve got a very talented team of 14 people and they all need to earn money. But we have a brilliant system that is now built up.

Initially I put £1 million of my own money into this to get it going, but now it’s almost self-sustaining, and eventually it will be very profitable, and we will take that profit and just give it to people to fund their dreams.

I believe in building businesses that aren’t just about philanthropy. If I just give money and then I die, that’s the end of it, isn’t it?

I wanted to build something that was self-contained, self-sustained, and eventually would be a flywheel model that could give people access to education for free, funding their businesses for free, and the community and support they need for free.

And fix the problem I felt I desperately needed when I was 15 years old and didn’t have.

How to get pitch perfect and win investment

Bex Burn-Callander:

And I suppose because you’ve had this experience watching all these pitches, you must know what makes a really amazing pitch.

What is the thing that you should include, maybe above all else?

And then also what is the stuff that lets people down and makes inventors think, “Oh, actually it’s not for me.” Can you share any of those either the great things you should always include and that you see, and the things you shouldn’t?

Simon Squibb:

If people want to get investment, it’s very important that people understand this basic concept.

Do not ask people for money because they’ll give you advice, but if you ask people for advice and they like what you’re doing, they’ll give you money.

So don’t ask for money, ask for advice if you want to get an investor to invest in you.

And so having said that, I think it depends on the setting that you are in. If you are in a setting where it’s about, “Pitch me your business, I’m going to invest,” then certainly ask for money. You are there to get investment, so say how much you need.

But make sure you’re clear on what you’re going to do with the money so the investor understands how they can bring value.

Because for example, if someone pitched to me and said, and this happened recently, that they need £500,000 for marketing.

Well, I’m like, “I can market you for free. You don’t need to spend all that money on marketing.”

So certainly, I think understanding what your weaknesses are as a company and being honest about them in your pitch, I always want to see the vulnerabilities. I want to understand the problems in the business.

So that, one, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. I want to know what the problems are so I can see how to fix it. And equally I want to know so that I don’t get caught off guard and you tell me the problems later.

And then finally, I’d say for a lot of people, they don’t put their purpose in there.

They’re busy telling me about the market gap they’re going to fill. They’re busy telling me about how they’re going to be worth billions.

I want to know why it’s personal to the person pitching the business, why it matters to them.

And that’s what’s going to make them follow through, and people don’t include that enough in their pitch.

What do investors want to invest in right now?

Bex Burn-Callander:

Simon, from an investor’s perspective then, are there particular kinds of businesses that are really in vogue now?

You mentioned AI a little while ago, I presume that got its tentacles wrapped around all the newfangled brilliant ideas that are coming out now.

But are there particular things that investors really want to put money towards right now and things that they maybe don’t?

Simon Squibb:

Well, I mean, statistically a huge amount of money is going into AI right now.

I personally am not focused on AI, I always focus on the people. I want to know the person. I’m investing in the person, not the idea.

And I don’t really see trends. For example, fixing the education system. I’m investing in businesses that are interested in also fixing the education system, because then I can merge it with my existing platform or partner with my existing platform.

So I tend to invest today in businesses that are focused on my present agenda.

In the past, however, I certainly invested in things that I thought were a market gap, but I’ve learned my lesson.

Just because it’s a market gap doesn’t mean to say that the company that’s working on that market gap, filling the market gap, is the right company.

It’s all to do with people, whether that person cares. Like I was just saying about angel investing, whether that person cares about the problem.

So I now focus on education-related businesses as opposed to just general businesses.

And I think that’s a good thing for people to learn.

What does the investor they’re talking to want to invest in? What are they presently actively involved in, and what problem are they personally working on solving?

That’s a good way of tapping into whether or not that person would invest in your business.

Bex Burn-Callander:

I guess if I were an angel, you don’t want to put your money into something where you don’t fully understand the core technology, or you can’t sketch out how it works.

Because then you never really know if it’s making progress or if it’s really solving the problem because the tech itself is so obscure.

