It is fair to say that, for Dan Strang, Founder and CEO of Crowd Reactive, being an entrepreneur is a talent that comes naturally. “I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he says. “My parents, Alan, 57, and Katharine, 52, were both entrepreneurs when I was growing up, so I used to spend my holidays working with them and trying to help think of new ideas for their business.”
Now, at the age of 27, Dan has founded and run his own successful business – a user-generated content platform for events and venues which has already expanded to the United States and South America. Dan is one of a growing number of entrepreneurs who are helping to drive the burgeoning UK technology sector, giving Silicon Valley a run for its money. He comments through Insights about his journey.
“I think there was always the expectation that I would go into my parents’ business,” Dan says. “They owned Chilli Pepper, a fashion brand for women’s casual wear, and they also worked with some pretty big designers too. But they ended up selling their business whilst I was still at school, and moving on to consultancy, so it became apparent that I would have to find my own way into business.”
Dan’s early exposure to business served him well, and he took every opportunity whilst at school to develop his entrepreneurial skills.
He says: “When I was at Sixth Form, around the age of 17, I took part in the Young Enterprise Programme, which encourages children to set up their own business. I became Managing Director of a small group of pupils, and we ran the school tuck shop, organised school discos for 11 to 16 year-olds, and created programmes for school productions.
“We ended up being the first Young Enterprise company to buy out another Young Enterprise Company, and we also won the District Championships! It was at that stage that I realised I really loved running a business.”
Dan went on to study a BA in Business Management at the University of Exeter, where he continued to satisfy his competitive nature.
“Every year, Exeter Business School holds a competition for students to create and run their own businesses. In my second year, I acted as MD again, and we created a student tabloid paper called X Ray, similar to what The Tab is now. We got advertisers on board, launched a couple of issues and went on to win the competition, but we didn’t take it further than that.”
Dan’s success compelled him further to start up his own business, but the resounding advice from peers and teachers was to hold back.
He says: “Everyone was telling me to go into the world of work and do a graduate scheme or get a job in a big corporate organisation so that I could get a better idea of what I wanted to do. I took their advice, but looking back I wish I’d just started my own business straight away.
“I was lucky in that I got offered lots of very well paid grad schemes, but I just wasn’t inspired by any of them! Then, I saw a placement with Adidas. I love sport, so I thought I would try my luck there.
“The first six months were great and I learned a lot. I was on a rotational placement, so I got to experience a variety of different roles first hand, from marketing for the 2012 Olympic Games, to managing a £1m budget for the retail stores. But after about seven or eight months, I started to feel really itchy about owning my own business. After 18 months, I felt the time was right to leave Adidas and make my dream a reality!”
Drawing on the knowledge he had gained whilst working with his parents at Chilli Pepper, Dan started a business called One Brand, a company that helped independent menswear retailers to amalgamate their orders in order to hit factory minimums, by ordering what they needed through Dan first.
He says: “Some might say it was a big concept for a 25 year-old to try and do, but I managed to get over 20 stores on board, including some interest from high street retailer New Look. Realising the potential of this contact, I helped bump up the stock from an independent store with orders from New Look. I was even asked to source a celebrity range, which got me having lunches with a host of famous faces, from Gavin Henson to Ant and Dec!”
Although financially successful, it became clear to Dan that the New Look business was not globally scalable long term, so Dan decided to pack it up and look for opportunities in the tech space.
“I saw more potential there,” he says. “Even by looking at social media networks, from giants like Facebook to emerging brands such as Meerkat or Slack, you can see the scope for growth in an industry that is changing pretty much constantly.”
Dan’s second company, Crowd Reactive, which is supported by Mercia Technologies, helped him to make a mark in the tech space, and he quickly saw how one great idea could spark a potentially big business.
“It was certainly a massive change from One Brand,” he says. “There, you were lucky if you got one sale in a day, whereas now I was getting ten new customers from ten phone calls. From there, it just spiralled. We were getting huge brands on board, we grew a dedicated team from two to 16, and we entered the US market. The possibilities in tech really are endless!”
Having said that, Dan doesn’t deny that being an entrepreneur is hard work. With his busy schedule, involving a 5am run and working into the night as American orders start to come in, it’s fair to say that running a business isn’t for the clock watchers. But for Dan, the rewarding nature of his work beats an eight hour sleep any day.
“There’s a lot of reasons why people want to become entrepreneurs. Not all of them are necessarily the right reasons though! Some people just want the lifestyle – they love not asking for time off, and they love being their own boss.
“But that’s not why I do it. I do it because I know that, in a few years’ time, I am going to have a Board, and a team of staff that will rely on me to work hard. I do it because I love the feeling of doing something that was my own idea.
“Being able to innovate can’t be taught – it comes from practice. The hardest and most persistent question an entrepreneur will face is: “How do we solve this?”. Finding an answer to this question is the most rewarding feeling of any other. And yes, money is a mark of success, but for me it doesn’t really matter. For me, it’s about doing something that I’m proud of – for that sense of achievement. That feeling of success is the real reason why I do it.”