My Week: Doug Richard from School for Startups

The serial entrepreneur and former Dragons' Den star on early starts and being right-on in Cambridge.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I get up at around 7, but I’m not at my best in the morning. My first goal is a modest one: to have a cup of coffee. I have breakfast with my relatively grumpy children: Cecile who is 16 and Lucas, 13. My children are perfect. Except between 7.30 and 8 in the morning when they suck (they’re not morning people either). I’ll be in one of two modes – I’m either leaving for London or I’m not. If I’m heading to the city, I ride my bike to the station, because I live in Cambridge and we’re all just green warriors, aren’t we? God forbid you carry anything but the Guardian; they might exile you.

If it’s a London day, I leave early, pack it full with meetings and then I come back late. I closed my London offices last year, partly as an experiment because I thought I could do all my work virtually, and partly because I hate being in the office - so I thought ‘why the **** do I have one’? Offices are like little prisons that we get confined to. All of my employees were spending their life travelling to an office, from an office and then they get caught in traffic. I don’t buy into the idea of presenteeism. I want very few things from people who work for me. What I want is success. And I really couldn’t give a s**t how they achieve that.

If I’m working from home, I’ll be in my study sitting in my very ugly recliner. It’s an embarrassing chair that my wife really doesn’t want to see in the rest of the house, but my God it’s comfortable. And because I continue to miss the heat of LA, even a decade on, I crank up the heating - which my wife then cranks back down. So there’s a battle going on around the radiators. In the happy instance when I am working from home – I aim for Mondays and Fridays – I just get on with it. I’m finding more and more in my life that it’s important to have very specific periods of solitude where the world is not intruding on me, where I’m not distracted by tweets and emails and calls. The great thing about electronic communications is that it allows us to stay in touch, but it also permits us to intentionally turn it all off, which I do from time to time.

Because I’ve been involved recently in running my first ever event, which was on social enterprise, the fall-out has been that I’ve met up with a lot of influential people. For example I met Allison Ogden-Newton, CEO of Social Enterprise London, and also Alastair Wilson, CEO of School for Social Enterprise. I have also been busy interviewing interns after I put an ad on Twitter last week. I was utterly overwhelmed with work, and on an impulse I decided I to find someone to shadow me as an apprentice. I just want someone who’s incredibly talented and happy to work for a small salary, in return for valuing the fact they get to meet everybody I know, and do everything I do.

When I’m not working, I can often be found reading or looking at ‘boat p0rn’. I like sailing yachts, but I don’t have one. I used to, but I sold it because it was a lot of bother. Instead I look at a lot of beautiful boats, thinking one day I could sail one of them. I want to be in a place sailing a boat, it’s not necessarily the boat itself. Last year, for example, I did the round the Isle of Wight race and I was able to sail one of the classic old yachts because I rented it for the day. At the end of the day I’m not going to die with possessions, I’m going to die with memories. So I want to know I sailed that boat - I don’t give a s**t who owns it.

It’s not uncommon for me to get recognised; in fact, I’d say it happens a couple of times a day. But it usually takes the person I’m with to tell me, as I rarely notice myself. I’m not particularly intuitive; I don’t read other people very well. So when somebody’s staring at me it doesn’t occur to me that they recognise me from Dragons’ Den. I just assume they have eye problems or something.

Doug Richard is the founder of School for Startups, a provider of business training for entrepreneurs. He also appeared in the first two series of BBC show Dragons' Den.

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