Simon Squibb:

I guess that argument is true, although the only thing I would say is that I think sometimes the mission matters more.

For example, Elon Musk, I don’t think anyone can do a podcast these days without mentioning Elon Musk at some point, Elon Musk was the first one to say he didn’t know much about rocket ships.

He isn’t the best expert at rocket ships, but he believes that the human race needs to be on a second planet in case this planet gets wiped out.

So the mission is get someone to Mars and he doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to make that happen, he just needs to hire rocket scientists.

So he cares about the problem and then he will use his substantial resources to bring in the talent to do what’s needed.

And I think that’s an important lesson.

I’m not a tech person, I’m not a very skilled engineer, but I am building a tech product today. So I have brought in talented tech people.

Now can I code? A little bit. But am I a good coder? Definitely not.

But I know what a good coder looks like. I don’t want to go away and learn code, but I do want to build a platform that helps people get the knowledge they need for free to do what they love.

So I think sometimes at different stages in your life, maybe you have a different stance. Maybe when you’re younger, maybe only work on things that you have the skillset to do or build up your skillset in that thing.

When you are older, maybe you’re a bit more financially secure, I do think buying in the talent to do the things you want to do instead of you doing them, is a pretty interesting way to do things.

An accountant should always be your first hire

Bex Burn-Callander:

Yeah because sometimes it’s, as you say, it’s not the best use of your time to spend however many thousands of hours to become proficient at a brand new thing when there’s someone that’s already amazing at it, and could do it straight away.

Simon Squibb:

Totally. Yeah. Which is why I always hire an accountant, by the way. I always get help.

And I always use the appropriate software. I mean, I don’t go build my own when it’s out there already.

I think people don’t realise there’s a lot of off-the-shelf stuff out there that they can use, and you don’t need to go and do it all yourself.

Bex Burn-Callander:

We love accountants. You can talk accountants all you like.

Simon Squibb:

Yeah, that’s the first hire, every company I’ve ever started, by the way, that has been my first hire.

Because I’m so bad at accounts, but I know how important managing the money is and cashflow kills companies.

I know this, so I always hire an accountant, first hire, every business I’ve ever built.

Bex Burn-Callander:

And when you say it’s your first hire, are you in touch with them, asking them for P&L every day, every week, or what kind of support do they give you?

Do they just say, “You are running out of money. Stop, stop, stop,” or like, “Oh, you could spend more in this area because you’re making more margin in this area.”

What do they say to you?

Simon Squibb:

Well, when I was younger, I was less experienced.

In the gardening company, for example, it was literally like, “Here’s all the paperwork. Here’s all the receipts. Here’s all the invoices we’ve got to send out to people. Can you please just take care of it and let me know if we’re running low on money.”

So it was very basic back in the early days.

But HelpBnk, for example, the accountant I have there, they’re basically helping me project the future and helping me understand what we could be investing in now that will bring money in the future.

So it’s much more forward projection. Less about just looking after the basic accounts and the mundane stuff, but more about thinking about how the business can scale using numbers and accounts to build out a model that, for example, other people want to invest in because they can see the projections of what could be achieved if we carry on the present trajectory.

And a good CFO will help you do that. A good accountant will help you understand your forward projection, not just your previous accounts activity.

Bex Burn-Callander:

We recently had an amazing accountant called Julie on the show. She’s known as The Financial Fortune Teller, and you are literally preaching to the choir because she was saying the same thing, how empowering numbers can be.

And how, weirdly, especially in this country, a lot of people are quite frightened of numbers for some reason, and no one really knows why, but we seem to be really nervous about really getting down and dirty with the basic metrics underpinning our businesses.

Simon Squibb:

Yeah, I think that’s why, again, I want to teach financial literacy in school because numbers are not to be scared of.

I did okay at maths in school and stuff, but I always felt like it wasn’t translated into a real-world activity. I felt like I was a calculator when I was learning maths at school.

