Jan Cavelle:  Women Creating a Waves in the World 2023

Jan Cavelle is a global expert on start-ups.   She has two books to her credit, Scale for Success, Bloomsbury Publishing 2021, and Start for Success which came out in 2023.

How she got to this point is unusual but also gives her a truly authentic insight to her writing. Jan is an entrepreneur from the UK who has a few decades of both founding and running small businesses behind her, building one from a kitchen table startup as a single mother with two young children, into a multi-million turnover business.  She has had companies in a multitude of sectors, from manufacturing to event management, so her expertise draws on her own extensive experience.

For Jan, the drive and mission was to create a better life for her children.  It was tough growing a business and being a single Mum.  Combined with that, Jan is the first to admit that she started out as a very accidental entrepreneur and learned a lot of harsh lessons along the way. 

As success came, so did the accolades, earning Jan regional and national awards in sales and entrepreneurship.  Jan was chosen as one of the first 50 women to represent the UK government in the European Union in a campaign to encourage entrepreneurship.  It was a huge honor.  But it also sparked a passion to encourage and support other entrepreneurs.  Jan went on to become involved in many more campaigns, working with schools, universities, and business groups.

Jan is passionate about empowering others who might otherwise hesitate, often through lack of knowledge or self-belief, to try starting a business.  In addition, as entrepreneurship became more well-known, thanks not least to the popularity of a spate of television shows, Jan Cavelle was also concerned about the misconceptions about what entrepreneurship really is.  

She felt this was extremely dangerous, and it saddens her to this day when she receives mail asking her to “make me an entrepreneur” or “what business should I start to be a millionaire.”  Jan explains, “Many people have no idea of the reality of what it takes to research, set up and run a successful business.  They have been led to believe it is an instant switch to wealth and happiness”.

When she saw an advertisement for a magazine in London seeking an entrepreneur to write a diary of what it is really like to run a business, Jan leaped at the chance.  It offered her an opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming a writer and also to write realistically about the challenges every entrepreneur faces; the cash flow issues, the loneliness, the fear, the leadership challenges with growth, and much, much more.   Jan explains, “I absolutely love entrepreneurship; it brought me so much opportunity, such an amazing life.  But people need to know the realities as well.  Success comes at a cost”.

Eventually, the years of trying to balance motherhood and growing a business took its toll, and Jan had to realize that she was facing burnout.  Her motivation had gone with the children leaving home, and she had been running on an empty battery for far too long.  She was physically and mentally all out. 

Surprising everyone, Jan made the decision to walk away from a 20-year-old business in a matter of just a few weeks, with no other plan than to sleep and recuperate – and probably retire altogether.  It was a decision she has never regretted.    However, within a matter of weeks, it was clear there was one thing Jan missed desperately.  She contacted her old editor and started writing again.

Over the months that followed, there was time for Jan to reflect on her career, what had gone right, and what hadn’t worked at all.  She realized talking to other entrepreneurs that many were facing the same issues at the same point she had; the leap up from 1-2m turnover into a full-blown scale-up.    Fascinated, Jan started to talk to them more and make notes on common denominators.  She heard one entrepreneur talk about that leap in size being “The Death Valley” of entrepreneurial businesses.   “We all know the figures on start-ups failing,” Jan says, “but the issues with early scale are far less well-known”.

The result of two years extensive research would become Jan’s first book, Scale for Success.  She found that many people drift into setting up a company with little knowledge or plan and still find success, as she did.  Key foundations can then be missed.  When foundations are shaky, sooner or later, that house cannot take any more weight and sags or falls down altogether.

Defining sales and marketing is primary.  Startups sell everything to anyone but for a business to grow sustainably they need to refine their offering into something with a huge market demand that can be easily replicated.  Your differentiation has to be extremely well defined, your brand values and personality fully defined.  You have to be developing not just a customer base, but a devoted fan base.

Leadership is another area that causes problems.  Many startups bring on early team members, often highly skilled people and imagine they are the right choice for the management team.  More often than not, these people may excel in their original area, but lack the skill set or the desire to morph into leaders. They bring nothing to the table, and the decision damages both sides. It is crucial to bring in an experienced management team as early as possible.

Another trap is to fail to prioritize both self-care and self-development.  Morphing from a tiny start-up to a fast-growing business means having enough ego to recognize yourself as a vital business asset that needs looking after, while being humble enough to recognize your own lack of knowledge and experience and prioritize changing that.   Your company will only grow as much as you do.  

Culture is another dangerous area.  Relatively easy when you are tiny, growing a company means becoming more systemized, more aware of productivity, more focussed on delivery to all the stakeholders.  The culture easily changes from one of relaxed fun to a group of dysfunctional people.  The misnomer that companies are so fond of using of “family” is damaging and exploitive.  Looking after people, truly valuing them, is what makes for a successful business.

Jan’s second book, Start for Success, covers these points and many more, empowering new and early-stage entrepreneurs to navigate the bumpy road to success.   She uses examples and stories from real life founders the world-over to give insight into the real challenges that founders face and illustrate the journey through all aspects of start-up life.  

It was a writing challenge that Jan set herself, wanting to use story telling as a way of teaching.  There were moments when she thought she had bitten off too big a challenge.  The research was immense, but the result was worth it.  The stories are both insightful, entertaining and, above all, completely authentic.  The volume of knowledge incorporated is immense.

Currently, Jan is busier than ever.  She is back speaking both live and virtually at events and podcasts.  She still writes her regular column and articles for a myriad of publications. Its too soon to talk about book three, but she has already established herself as a leading expert in the world of start-ups.

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