A truly entrepreneurial CA: Joel Watt CA

Joel Watt CA
By Eleanor O'Neill, CA Today

20 September 2016

Winner of the ICAS 35 CAs under 35 entrepreneurship category, Joel Watt CA, talks to Eleanor O'Neill about starting companies and taking risks.

The entrepreneurship category sought out the young CAs who possess the passion and drive to take on and develop a business venture. The ability to take great ideas and make them a reality was essential.

Joel impressed the judges with his ambition and readiness to handle a challenge. He has proven himself to have an eye for opportunity and the skills to make the most of it.

He set up his first business in partnership at just 24 years of age. Jack Taylor, a fishing trade company, today has an international customer base and a turnover of £5m per annum. In 2014, Joel founded VISTEM, makers of customised products and tools for heavy industry.

How did you enjoy the 35 CAs under 35 competition?

I enjoyed it. For the first time in a number of years I was back in the interview environment, which was refreshing. Both of the judges I met with ran their own businesses and the line of questioning was extremely relevant. 

The CA dinner and 35 under 35 awards was a great opportunity to meet other young professionals to share and discuss ideas with.

What drove you to start your first business?

When I worked in practice, I struggled with the concept that every additional hour of work I did had no direct benefit to me.

After I thought about it, I realised you only have two options in life if you want to generate income: make yourself a valuable commodity for any business or start a business and generate your own.

I preferred the second and when my childhood friend, Mark Stephen, asked if I wanted to start a company, no thought was required.

Who inspires you?

People who have done great things through believing it was possible, like Roger Bannister and Buster Douglas. I encourage you to look them up.

Your ability to push yourself is everything and the reason why you do anything has to be great. That's what keeps you working 80 hours a week and gets you out of bed on a Saturday for a 12 hour grind. That’s what will keep going, even though it seems useless and you don’t know where the next break is coming from..

I try to live by one quote: "There is no excuse for not being the hardest worker in the room." No matter where you work or what you do, you can apply this theory to your life.

I always try to remember that the human race has been to the moon. Therefore, whatever I am trying to achieve, although difficult to me, probably isn’t that difficult in the bigger scheme of everything.

Finally, every day I try to listen to quality influencers in the background whilst I work: Tony Robbins, Tim Ferris and Eric Thomas.

How has the CA qualification helped you in your career?

The CA qualification provides you with automatic respect within the business community. It communicates to others that you understand the underlying processes of how a business works.

When raising finance at 23, it gave the bank a sense of confidence that the numbers we put before them were going to be realised. This has been of further advantage when going back for two further rounds of funding, both provided by the Bank of Scotland.

What is your advice to entrepreneurs just starting out?

I have made countless mistakes, wrong decisions and misjudgments. I still have a long, long way to go. However, now I try to pass on what I have learned to others, in the same manner that I have business professionals in my life who coach me. My advice would be:

  • Stop waiting for the perfect moment to start, there isn’t one. But be aware it will be the hardest and most rewarding thing that you do in your life.
  • Reset your limit constantly. If I work 100 hours a week and you work 40 hours, I will develop and grow at 250% the rate you will. It’s basic maths. Blend that with good monitorship, a willingness to fail forward and a blind belief that you will succeed regardless.
  • Pick the correct partner. No one walks up the aisle and plans to get divorced and business is the same. Every new project is filled with enthusiasm and great intentions. However, when the revenue doesn’t follow and the process becomes more challenging, you need someone who you can rely on to grind through.
  • Fail cheap, really cheap. It is far better to spend £100,000 100 times, than to spend it on two projects.
  • You will keep learning, so don’t stop if the first try doesn’t work. You are merely building up an understanding of what not to do.
  • Don't trust everyone. New businesses are easy targets for a lot of industries. You will ignore this and then realise after year two what I was referring to.

If anyone thinks I can help them with anything else, please feel free to get in touch.

Entrepreneurship will be a key topic of discussion at the 2016 ICAS Conference: Innovation and Entrepreneurs...in Brexit Britain.


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