It wasn’t really showing me, “Well, Simon how does compound work?” And if you understand compound interest, it’s a bit like building anything, over time it builds value.

But this isn’t taught, and it still blows my mind that this isn’t taught, but I learned to really respect accountants.

And that’s why, as I say, my first hire at every single business that’s been successful, I’ve had an accountant.

And I do genuinely value that back system backing up the front business, because without knowing when you are going to earn money, you can’t inspire people to come and work with you.

You can’t say, “Look, one day, if we achieve this, you’ll earn more. You’ll get more. Or the equity in the company that you own will be worth more.”

You need it to also inspire, it’s self-fulfilling.

What’s the difference between building a brand and building a business?

Bex Burn-Callander:

So have an accountant, one, and you’ve also said build a brand, not a business.

Tell us what exactly is the difference, and how radically different is the journey to building a brand compared to if you’re just setting out to build a business?

Simon Squibb:

Well, building a brand, not a business, is primarily my thesis around this after decades of doing both.

If you build a brand, you are building value. If you just build a business, it’s very commoditised.

Probably the best example is Nike. They are just a shoe made in China. And so the cost of goods is probably $10, but why can they charge £170, £180, £200, £500 for their shoes?

In large, part of it is because you’re buying into a brand, you’re buying into a value proposition.

And so many people don’t understand what a brand is.

A brand is a club. It’s a philosophy that you buy into. It’s an image sometimes, in the case of Nike, and it adds so much value.

So I have built businesses, the gardening company was a business, not a brand. What happens with that business is, if someone comes along and offers the same service at the same price or a little bit cheaper, people will switch.

Whereas if I’m a brand, a trusted company, you know that your house is safe when you’re not there, your garden is being taken care of, and you can charge a premium.

And I didn’t know that when I built the gardening company. So I did have people come along and they offered it cheaper and people switched because I wasn’t a brand, I was just a business.

And so I think the key is understand what brand is and then apply it.

The other real benefit of building a brand, not a business, is most of the time you can scale if you are a brand.

So I have built companies like Fluid and Nest, and these companies are run by other people. Eventually I build them up so that someone else can run them.

Because as an entrepreneur, you don’t want to get trapped in your own business. That’s as bad as working for someone else when you don’t love the job. You don’t want to be trapped in your own company.

So by building a brand, you end up building a philosophy that goes beyond you personally.

So if I walked up to someone and said, “I’m Simon Squibb, please buy from me,” maybe they will because I’ve built a personal brand, but people will buy from Apple because it’s Apple, and they’ll buy from Samsung because it’s Samsung.

Sometimes they won’t buy from Samsung because it’s a brand they don’t like, or they won’t buy from Apple because it’s a brand they don’t like.

I think people don’t understand how powerful brand is, but it allows you to scale.

Luckily, Steve Jobs didn’t call Apple “Steve Jobs.”

At the end of the day, you’ve got to build what that brand stand for, and then it will live when you are gone, and it’ll work when you are not there.

And so that’s what’s happened in all my businesses previously. They work today, still today, even though I’m not there because I built a brand, not a business.

Build your brand online by having fun and having a purpose

Bex Burn-Callander:

And I guess a lot of people, especially when they’re starting out, that brand building is happening mostly online.

And I know that you started your online brand, Simon Squibb on TikTok, but then that’s very different to what the social media landscape looks like today. It’s so much harder to be seen.

I’m curious, what do you do today to build your brand on social media or on any digital channels really?

And what can the newbies who are listening, who need a bit of advice, what can they learn from that strategy in terms of building their own businesses, their brands, online?

Simon Squibb:

First of all, I tell everybody it’s not a crowded market.

Don’t tell yourself that and not do it, that’s just an excuse. It’s a bit like when people want to start a business and they say they’ve got no money, it’s just an excuse. Don’t use these things as excuses not to start.

Starting a business, you can start by just starting a social media handle and posting that you’re doing it, telling your friends that you’re doing it. None of it has to cost any money.

