Today marks the start of Global Entrepreneurship Week – a celebration of enterprise and entrepreneurial people.
What does it take to be an entrepreneur and can anyone do it?
We interviewed our director Kiran Kachela to uncover her journey to owning her own business, the advice she would give to those who want to do the same and the values she has instilled in her company.
Tell us about your career so far…What has your career looked like from start to now?
I’ve always had a strong work ethic and have worked from a very young age. At the age of 10 I was doing the paper-round and managed a team of kids on the street to distribute the newspapers and paid them a proportion of my £3 salary! As soon as I reached the age where I could legally work, I was working weekends at McDonald’s and evenings at the airport for Virgin Atlantic whilst studying. McDonald’s exposed me to Lean, Just-in-Time operations; and Virgin taught me the importance of customer-centricity and service excellence – a great combo and I feel blessed to have had this experience at a young age.
But my career really began as a Helpdesk Operator taking calls about blocked toilets and broken ceiling tiles. Whilst in this role, I was always looking for ways to do things better and provide a first-class service. My Director at the time saw something in me that I didn’t recognise in myself – my flair for driving improvements and challenging the status quo. I was quickly promoted to a Helpdesk Supervisor position and was later offered a business improvement role.
In this role, I worked on a variety of large and complex change projects, from helpdesk centralisations to reducing the carbon footprint of engineers. One successful project led to another and soon after, I became the Head of Business Improvement for a leading FM private-sector organisation.
After giving birth to my second daughter in 2012, I decided it was time for a change after spending 6 years in my role. It was a big risk, both financially and personally, but I decided to take the leap and set up my own company – Continuous Improvement Projects Ltd (CI Projects).
I have spent over 14 years in a business improvement capacity, working across different sectors, businesses and functions on a variety of projects – this is where my inherent skill and passion is. Running my own business was new to me; no one teaches you how to run your own business at school, so the only way to learn is on the job! It has been an exciting and intense learning curve and one I’m still learning about 9 years in. I truly love my job!
What made you want to start your own business?
I think I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. Whilst growing up I had several attempts at launching mini businesses just for the fun of it – for instance, as a teenager, I once went to a warehouse and stocked up on jewellery to sell at a market stall.
So after finding my true passion and reaching that epiphany moment that ‘business improvement’ is my calling, I knew I had to run with it. Having worked alongside a number of consultants, both good and bad, I was keen to create an alternative to overly generic, high cost approaches to solving business challenges. I was tired of seeing stock-standard, cookie-cutter solutions being implemented. Business improvement can’t be done with a textbook, as each organisation’s culture and each project is different. It’s why I’m such a huge advocate of the Lean philosophy and methodology – it’s a continuous improvement mindset and a flexible toolkit that offers a fully evidence-based and adaptable approach to solving problems. I’ve always been pragmatic and practical, so this was my opportunity to do something a little different.
When I set up CI Projects, I never expected to grow an amazing team, have a diverse client base and be where I am today. For many years, it felt a bit like ‘playing shop’ as a child, sometimes wearing my finance hat, sometimes wearing my marketing hat and sometimes being on the shop floor. It’s only in the last few years that I have acknowledged my achievements. Working in a predominantly male-dominated industry for most of my career meant that I didn’t see many people that looked like me in positions of seniority. It’s taken me time to learn that I should take myself seriously.
All these years later, setting up my own business is still the best career decision I have ever made.
What values and business practices have you instilled in CI Projects?
Working with integrity and transparency will always be the most important thing for me and this sits at the heart of how we operate as a business. We always choose honesty, even if that means that sometimes we talk our clients out of hiring us because there is a better alternative option. Trusted partnerships is what we strive for with our clients, and this is demonstrated in the way we work together – for instance, we like to be seen as an extension of their team rather than an external body and share their vision and aspirations.
Our values are ingrained in our behaviours and the way we work, and a lot of this has been supported by our business practices and processes. It starts with recruitment – we hire mindsets, not just those who look good on paper, to ensure a diverse team composition that’s capable of delivering excellence through knowledge and passion. Diversity is at the heart of our operation and we love the energy and knowledge that comes from recruiting individuals from different backgrounds.
All of our internal policies, processes and procedures have been designed to cultivate positive mindsets and behaviours, from promoting sustainable working practices and reducing our carbon footprint to always measuring the benefits of the projects we work on. We practice what we preach!
What is your favourite thing about having your own business?
Without doubt, my favourite thing is helping to inspire and develop people – whether that’s my own team or the people I meet whilst working on client projects. I get to work with incredible people from all walks of life. They all come from different backgrounds, possess different skills and expertise, and have unique experiences to share. Being able to help people develop and progress in their careers makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt whilst running your own business?
My biggest lesson is that you have to be willing to continually step outside of your comfort zone and take risks, and you simply can’t stand still. I step outside of my comfort zone on almost a daily basis, and I am willing to try new things and learn in the process. Sometimes I fail and sometimes I succeed, but it’s the journey that matters (not the destination).
Do you think anyone can be an entrepreneur?
As long as you have the self-discipline and determination to succeed, and are willing to step outside of your comfort zone, then yes! Entrepreneurship just takes hard work and resilience, there’s no other magic ingredient.
If you could offer one piece of advice to someone wanting to start their own business what would it be?
Go for it! If there’s something you want to do – do it! Just be very clear on your ‘why’ (your purpose).
We spend about a third of our lives working; so it’s important that we are doing something that has a purpose and makes us happy. We need to reassess what measures of success are – are they about how much money we earn or what title we have? Or are they about the impact we have on the world? Status isn’t the reason for our existence. So if you can combine work with purpose and do something that has a positive impact on something or someone, then it’s a good outcome.
That’s why we recently launched our Think Green, Go Lean Campaign. Not only are we helping our clients be more profitable and efficient, we’re identifying opportunities to achieve this sustainably – having a positive impact on people, profits and the planet.
Always start with your ‘why’ and everything else will fall into place.
So there we have it! We hope you have enjoyed finding out more about Kiran and her journey so far.