Entrepreneur Q&A: Matt Turner, founder and MD of Clownfish Events

Matt Turner, founder and MD of Clownfish Events, talks turnover, red tape and saying yes to everything.

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique

What is actually unique these days? There are very few businesses that can truly say what they do is unique apart from companies like Uber and Airbnb who start a completely new business model.

We’re not the only events company in the UK but we have unique strengths and that makes us different. We have a very tight knit team and there’s no conventional hierarchy of management.

Anyone in the team with a view is able to speak to anyone, challenge them and hold them to account. It’s an environment where the whole team feel their voice matters, employee engagement is very high and that translates into a much sharper service for customers.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Maintaining steady growth in a tough economic climate. Clownfish Events has grown year-on-year despite having the odds stacked against us and I also had no prior knowledge of how to run a business.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

I am a firm believer in the saying that ‘turnover is vanity, profits are sanity and cash is reality’ – I look at the levels of cash we have in the bank every day.

“I am a firm believer in the saying that ‘turnover is vanity, profits are sanity and cash is reality'”

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We would like to be trading internationally one day, but for now we are concentrating on the London market. There are still plenty of opportunities closer to home before we should be getting distracted with other regions.

I come from London and it is where my heart is. However, we buy a lot of our equipment and party accessories internationally. I went to a trade fair in Spain recently and returned with an artificial ice rink!

Describe your growth funding path

Funding for us has been relatively traditional. We’ve got a commercial mortgage on our premises and most of our other funding has come as a result of organic growth.

Funding growth has been beneficial for Clownfish

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

The cloud. Every programme we use is hosted – from our phones, accounts software, website, CRM system and van location tracking. All our servers and files are in the cloud so we can always access anything anywhere and it’s fantastic.

When I am at an event I can have full access to all the files I need – I can be anywhere and my office comes too. It’s incredible.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

We are currently going through an internal change of direction to full-scale events production from concept to final clear-up and I want this to be more bedded in. In three years, I want to be thinking about our international expansion and having a much larger team, giving us the ability to take on bigger projects.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

To keep going irrespective of the challenges you face on a daily – whether that’s staff problems, customers not paying on time, technical difficulties. It’s the little things you inevitably encounter daily but you have to keep going regardless.

To use a fishing analogy, very often in business, you cast your line, show the audience your worm and see who bites. There have been times when I have cast my line and found no one was interested. It’s disheartening and it takes resilience to pick yourself up and keep going.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Talking about mistakes implies something you regret and that’s not how we think. Better to look at what I have done that I learned the most from.

It is hard to pinpoint what that is, probably how to manage people effectively. As a small business owner, you have to wear a lot of hats and they can very often be simultaneously contradictory. For instance, you need to be compassionate and yet strong, gentle and tough, generous and frugal.

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There is a fine line between micromanaging and letting people be empowered, but accepting things might not go to plan.

Learn from your mistakes rather than letting them define you

Which piece of red tape hampers growth the most?

Employment law is a minefield and it’s becoming increasingly complex, which is a risk to small businesses. This complexity makes us worried to hire people so we like to use freelancers rather than employ a team, with the exception of our core events specialists.

“Employment law is a minefield and it’s becoming increasingly complex”

What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?

When you are 18 and sitting at home with a laptop, entrepreneurship seems very sexy. I was fresh out of school when I started Clownfish, I had no idea how rough and difficult the ride would be.

Looking back, if I knew then what I know now, I would have tried to partner with someone rather than shoulder the whole responsibility alone – running a business can be lonely and very difficult.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Say yes to everything. That’s how we got going in the early days – just say yes and worry about how to do it later.