I think the same when it comes to social media, don’t talk yourself out of it before you’ve even started.

For example, it took me 1 year to get 10,000 followers on Instagram. It took me another year to get 100,000 followers on Instagram.

And then in the last 2 months I’ve had 525,000 new followers.

Bex Burn-Callander:


Simon Squibb:

So it’s compound. It’s just like finances, it’s exactly the same. You’ve just got to keep doing the reps.

And I think that if I was starting out today, I’d have the same attitude I had back when I started originally, which is I’m going to do this because it’s fun.

I’m going to do this because it’s important that I help people learn business. It’s important I give people another way of making an income if they need it.

I helped the people that got furloughed that were all in the F&B industry. They had no job, but they needed a new way of making money. It was important. I got up every day and I did it because it was important.

So I think if you instill that sense of purpose, whatever that means for you, whatever your backstory is, into what you do, and then every single day enjoy it.

Fun is not used enough in business, learn to enjoy it. Every single day, do it, and find your groove.

Social media is quite a deep landscape and I think that people should think about not what they should do to get popular with the algorithm, but what they can do that’s sustainable for them.

For example, I don’t mind going on camera. So sticking a phone up in front of my face and making a video is no problem for me.

When I first did it, by the way, I did find it to be very awkward, but I’ve got used to it. But some people don’t like that and they won’t ever like that. They’re introverts, it’s not their thing.

So maybe think about what you do like.

For example, maybe you like writing blogs, maybe you like going deep on subjects and writing it down. Then go on LinkedIn and do that. Go on blog forums, go on

Go to places where your talent can be applied, as opposed to going where the latest trend is.

I mean, right now, reels and shorts and video short-form content is very popular, but that might not be your groove.

So go do your groove, go do you, and enjoy it.

The most important thing is enjoy it, and then it won’t feel like a 5-year slog. I don’t feel like I’ve been doing this social media personal brand building for 5 years, I literally feel like it’s 6 weeks.

If you ask me, quickly guess how long I’ve been doing it, 6 weeks, not 5 years. And that’s because I’ve been enjoying it.

Don’t let social media distract you

Bex Burn-Callander:

I think it’s really important to say that as well to people, especially when they’re starting out, that things do take time.

And when it comes to building a brand especially, it takes years. What’s the phrase? It takes 12 years to build an overnight success or something.

I think too many people hope that they’re going to launch their business on Instagram and then a week later they’re going to have 50,000 followers. And it’s just not the way it usually works.

It’s possible, but it’s unlikely.

Simon Squibb:

Also, sometimes social media distracts people from running their businesses properly.

For example, I was advising someone who started a window cleaning business recently. And they were making these TikToks where basically they were showing a window before and after it was cleaned, and it was great, but they weren’t getting any customers from it.

They were getting views, but they weren’t getting any customers. And they were like, “We’re not getting any people contacting us to clean their windows.”

And I’m like, “Okay, listen, stand outside in the street and look for dirty windows and knock on their door.”

Sometimes you just have to go back to basics and stop letting social media distract you.

If you are a B2B business you’re probably better off just knocking on the door of the person you’re trying to work with.

If you’re a B2C business, okay, social media can be hugely powerful and a new income stream for businesses.

So I definitely believe in the merits of social media, especially for social good. I think social media can be used for social good, but don’t let it distract you. Sometimes you don’t need it.

How to whittle out what’s not working

Bex Burn-Callander:

I think it’s important that a lot of the advice you’re giving involves stopping, sitting down, taking out a pad and paper or your laptop or whatever, and thinking, “What am I spending a lot of time on and what’s it bringing back? What’s it doing for the business?”

So that example with the window cleaner, spending all this time making videos and not a single sale from it.

But I think a lot of small business owners, they just don’t feel like they’ve got the time to stop and be like, “Right, big picture. What am I wasting my time on?”

And maybe don’t know even where to start with a real sort of strategic overhaul.

