Ben Cardoso graduated from London Business School (LBS)’s Masters in Management (MiM) programme in 2011. He founded the minicab service LeCab after noticing that a law prohibiting minicabs had been lifted. The incumbents fought back hard but Cardoso won through: LeCab is now the largest car-ride provider in France, with 140 staff and 6,000 drivers. “We focus on quality and we listen to our drivers,” he says. “We make sure they get best-value insurance and maintenance. We make it as easy for them as possible.”
Innovating continually, he introduced a flat five-euro fare across Paris and in five other cities and in 2016 sold 51% of the company to the French state-owned railway company SNCF. “They see we have a shared future,” he says. “At the end of the day, we’re both getting people from A to B.” Cardoso is already thinking ahead to what happens when cars go driverless… watch this space.
Here are Cardoso’s top tips for success:
1. Talk about your idea. It’s tempting to protect your great idea but don’t keep it a secret. Get as much feedback as you can. If your idea can survive everyone’s criticism and questioning, it just might be good.
2. Be realistic about the commitment. Your start-up is going to take a long time – much longer than you think. Make sure you believe in it enough to give it 10 years of your life, not the two years you imagine. Choose the right idea because otherwise you’re going to find yourself questioning if you even like it yourself a few years down the line.
3. Get on with it. A lot of people told me they’d launch their own company. Most of them didn’t. When you’re first out of business school you don’t need anything, you just have your own rent to pay. As you get older your fixed costs go up: you get a wife and kids and a car while your friends are earning more. You become more attached to the system and more scared about leaving it. I really recommend just diving in.
4. Be confident. You need the confidence to move forward because you need to be able to convince others that you’re going to succeed. The more you can believe in your journey, the more you can persuade others to invest in you. I had to raise three million Euros to get LeCab off the ground. That’s a lot of money to give to a young graduating student, even if having been to LBS had given me some credibility – it showed I was a hard worker.
5. Accept that there’ll always be another challenge. At every stage of the start-up you face challenges. Once you’ve surmounted a few of them, you at least know you’ll be able to handle whatever comes along. In November 2013 the traditional taxi drivers forced through legislation requiring all drivers to have 250 hours of training by January 2014. We knew the drivers wouldn’t be put off by the hours involved but there was no institution for training them. It didn’t exist. So we set up our own school and trained 1,500 drivers in the first year.
6. Plan your proposition carefully. The key is to be very clear about how you’re going to do it – to show what you think the challenges are going to be. Even if you turn out to be wrong, it shows that you’ve been asking yourself all the right questions. It helps that I’m a lawyer by training so I’m good at preparing a good argument and defending myself.
7. Learn from others. I used my time at LBS to gain the topics I’d need to be an entrepreneur – accounting, marketing and how to make a business plan. I went to the Entrepreneurship Club events to hear other entrepreneurs talking about how they started their companies and weighed up what sort of venture I’d like to start up.
8. Hire the right people. An entrepreneur needs to understand people. What makes the difference between a good idea and a great success is your ability to inspire the people around you to make it grow. To do that you need to be able to choose people who will do a better job than you would have done yourself. If you’re on their back the whole time you won’t grow fast.
9. Don’t be a dictator. People between 20 and 30 won’t obey orders, we don’t like authority. You have to inspire others to follow you and give them trust in return. When starting the company you can manage what’s happening very closely – you can talk to anyone in the team. When you have a company of 130, you manage up to six or seven people who manage the others. You’re only in control of the managers, so it’s a big shift.
10. Pace yourself. Managers often think that if they just had more people in their team, they would grow faster and stronger. What actually happens is they lose focus and slow down. There’ll never be enough people in a team. It’s tough to argue with your managers that they can’t recruit anyone else and it’s possible to grow without more people.
The Accomplished Entrepreneur Awards are run by the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at LBS