Author of The Beermat Entrepreneur
Chris worked in the city as a school leaver, then went to the LSE as a mature student, graduating with a First in Philosophy. He then travelled to China, and wrote his first book Journey to the Middle Kingdom about that experience. His main working life has been in marketing and PR – though he has found time to write a quartet of novels set in contemporary China, to teach creative writing and to study counselling. In the last few years he has also been involved in start-ups. Alongside The Beermat Entrepreneur he is writing a novel, and a book on Philosophy and Business for the 21st Century. Chris West is also the author of the following titles Journey to the Middle Kingdom, published by Alison and Busby The China Quartet, published by Alison and Busby Breaking up (How to Survive Relationship Bust-up), published by Impact Books
Chris worked in the city as a school leaver, then went to the LSE as a mature student, graduating with a First in Philosophy. He then travelled to China, and wrote his first book Journey to the Middle Kingdom about that experience.
His main working life has been in marketing and PR – though he has found time to write a quartet of novels set in contemporary China, to teach creative writing and to study counselling.
In the last few years he has also been involved in start-ups.
Alongside The Beermat Entrepreneur he is writing a novel, and a book on Philosophy and Business for the 21st Century.
Chris West is also the author of the following titles
Journey to the Middle Kingdom, published by Alison and Busby
The China Quartet, published by Alison and Busby
Breaking up (How to Survive Relationship Bust-up), published by Impact Books
Author's areas of Expertise
- 'People Issues' in the workplace
- Politics and philosophy
Mike Southon and I offer consultancy for: We also speak at conferences and moderate panels. We can organize a complete show for you, from working with you to write the script, through running team-building and other motivational exercises, to providing PA systems, lighting, scaffolding, projectors and other ‘props’. We both have extensive experience of this. Mike has created and run an entire theatre show, and has also worked with many large corporations moderating sales conferences (etc.) – clients include Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Bull HN, IBC Conferences. Chris has worked with small groups in a teaching and therapeutic context and has chaired many discussions and debates. Please contact us at
Mike Southon and I offer consultancy for:
We also speak at conferences and moderate panels. We can organize a complete show for you, from working with you to write the script, through running team-building and other motivational exercises, to providing PA systems, lighting, scaffolding, projectors and other ‘props’.
We both have extensive experience of this. Mike has created and run an entire theatre show, and has also worked with many large corporations moderating sales conferences (etc.) – clients include Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Bull HN, IBC Conferences. Chris has worked with small groups in a teaching and therapeutic context and has chaired many discussions and debates.
Please contact us atwww.beermatentrepreneur.com for further details. We want our clients to succeed!
Ten tips for entrepreneurs
- Don’t go it alone.
- Get your ‘Elevator Pitch’ right.
- Find a mentor and work closely with them.
- Concentrate effort on getting your first customer.
- Avoid Venture Capital. Grow organically.
- Watch your cash like a hawk.
- Avoid litigation. ‘Don’t litigate, negotiate.’
- Know when to grow.
- Enjoy it.
- Make sure your people enjoy it too.
BM: What will the book do for the reader?
CW: It will show them, step-by-step how to turn that great idea they had in the pub last night into a working successful business. And how to do so ethically.
BM: Where did the idea for the book come from?
CW: Mike has enormous experience of start-ups: I have some experience of start-ups and am a professional writer. Mike, who’s an old friend, asked me if there ‘was a book’ in a series of lectures he was giving at City University Business School. I went along to the lectures and knew at once that there was.
BM: Who did you have in mind when you wrote this book, and how might it help them?
CW: Anyone starting a business, or thinking of starting a business, or who has started a business and it went wrong. Also anyone looking to work in a start-up business, not as an entrepreneur but as a member of the team. And anyone in a big company who wants to ginger the place up a bit by making it more entrepreneurial. Lastly, anyone just curious about how businesses get started, and what the ‘dos and don’ts’ are.
BM: If we read your book, what will we get better at?
CW: Starting a business! Especially, I hope, the personal aspects of it, which are the most important.
BM: Tell us more about a scenario in which your book might prove particularly useful for our readers?
CW: Any start-up.
BM: What's going on in the business world today that your book has something important to say about?
CW: We’re still recovering from the great dotcom fiasco. This was based on a totally flawed model of business development. The Beermat Entrepreneur presents an alternative model, which is in many ways more traditional, but is I believe, the way of the future.
BM: Is this one for a global audience?
CW: Absolutely. I’m dying to get to places like Eastern Europe, and tell people there the real way to do free enterprise – not big-bucks Capitalism but imagination, hard work and fun.