So is there something, a process, that you follow when you are trying to whittle out what’s not working and can you share that? Is it like a SWOT analysis, what do you do?

Simon Squibb:

Well, I’ve got 6 million followers on social media, and what I tend to do is think about what value I can bring the audience.

I mean, for example, I’d love to all day long go, “You should go on HelpBnk, HelpBnk’s amazing. You should go on HelpBnk, HelpBnk’s amazing.”

But that’s not bringing value to the community I’m serving.

I think the framework I always tell people, and this is true in business in general, but successful businesses think about how they can bring value to their customers and that’s what they spend their time doing.

And if you do that, those customers will refer you. You’ll get a better brand. People just need to spend more time thinking about what’s good for their customers.

And brands in the future that don’t think this way will die.

And I think that’s what you should think about with social media too.

You should go on to any platform and think, “Right, what can I give someone today that will help them? What can I do that will be successful?”

I frame this up as don’t think about give and take. Give and take is a noun we’ve all got used to, “I’ll help you if you help me.” It’s a dangerous noun in business.

The one that would really rocket you to the moon, and I’ve experienced it myself, is give without take. Go into situations and help people without any expectation of anything in return.

Now it might not sound very businessy when I say this, but it is calmer, and I noticed my life has been so much better when I started just helping people without a catch, without any expectation of anything in return.

And I went to a Mini garage recently, I was going to buy a new Mini.

And I was speaking to the lady who was selling the Mini. She’s such a brilliant salesperson because what she said was, “You don’t need to buy a Mini, it’s the wrong car for you right now. But when the right model comes along, I’ll let you know.”

Because I described what I needed and she told me that what I needed, they didn’t have. And it was all about how many miles the electric car gets.

Anyway, the point I’m making is that they were honest. And you know what? I respect Mini more for allowing her to be honest and I respect that person.

And if they ping me in the future and say, “I’ve now got the perfect car for you,” I’ll definitely read the email.

And I think that’s the thing. Give value, be honest, be authentic. This is not taught enough in business.

We seem to still have this weird idea that greed is good, tread on people to get ahead mentality, but I think it’s so wrong.

In business, true success comes from that reputation and that giving and that helping people and doing what you can.

And then that always comes back tenfold if you live that way and build your business that way.

Bex Burn-Callander:

We’re back to compounding again.

Simon Squibb:

Yeah, so my new favourite word.

Risk breeds luck

Bex Burn-Callander:

But I’m glad that you said that you want to help people because we did actually let our listeners know that we would be talking to you today.

Some of them have submitted some questions, so I’d love to ask you a couple if that’s all right.

Simon Squibb:

Of course.

Bex Burn-Callander:

“What single piece of advice would you give to someone who dreams of starting a business but always struggles to take real action towards making it happen?”

I think a lot of people out there actually ask themselves and other people this question, “How can I get past that block?”

Simon Squibb:

Well, first of all, I don’t know the circumstances of the person asking the question, but I can predict and say that they need to put themselves in a position where they need to take the risk.

You see, a lot of people want to make it, but you don’t make it by wanting to make it. Every single one of your listeners will want to make it. People that make it, need to make it.

So that person, they need to move their want to a need. And it’s a mindset thing alongside frankly an accountability thing.

An extreme version of this would be quit your job and then you’ve got no choice but to make this thing you’ve been procrastinating about work. It kind of works.

The Vikings used to call this burning the boats. You get somewhere and you burn the boat that got you there, so you’re either going to die on this island or you’re going to conquer it.

And that’s an element that people need to build into their lives.

And I say it carefully because equally you don’t want people to quit without a plan. You don’t want people to quit without a nest egg or some sort of security so they don’t end up in difficult situations.

But equally, you’ve also got to make sure as a human being, you push yourself a bit. You’ve got to take risks, that’s how you get luck.

Luck has nothing to do with hard work. Luck is all to do with the more risk you take, the luckier you get.

In answer to that question, people just need to go for it.

