4 Reasons Why AIESEC Provides the Perfect Education for an Entrepreneur: Part 2

This is part two of a Guest Blog from Tom Weaver, previous Member Committee President of AIESEC United Kingdom 2002-2003, Founder of Flypay.

On Monday, I introduced you to my AIESEC experience and how the skills I learned supported me in becoming an entrepreneur and founding my startup Flypay. Here are the other two reasons for why AIESEC provides the perfect education for the future entrepreneur:

Reason 3: Entrepreneurs need to have passion and belief in what you do

AIESEC is amazing at building passion.  It’s what makes AIESEC so successful and sustained over so many decades.  When people join AIESEC they learn how to channel that passion into getting other people just as passionate about the concept and the product.

When you create a startup, you need to really believe in what you’re doing, and feel passionate about it.  That passion will come through for your customers, partners and investors.  I’ve met founders who seemed bored with their own creations, and I wouldn’t put my money into them.

Reason 4: Entrepreneurs need to be accountable in a totally different way than employees are accountable to their managers

One of the most fascinating aspects of AIESEC (speaking, perhaps now, with a UK slant) is how Local Committees have non-contractual accountability to the Member Committees (national teams), and how Member Committees have accountability to their Board of Directors.

In the case of the Member Committees (MC), there are very strong similarities with running a startup.  The typical AIESEC Board does not “manage” the MC.  They are non-executive.  But the MCs are accountable to that board.

Having a startup that has gone through a funding round is the first experience I’ve had of being accountable to a board since leaving AIESEC.  Every job I had, no matter how senior, I was simply reporting to a manager.  The previous company I built, Flywheel, was a consultancy and did not need investment- the two directors were the board.

In Flypay, aside from the two founders (myself and my CTO, Chris), we have an amazing board to guide the organization, and to be accountable to.  I have one Non-Exec who has vast experience running very large restaurant groups and is very well known in the industry.  He gives us the “restaurant operator” insight.  We have a Non-Exec, who is also an investor, who knows all the CIOs in the restaurant sector personally and advises us on our business development.  And we have one Non-Exec, who represents two investors and has a lifetime of experience in technology investment and is steering us towards our second round.

My job as CEO in this regard is very similar to my role of Member Committee President.  I ensure we are being transparent to the board and giving them a clear picture of the state of the organization.  Monthly, I present how we’re doing, and get agreement on strategic items too important for us to decide just as founders, such as a funding strategy.  We often come up with strategic input, but we ensure the board has a say. Working with them closely and building a good relationship is critical to get the best out of my company and my AIESEC experience with accountability structures has been very useful.

Conclusion

Being an entrepreneur and starting your own company is an amazing roller-coaster ride.  But you don’t (necessarily) have to start a venture straight after AIESEC.  Have other experiences that give you ideas.  Often the best concepts for startups come from the frustration of spotting a problem in your current job, and knowing that your current employer or client is not geared towards solving it.  Understand what it’s like to be an employee before you have employees.

That being said, joining small businesses that give you good exposure to a range of problems can be a beneficial path to take. They may have nothing to do with where you eventually start your own business (I was in educational consulting, then design consulting, then customer experience innovation consulting… then Flypay!).  I’ve known other alumni that joined very large businesses, and have done exceedingly well to get in senior roles, but they are now used to working at a macro level and would struggle to deal with the minutiae you have to deal with as a founder in a startup.

Whatever you do, make the most of your time in AIESEC.  It is a wonderful incubator for your entire career, and I’m thankful every day I discovered it.

Flypay is running for the SMARTA 100 mobile business of the year and we would really appreciate your support.  Vote for us by clicking the following link: www.flypay.co.uk/vote You can follow the guys on Twitter at @flypayuk, or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/flypayuk

For more information on how to get  involved with AIESEC, please visit our website www.aiesec.org

4 Reasons why AIESEC provides the perfect education for an Entrepreneur: Part 1

This is two part Guest Blog post from Tom Weaver, previous Member Committee President of AIESEC United Kingdom 2002-2003, Founder of Flypay.

“A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth.” 

– Paul Graham, investor & founder of startup incubator Y Combinator

My story: University, AIESEC and becoming an Entrepreneur

The AIESEC experience is like being thrown in the deep end of the swimming pool when you’ve just taken off your life jacket. Fortunately, this is exactly the induction that is needed for the aspiring entrepreneur. With AIESEC’s safe environment to try new things and fail, members are able to learn and acquire practical skills that are very much needed in the world of startups.

I felt I was in the deep end at every step of my AIESEC career, from a new member, to Local Committee President in AIESEC at the University of Southampton, to a trainer, and finally to National President of AIESEC United Kingdom in 2002.  The kinds of issues and challenges we faced day to day were well beyond what I needed to deal with for many years after, until I founded my startup company, Flypay.