BM: It’s an interesting title for a business book, what lies behind it?
CW: Mike founded his first company in a pub, jotting ideas down on a beermat as nobody had bought any paper with them. Five years later, the company was employing 150 people.
BM: If there is one critical message that you would like readers take from your work, what would it be?
CW: Enjoy the journey! That way you’ll have more fun (obviously), but you’ll also attract the right kind of people to work with. Your customers will pick up on the vibe, too.
BM: What in the world of management has done most to create the need for this book?
CW: Like I said before about the dotcom fiasco. There’s a crying need for a new model.
BM: How does your book differ from/build on the work of previous books on this topic?
CW: I think we have a unique blend of a really strong business model, that has been constructed with genuine intellectual rigour from a great deal of experience, and simple clarity – it’s in plain (and I hope elegant) English, not management-ese. Too many business books are either worthy but unreadable or fun but a bit thin. Of course, our readers will be the ultimate judges of this.
BM: All interesting stuff, so how should we go about putting it into action tomorrow?
CW: Buy the book, start at page one…
BM: If we want to explore or implement these ideas further, what should we do?
CW: Get that first beermat filled in. Elevator pitch, mentor, first customer…
BM: Are there any businesses out there today who you think are really getting this right? Or wrong?
CW: I’m sure there are loads getting it right. Their customers know who they are.
BM: Do these ideas work?
BM: Do management ideas like this have a real impact on what executives do day to day?
CW: Very much so. As I said above, one of our target markets is ‘intrapreneurs’, people who want to hoist the Jolly Roger and change the culture of lumbering giants into small, fast, fun enterprise units.
BM: How do you keep in touch with the changing world of work?
CW: I’m involved in a couple of start-ups; I do consultancy; I read a lot; I talk to people.
BM: Which "big idea" has had the greatest impact on the way you work?
CW: Transactional Analysis, which was a management ‘fad’ a while back and is now probably rather discredited as a result, but is full of profound (and often harsh) insight into the human condition and how it makes us behave in the workplace.
BM: A s a business thinker yourself, which thought leaders have most inspired you?
CW: Eric Berne, of course (the TA founder), but all sorts of people from Spinoza to Michael Porter! But actually the people who have influenced my ‘philosophy and practice’ of business most of all are people I’ve worked for or with. You can argue back with them, and really develop ideas. Mike, of course; Graham Michelli, with whom I did my first start-up; Peter Hall, a client… This is reflected in the book’s focus on mentoring.
BM: What do you consider yourself to be?
CW: I want to be thought of as someone who has helped people found and run their own businesses and to enjoy the experience in lots of ways – spiritual, personal, intellectual, financial.
BM: What books are you reading at the moment?
CW: I’m a great one for having books ‘on the go’, so I’m in the middle of a fascinating book with the rather dull title of ‘Fantasy, the Bomb and the Greening of Britain’ by Meredith Veldman, in the middle of Robert McKee’s book on Story (how Hollywood writers plot their movies – a masterpiece) and nearing the end of Vikram Seth’s ‘An Equal Music’. Recent favourite business reads have been ‘Change Activist’ by Carmel McConnell and ‘The Ultimate Entrepreneur’s Book’ by Barrie Pettman and Richard Dobbins.
BM: Finally, any questions that you'd like to ask your readers?
CW: I’m always delighted to get emails from readers, with comments, stories or questions. If I can help easily, I will, for the pleasure of doing it – I will only try and sell you consultancy if I think there’s a huge issue that needs lots of time to sort out.
The Start-up Society
Here’s one view of the way we live now. Capitalism won the Cold War, and is now consolidating its victory worldwide. The only countries to resist this have joke economies (or tragic ones, if you happen to live there). A few green-hairs may smash a few windows, a few old-left academics may whinge, but in reality the game is over. (September 11th was not a political gesture by spokesmen for the world’s poor, but the work of a multi-millionaire with a personal religious agenda.) We are all Capitalists now.
The voice of dissent may be quieter than it was in the seventies, but it is still extant: the current best selling ‘business book’ is not by a management guru or internet nerd but Naomi Klein. Marx and Engels may be turning in their graves at what happened to Russia, Eastern Europe and China, but the sweatshops of Manila and America’s inner cities must give their spirits some consolation – not to mention the suffering in countries burdened by Capitalist debt.
Yet Socialism clearly failed. Old Labour is already beginning to sound as quaint and irrelevant as Theosophy or Distributism, and Communism’s heart of darkness is plain for all to see. So was Mrs Thatcher was right when she claimed, ‘There is no alternative’?