Realise you’ve only got one life. Take risks because all you’ll have is stories in the end anyway, you can’t take money with you.

And you’ve got to go for it, you’ve got to just take risks to have luck.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Wow, that’s great. That’s great advice. I love the idea that it’s actually by taking risks that you make luck. I’ve never heard that before as a sort of consequential theory where one leads to the other.

But I suppose you can never test whether you’re lucky or whether your luck will hold out unless you take a risk in the first place, unless you do something which needs a lucky outcome.

Simon Squibb:

Totally. Well, 100% I proved it. I’ve done a lot of studying on this. The harder you work, the luckier you get, is the narrative that you’re sold. It’s not true.

Because if that was true, nurses would be multi-millionaires. They work bloody hard. I mean, working hard is not necessarily going to equal success. It can lead to burnout, it can lead to a lot of dangerous things.

The reason I’m successful today is because I’ve taken a lot of risk. In the early years I had no choice but to take a risk.

But I think as I’ve developed my risk muscle in my brain, it genuinely has led to so much luck because I’ve put myself out on social media and the fear of embarrassment, the fear of being teased or looked down upon, it doesn’t matter, I’ve broken through and I’m successful now.

It’s just taking that risk when everyone else won’t is often what will make you successful.

How to cultivate confidence and overcome the fear of failure

Bex Burn-Callander:

And weirdly, our second question relates to this because they’re asking, “If you are not a confident person, how can you find the will to overcome your fear of failure and bet on yourself?”

I guess, I don’t know, maybe you’ve had failures before or maybe you are shy or there’s stuff going on where you just don’t have that innate self-confidence, which we’re led to believe you need to be an entrepreneur. So how do you get from A to B?

Simon Squibb:

Well, I mean, again, someone talking about not having the self-confidence, I think it’s quite normal.

I also have dips in my confidence levels, especially when it comes to doing stuff on TikTok. I’m like, “What am I doing here? Maybe I’m too old for this.”

I think the main part is just doing it, the repetition of doing it. It’s kind of interesting to overcome your fears.

I mean, I don’t like rollercoaster rides. I get scared, but when I’ve gone on one, at the end of it, I’m like, “Yes, I did it. I feel exhilarated and alive.” I think that pleasure is on the other end of fear.

So partly you’ve got to learn to leverage fear. Fear is an asset that makes you run faster.

I mean, the original design of fear was a lion is coming towards us, you feel fear, and you run faster. You literally run faster and you think differently. You’ll figure out how to survive and climb up a tree.

Fear is an asset. So when you’re feeling the fear that you’re talking about now that people feel, it’s good. It’ll make you perform better.

So leverage it, learn to love fear, lean into it, and kind of go for it and have a story. If nothing else, you’ll have a story.

Bex Burn-Callander:

But have you ever had a crisis of confidence? Have you ever had the wind completely taken out of your sails? And can you tell me about that experience and how you, in that time, came back from it?

Simon Squibb:

Yeah, I’ve had it many times. I think the most serious time was when I sold my company.

When I sold my company, I thought I’d made it. I was like, “Okay, I’ve got all the money I need in the world and I’ve done it.”

I’ve gone from nothing to successful. I’ve built a business and sold it, which everyone thinks is the dream.

And it turns out that that’s not the dream. And I was quite depressed for a while after I sold my company and I felt like I’d lost my identity, like who am I?

I’m retired at 40 and I’m meeting people who are working hard and they’re like, “What do you do?” I’m like, “Oh, I don’t do anything. I sold my company.”

I really felt lost, and I felt like I didn’t have a reason to be here.

And so I got over it by analysing what I like and what I don’t like, so whatever I do in the future, I try to focus on things that I like to do.

And then I also looked at what problems upset me in my past and then applied myself to fix it for the future. And I think that’s how I overcame it. I made it not about me.

Although if you watch my social media, you might think it’s all about me. It’s not, it’s about the people I’m featuring in the videos. It’s about their dream, about what they need, and about how we can help them.