At that point, I felt like I’d jumped into an even deeper swimming pool.  Fortunately for me, I knew a little bit about swimming by now.

Flypay’s Journey: From an idea to a startup

Flypay is an app that allows restaurant customers to check, split and pay their bill from their smartphone. The typical restaurant customer waits over ten minutes from the moment they are ready to leave, until the moment they are paid up and can leave. There are all sorts of difficulties with splitting the bill with others at your table. I felt that my business partner and I could solve this problem.

We launched in Wahaca, a major London Mexican restaurant brand, last month. We’re now slowly rolling out across their estate, as well as having some very positive discussions with some very large and well-loved UK restaurant brands.

Now we’re focusing on growth; growth in the number of restaurants using our solution; growth in the number of consumers using the app. And we need that growth fast! We need to get there before the PayPals of this world decide they can do what we do.

We’ve gone through one investment round, and will shortly begin our second, much more significant round.  We’ve had our first transactions, first users, first press, first positive tweets, and have just been nominated for Mobile Business of the Year (we need votes for this, so if you think we’re onto something please help by voting here)!

Through all of this, the skills I had gained in AIESEC were critical to our success, and I realized why AIESEC is such a perfect primer for startup founders.  Here are my four reasons.  It was three, but who needs to follow convention anyway?

Reason 1: Entrepreneurs need to be a generalist as well as a specialist

Aside from designing and creating the actual product, here are some of the things I’ve had to do in order to get Flypay off the ground. They may sound familiar to the well-seasoned AIESECer (a term we use for “members of AIESEC” for those of you who are not in the organisation):

  • Cold email the Managing Director of our first customer to persuade him to meet us
  • Persuade our first customer to take a chance on us in our first meeting
  • Persuade critical partners to work with us by selling them the vision of what we were going to achieve, and how they could be a part of it
  • Develop a business plan outlining what we were going to achieve (used as the basis for fundraising)
  • Pitch for funding (somewhat like going for sponsorship, only a bit of a larger number)
  • Build the best possible Board of Directors
  • Create a new business development and marketing strategy
  • Develop the product and execute the vision you’ve sold everyone
  • Sort the finances, and develop a very focused budget

Some people have very defined careers. They build up specialisms that determine their day-to-day job descriptions and projects.

Running a startup is not like that.  It is just like working in AIESEC- every day holds something very different.  One day I’m meeting a new client.  Another I’m networking with senior executives at a conference.  Today I’m running a board meeting and had a lot of materials to prepare.  We’ve got employees to manage, and product deadlines to hit.  I’m interviewing PR companies this week. I need to prepare a contractual agreement for a potential new client.

Being able to deal with a wide range of things from the very big picture to the very small details and shift from concept to execution very quickly is essential to the success of a startup.  This is what AIESECers do all the time.

Reason 2: Entrepreneurs need to be very good at persuasion and presenting

When you initiate a startup, you have a vision for something you want to change.  Often, you need to persuade a myriad of people to work with you.  We’ve needed to convince a lot of people that Flypay was worth their time- including our first clients, the restaurant systems that client used, a very large payment gateway provider, several merchant banks, investors and initial consumers.  They had to take a chance on something that (at early points) didn’t even have much of a product to put in front of people.

AIESECers learn to be persuasive because what they are selling is very conceptual (you don’t have a physical trainee there) and relatively complex (there is a whole process to go through).  That is a very useful thing to learn.

Once I left AIESEC I was blown away by how poor “normal professionals” are at presenting.  I saw, and still see, many highly paid and important, but insanely poor presenters. Yet, in AIESEC, we are used to getting up in front of large groups all the time.  It gives you a huge advantage.  When you go to pitch for investments you need every inch of those skills.  We had one presentation of five minutes in front of 25 “dragons” followed by five minutes of questions, but were told we were unusually good at presenting and made an excellent impression (and gained two investors and an offer of more from the experience).

Interested to hear more? Come back on Wednesday for the continuation of Tom Weaver’s guest post, as well as his final thoughts on AIESEC and entrepreneurship.

Are you ready to start improving the skills you need to become an entrepreneur? Sign up to become a member of AIESEC now!

19 Leadership Lessons Learned through a Youth-led Organisation

Christina Buiza, a student at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, spent four years in AIESEC- taking roles in the corporate-facing side of AIESEC, and multiple leadership experiences. A few years later, she reflected on her experiences and realised she learned two very important leadership lessons:

1. Don’t let your fears and self-doubt get in the way of doing amazing work.
2. You can’t lead anyone if you can’t lead yourself first. Listen to yourself and pay attention to your needs first.

If you are interested in hearing more about Christina’s leadership journey, check out her blog here.