When I started researching The Beermat Entrepreneur, I naively thought that the book would be about vigorous, new-growth Capitalism. But I soon found out this was not the case. Entrepreneurs loved Big Capital about as much as Karl Marx did. They probably loved Venture Capitalists even less.
In theory, VCs and entrepreneurs are two halves of a marriage. One provides the ideas and puts in the hard work; the other provides the wherewithal to turn those into a flourishing business. But I soon found that most entrepreneurs loathe VCs. ‘All VCs think about is money,’ said one. ‘They have no interest in the technology, the customers, the people. Just the cash – which they want back yesterday: they have no understanding of the time it takes to build a solid business.’ Most wished they had never gone near VC funding. ‘It’s like heroin, only less fun,’ another observed.
In response to this – and to Mike’s experience of business generally – we devised a model of business growth that is ‘organic’. Move heaven and earth to avoid VCs, we say, and get those bank loans paid off as soon as possible. Finance growth through revenue, or if you have huge start-up costs, partner with a big company. Anything is better than getting into bed with Capitalists, except for getting on the phone to Tony Soprano.
The question is, of course, can businesses that grow in this way be called ‘Capitalist’?
Now let’s look at the classic ‘three factors of production’ that have been the staple diet of economics for over a century. Land, labour and capital. Which does a modern start-up use, and to what extent? No capital at all, if our ‘organic’ model is followed. Not much land, either, except for a poky office in a basement in Camden Town (another thing we advise start-ups to abjure is swanky premises). Labour? Well, there’s plenty of hard work, but it’s hardly the grim, industrial, Dickensian toil that Adam Smith and Marx both had in mind. We say work in a start-up ought to be fun, the most fun you can have!
These traditional ‘factors of production’ (capital, land and grudgingly-traded labour) turn out to have virtually no relevance to a start-up. So what are the ‘factors’ – the essential inputs – of a really entrepreneurial business? Enterprise, obviously: the risk taken by all the founders of the business. Work, in its non-Dickensian sense. Creativity (a word I never heard that mentioned in the two years I plodded through economics courses at college, any more than I ever heard the word ‘love’ in any of the psychology lectures). People skills: most start-ups fail because the team is not right. Certain inputs of professional discipline, particularly sales and finance…
These are the true factors of production in a successful modern business – of a business that is going to create the future (and will create the future: this may be about small start-ups now, but the successes will be the next generation of Leviathans.)
Looking at the great traditional socio-political systems, they are built on the three traditional factors of traditional economic theory: Feudalism on the power of land, Capitalism on the power of capital and Socialism on the power of labour. But if these factors are now irrelevant to the emerging real economy, what sort of world are we entering? The ‘start-up society’. What does it look like?
It is not a complete rebuild. That was Communism’s great mistake, to dream of revolution rather than get on with the business of evolution. There are, after all, still traces of Feudalism in modern society – who buys all those green Wellington boots? And pure Capitalism is still about: Capital will retain some power in the new ‘start-up’ world whether we like it or not, as will old-fashioned industrial labour. But these old monsters have lost their teeth. They have to compromise with the new reality; they have to justify themselves; they have a place and must keep it. What is really driving things? What are the new factors of production?
Looking at the list of ‘start-up factors’ above, ‘warm’ human faculties like creativity and sociability now lie at the core of business. Even outside the workplace, people have power, as consumers: if we don’t like a product or its manufacturer, we don’t buy. The start-up society is, surely, the world of the individual – not the lone, ‘Byronic’ individual beloved of ‘tough-guy Capitalism’, but the socialized and sociable individual, working in a team, purchasing thoughtfully.
It’s a nice thought, and I don’t think it’s just a dream. It is what emerges from what you have to do and to be in order to prosper in the emerging world.
In the whole emerging world, or just the west? I believe the former. What the Third World needs is not more bankers but more entrepreneurs – home-grown entrepreneurs, providing domestic consumers with the products and services these consumers want (not just running sweatshops for multinationals). Above all these, of course, it needs peace – but the greatest enemy of war is prosperity: the more you stand to lose by war, the less likely you are to be moved by warmongering rhetoric. Once the vicious cycle of war and poverty is broken, a virtuous cycle of peace and prosperity can be set in motion. And the people to set this in motion are entrepreneurs. And their Cornerstones and Dream Teams of course.
So, roll on the start-up society. The old liberal view of progress is not dead, but it has been hiding in a place few twentieth-century thinkers thought it would hide – in the reality of emerging business necessity.
Maybe Karl Marx’s ghost isn’t too upset after all.