And so I just re-engineered my life and made it about what can I do to make the world a better place.

It sounds cheesy, but that got me up in the morning, got me excited again, and got me back on track to having the life I have today, which I love.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Thank you for sharing that. I think sometimes people need to hear that even super successful, visible people, who seem very confident, they too can have their own crises and stuff going on that no one sees on the outside. So thank you for sharing that.

Angel investors vs high-street banks

Bex Burn-Callander:

And one final listener question, “Are some industries better suited for start-up businesses to get finance from the high-street banks and some better for angels?”

So are there certain sectors that are just made for angel investment and a high-street bank won’t touch it and I guess vice versa? Or has that game changed now?

Simon Squibb:

Well, I mean, in short, banks tend to lend around assets, like a property, or they lend around cash flow. So if you’ve got perhaps an order from a client and the order’s coming but you just need an overdraft until that money drops in your account, banks will tend to operate around those sorts of models.

But with angel investors, however, it depends on the stages that you go in at. So, if you haven’t started yet, certain types of angels probably want a higher percentage amount in the company but will take a risk on a company that hasn’t started yet.

And then you’ve got angel investors that will invest in businesses that perhaps are up and running but need a bit more capital to get to profitability.

And then you’ve got angel investors that will invest in profitable businesses, and by investing in them, they will make them even more profitable.

So there’s different types of business stages and different types of investors that will fund those different stages.

And then you get into VCs, which often invest in high-growth companies, and pre-IPO investors, which gets very sophisticated, but before you’re about to list.

But there’s lots of different stages and I think you need to decide what you want.

I mean, I think the number 1 rule for investors is make sure that you are getting someone come into your company that can bring value, no matter what part of the chain you’re in there.

And if someone comes in and brings value it shouldn’t just be money, hopefully it’ll also bring expertise and support to help you make your business work. They’re the best sort of investors to get.

Bex Burn-Callander:

On the bank funding, the famous phrase that I love is that the bank will always give you an umbrella when the sun is shining.

Simon Squibb:

And they ask for it back when it rains.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Yeah, exactly.

And with angels, I think, isn’t it also about your personal ambitions and your own risk appetite and ability to withstand pressure?

Because if you’ve got a back-of-an-envelope business idea and you get angel investment for it, a huge sum of money for example, the pressure to succeed is enormous.

So you need to be that kind personality that thrives under those circumstances, otherwise you’ll just wither and it wouldn’t have been worth the check being written.

Simon Squibb:

I’ve done both, and I would only say that don’t be fearful of fear.

And so there are bad investors, then there are good investors. And there are opportunities to take money, like you say, that maybe comes with pressure but allows you to build something that changes the world.

And I think you should do it. I think if your business needs it, you should do it.

The only caveat I would say is make sure that you don’t get a new boss. Sometimes when people get an investor, they’re doing it as a shortcut.

So most businesses that come to me for investment, what they actually need to get better at is sales. They just need more revenue. They shouldn’t be asking for money, they should be asking, “How can I get more revenue?” And 90% of businesses that come to me for money are like that.

So you don’t want a new boss just because you can’t sell, what you want to do is hire a sales manager or bring someone in that’s going to bring you clients.

Bex Burn-Callander:

That’s great advice. Simon, I think that’s probably a good place to stop. I’m such a fan of you. I have loved having you on the show and I kind of feel like there’s a massive gap in the market for someone like you on TV, so I hope you’re working on a TV show…

Simon Squibb:

We actually are working on a TV show.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Are you?

Simon Squibb:

We are, we are.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Ooh, can you tell us about it?

Simon Squibb:

Well, the whole idea is we take someone’s dream from zero to hero and we document it.

Bex Burn-Callander:


Simon Squibb:

And we’ve started doing the trailers on YouTube, and hopefully soon be able to announce a broadcasting partner. But YouTube is good enough for now.

Bex Burn-Callander:

Oh, that’s amazing. All right, well, you heard it here folks, so look out for his new show.

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