Doing battle with Felix Dennis

3 Mar

Felxi Dennis: He was wearing those glasses.

Tonight I went to see multi-millionaire publishing entrepreneur Felix Denis speak at the Oxford Union. I know Felix’s story well, having previously read his sardonically-titled book “How to Get Rich” (affiliate link). It really is a great, inspiring book and well worth the read for any aspiring entrepreneur. Knowing his background I was very keen to hear him speak.

Felix gave the small audience a quick run-down of his life in four chapters: his childhood growing up in poverty; his teenage years and twenties as the rebel magazine publisher, jailed for obscenity due to his “Oz” publication; his subsequent business success as a publisher, leading him to now be worth around £500 M (!); and his now life as a poet and “green” investor, paying to plant 20,000 acres of broad leaf woodland in South Warwickshire. It’s a real rags-to-riches story.

His talk itself was interesting, but he really came alive during the Q&A. His insight included how to plant a tree (don’t use the green tree protectors, dormice hibernate in them then eat the tree bark – use the spiral protectors), his opinions on those British millionaires who avoid paying UK tax (not a big fan), whether he would have had the same drive if he had been born in to a more comfortable life (“no”, but then he “would say that”). We were also treated to some of his poetry, which was actually quite good. He has published his poetry extensively and it apparently does quite well.

Not good for trees.

After his talk a small group surrounded him so we retired to the bar for a drink. After a while he came in to the bar with Ash, the current President of Oxford Entrepreneurs. Seeing as I’m one of the finalists in the OE Tata Idea Idol* I thought I might as well take the opportunity to go and speak with him about my start-up.

To my surprise he already knew about my start-up, as Ash had told him about it when describing the Idea Idol competition. Unfortunately Ash had gotten the company name wrong, and Felix preferred Ash’s version of the company name. When I told him the actual name he said it sounded like a Spanish TV channel and that I should adopt Ash’s version. I countered that perhaps I should keep the original name, ditch the business idea, and start a Spanish TV channel instead. Well… it sounded funny in my head…

Then he started grilling me on the start-up idea. My audience for this spectacle was Ash, the President of the Union, Felix’s PA and at least one enthusiastic onlooker. He really grilled me, and I kind of stood there like an awkward politician smiling diplomatically as I was being insulted by a foreign dignitary. It felt very awkward, and I realised I was being ripped a new one. I also realised he wasn’t challenging me on anything I hadn’t already considered – he was just being much more forceful/brash and I was slightly intimidated by him.

I was grilled medium-rare

So I changed tack, and started answering back quite forcefully. I started to raise my voice as I countered his points, almost shouting at him. He started to realise I could answer his questions and his objections seemed to subside. As he left the bar after about 10 minutes of chat he said I should “definitely keep at it – it’s not a bad idea“.

Not a bad idea!” One of the richest men in the country thinks my idea is “not bad“! (Please note that in British English that is quite a compliment!)

I was totally buzzing after speaking to him. What a rush! One problem with my start-up is that I have had nothing but positive feedback, so it was very refreshing to finally have someone challenge me quite forcefully. It also made me realise what I would be up against when I pitch it to VCs. I felt like I had just done battle with a champion gladiator, and whilst I did not beat him, not having been killed myself was in its own way somewhat of a victory!

*yeah, I’m in the final of this Tata Idea Idol competition with my current start-up idea that I am trying to launch through the MBA. The final is next Wednesday 9th March at the Said Business School. Please sign up here and come along to support me! I am one of 6 finalists and the top prize is £10k, which would really help with my start-up’s progress!

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