She reached out to her network across Canada to hear about her colleagues’ most important leadership lessons they wanted to share with the world. With her permission, we’ve reposted these great lessons here.

“As a student leader who led a chapter of the world’s largest, student-run organisation, what is the single leadership lesson you can share with other student leaders and entrepreneurs?”

 

1. Be adaptable

“A great leader needs to be adaptable.  The biggest mistake you can make is to be unwilling to change course, or start over when something is not going your way.  That willingness to forge past mistakes and turn learnings into progress is what leads to eventual success”

Peter Gallivan, Global Vice President of Marketing of AIESEC International in Rotterdam, Netherlands (2012)

 


2. Go beyond the job description

“A great leader is someone who recognizes that a team member’s responsibilities aren’t determined by his job description but by his passion.”

Sam Turner, President of AIESEC Edmonton in the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada (2012)

 

 


3. Learn to accept both failure and success

“Every step you take in life defines who you are as a person. Learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid of failure because each experience teaches you the important lessons to succeed in life.

You should learn to accept both failure and success, and view each obstacle as a stepping stone to the latter. Don’t be disappointed by what you couldn’t accomplish; move on to the next thing you’re passionate about and make the most out of it. Do what you love and challenge yourself.”

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” -Charles Swindoll

Munessa Beehuspoteea, President of AIESEC Ryerson in Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada (2012)


4. Take the first step

“Being a leader can be daunting, but it is because you chose to be a leader that will inspire others to do the same. Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone and take that first step.”

Alex Shum, President of AIESEC York at York University in Toronto, Canada (2012)

 

 


5. Build a strong team around you

“Amongst the many things I learned during my one-year term as President of AIESEC Windsor, I found that building up a strong core executive team was essential in the positive progression of the chapter as a whole. A hard-working and dedicated executive team resulted in motivated and loyal members who collectively, contributed to the overall development of the local chapter.”

Kristie Luk, President of AIESEC Windsor at Windsor University in Windsor, Canada


6. Stop trying to please everyone

“Authenticity is more important than anything when it comes to leadership. The more you worry about who you are, and about being somebody who pleases everyone, the less you are able to effectively do what is needed.”

Kevin Cornwell, President of AIESEC in Canada (2013)

 

 


7. Believe in your abilities

“If I could share one thing from my experience as a student leader in AIESEC, I would tell other students to believe in their current abilities to do great things.  I work for a fortune 100 company in the US now and many of the practices we had in place as an organization were on par with those my company incorporates into their management practices.  Students can influence other students, businesses, and the community as a whole in great ways simply by taking the initiative and having a purpose behind what they do.”

David Palkovitz, President of AIESEC McGill at McGill University in Montreal, Canada (2012)

8. Learn to accept yourself before leading others

“Leadership is a deeply emotional journey of self discovery and humility. Only when we are ready to accept who we are, will we be ready to inspire and connect those who are around us.  Leadership is not so much about influencing as much as it is of allowing our quest for purpose to transform ourselves and transform others.  Leadership is the constant quest to understand what drives us and what drives others.”

Franklin Morales, Global Sales and Marketing Manager of AIESEC International in Rotterdam, Netherlands (2010)


9. Consistently plan and think about your vision

“Leadership is about consistently thinking into the future and guiding activities and people towards this vision. It’s also about seeing what people could become and helping them become their best selves.”

Derek Vollebregt, Global Business Development Manager of AIESEC International in Rotterdam, Netherlands (2013)

 


10. Share your vision with others

“Your colleagues need to fully understand your vision if you expect them to give the most of themselves. I firmly believe that a shared vision and deep personal relationships are the strongest incentives to motivate people.”

Samuel Marion, President of AIESEC HEC at HEC Montreal (Université de Montréal) in Montreal, Canada  (2012)

 

11. Pick and choose the innovations that will make most use of your time

“Your most precious resource is time; you will never recover the time you spend nor the time you waste.  When you take on a leadership role, the opportunity cost of that time is critical to your next steps as an individual and your organization as an ongoing entity. I chose to invest 730 days as president of our committee towards intensive personal development, introducing innovation into each project I could take part of, and meaningfully engaging new members into the vision of our organization.  When I finished my terms, I went on to pursue a new venture that demanded the skills I had fostered, and left the organization with a leadership pipeline and a benchmark of success.  As for innovations, many died and some thrived.”

Carson Kolberg, President of AIESEC Laurier at Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada (2011-12)


12. Remind yourself of the impact of your work

“One of the greatest fruits of your labour as a leader is seeing the endless hours, stress, frustration, and tears make an impact – even if it’s on one single individual. Developing another person to be a better leader, a better human being, is worth all the trouble.”

Jason Yung, National Vice-President of Business Development at AIESEC in Cambodia  (2013)

 


13. Be vulnerable and honest

“As leaders, we often try and strive to seem perfect and invulnerable. I realized the importance of vulnerability and honesty, and the role it plays in leadership, in order to build team foundations and a healthy environment for a team to foster and work together.”

Seulmi ‘Sue’ Ahn’, National Vice-President of Talent Management at AIESEC in Canada (2013)

 


14. Be open to change

“Don’t try to confine yourself to one idea of what it means to be a leader just because you read it from some ‘Leadership for Dummies’ book or heard about one that worked for someone else. If I’ve learned anything in AIESEC, it’s that your leadership style should develop as you grow, and should adapt to reflect what works best for your team to succeed!”

Kai Wong, President of AIESEC Queens at Queens University in Kingston, Canada (2012)


15. Go outside of your comfort zone

“One of the most important lessons I learned from my time at AIESEC is to always strive to work outside of my comfort zone. Whenever I took on a task that was outside my comfort zone, I always learned immensely more that if it was a task I had a high level of comfort with. Do not be afraid to fail and put yourself out there because outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens.”

Rustam Kasimov, President of AIESEC McMaster at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada  (2012)

16. Be humble

“My single most important leadership lesson is that a leader needs to be absolutely selfless and humble. Therefore, as a leader, your single most important goal should be to create opportunities and inspire individuals to be great and unique leaders better than yourself.”

Constance Wong, President of AIESEC Ottawa at Ottawa University in Ottawa, Canada  (2012)

 


17. Lead by example

“The best lesson that I have learned as a leader was to pull you team instead of pushing it to get the work done. If you want your sales representative to go on sales call, don’t just put pressure on him to do it, go on sales call with him. LEAD BY EXAMPLE”

Simon Lemieux, President of AIESEC Sherbrooke at Universite de Sherbrooke in Sherbrooke, Canada (2012)

 

18. You can’t do everything alone.

My biggest lessons from my experience can be resume by that quote:”Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” from Helen Keller.

Imagine that you are the coach of a rowing team and you are trying to assemble the best team. You hire the world’s best paddler which will be a great addition to the team. But if the other team members can’t keep up with his pace, your team won’t be able to perform at his full potential. To adjust the situation you will work on their communication, their rate, position in the boat, you will ask them to help each other. Perhaps the best paddler is not the best communicator, someone else might be best to set the pace.

Different set of skills of each member of the team allows them to complement each other and also allow them to learn new skills. Skills that are not related to the work itself can also benefit the team. For example, a person in charge of the web site and who knows the best restaurants in the city can be responsible for the social event, an important factor in the success of the team.”

Vladmir Vallès, President of AIESEC UQAM at Université du Québec à Montréal in Montreal, Canada (2011-12)


19. Celebrate small success

“Don’t sweat the little things and lose sight of the big picture.  Stay passionate and celebrate even the small successes.”

Julie Park, President of AIESEC Calgary at University of Calgary in Calgary, Canada (2012)

 

 

What do you think about these lessons?

Do you agree?

Do you have your own lesson to share?

Attending International Congress in Egypt – A young leader’s perspective

As we have indicated in our first blog post, this past August AIESEC hosted International Congress – a conference of 800 youth delegates – in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. Hosting such a large event in a country going through an intense political situation proved to be challenging but rewarding for the organisation, giving us a renewed sense of purpose.

The Local Committee President of AIESEC Michigan, Domenic Smith, was lucky enough to attend International Congress in Egypt in August. He was able to share his experience on the AIESEC Unites States Alumni Association blog this week. Here are some of his thoughts:

“Flying into Cairo for AIESEC’s 65th International Congress is an experience that I will never forget. I did not go to the pyramids and I did not get to see the cradle of society like many who traveled to Egypt before me. Instead, I witnessed something far more profound.

I saw a country that was truly in chaos, a country that was starving for new leadership. AIESEC’s presence of over 800 delegates from 124 countries at IC, at such a volatile time in Egypt’s history, showed me the true passion and dedication that this organization and its members have toward developing globally minded leaders to try and make the world a better place. AIESEC did not give up on Egypt and cancel the conference, which would have been very easy to do. We did not boycott the conference because it endangered us or because our governments warned against it. Instead, as an international plenary, we demonstrated the support that we have for AIESEC Egypt and the belief that we, the AIESEC community, have that one day the members of AIESEC Egypt will become the leaders that their country needs to restore peace and prosperity.

The world came together at IC for the 65th time to show that we believe in the impact that young people can have on creating a brighter and more accepting future. Experiencing 124 countries, united by a mission, working together to fulfill AIESEC’s 2015 goals was an incredibly powerful experience. When do you ever have the chance to see 124 countries work together towards one common goal?”

To read more about Domenic’s experience, check out the rest of the post here.  

Did you attend International Congress 2013 in Egypt? What was your experience like?