VENTEUR spoke with Laura Weaving, Founder and Managing Director of Duo Global Consulting, about her entrepreneurial journey. Weaving is a culture change, behavioral, and people expert. She leads Duo to help organizations understand their people's behavior at a deeper level and offer culture-driven initiatives which provide a sustainable solution to recruitment and retention. This has enabled the growth of over £100M for Duo's clients.
Weaving’s background is in organizational culture, recruitment, people, and HR strategy for growth-focused businesses.
She used this experience to launch a tech product, The Duo Behavioural Map, an online survey that provides a blueprint for companies to understand their people's behaviors.
Laura is passionate about supporting other women in business and has developed The Elevator to provide a network and leadership program for female entrepreneurs and ambitious women in senior positions.
The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
I've learned that I deal with the unknown better than I thought. Most of what I've achieved, I didn't know whether or not it would work. When running a business, you need to be able to analyze risk and make decisions that are well thought through while appreciating that you are going to have only some of the variables guaranteed.
Sometimes, you must launch a product or service and see what happens. It's being comfortable with not always knowing what the outcome will be but doing it anyway and knowing that if it fails, you can get feedback and refine it before putting it back out there.
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur? What was that experience like, and how did you overcome it?
Yes, definitely. When I first started Duo Global Consulting, it was just me. That's when you experience loneliness, especially during the peaks and troughs. Who do you celebrate the big wins with? Who do you reach out to for a conversation when things aren't going so well to help you reset and get back on track?
I knew I needed to surround myself with like-minded people to combat this. In particular, female leaders, as there weren't that many female role models around me doing what I was doing. I reached out to people on LinkedIn, invited people for coffee, and networked. I asked if they wanted to get together to share ideas, and I was fearless in asking for help. That's how I met my colleague, Sarah Callender, and we set up The Table, a free community that brings ambitious women together to network, learn and grow.
What role has intuition played in your success as an entrepreneur, and why do you think this is the case?
It's played a big part in my success as an entrepreneur. I firmly believe that if something doesn't feel right, there's something wrong.
Whenever I've had that gut feeling that something wasn't right, I met someone, and the relationship wasn't there, or a project wasn't a good idea, it's usually been correct. When I get that feeling, I tend to trust it.
On the other side of the scale, one of my dominant behaviors is initiation, so I also like to say yes too quickly and want things done yesterday. I've had to learn to pause, complete an intuition cross-check, and ask myself, is there anything I need to think through?
The Psychological Warfare
Have you experienced low self-esteem issues as an entrepreneur? What was that experience like for you, and how did you overcome it?
Our starting point with any leadership work we do with our clients is identity work: figuring out your identity, values, and self-worth is not tied to a role. Your identity is entirely separate because it's about you as an individual.
This was important because I didn't have that when I started my business or my previous career. My business identity was my identity. When I experienced the highs and lows, that reflected how I felt about myself in every area of my life. In the last few years, I've separated the two: owning a business and being an entrepreneur don't define who I am. So if things are going great, that's good, but if things aren't going so well, it doesn't mean anything is wrong with me.
The key to learning here is to separate your identity from your business.
What is the most unrelatable part of being an entrepreneur, and how does this impact your mental health?
That you have unlimited amounts of time and money, it's that recurring comment that all business owners get from friends or family, “oh, you're so lucky that you get to take time off whenever you feel like it.”
They don't see us working on our laptops until midnight to get a proposal out the next day or missing important parties or other events because a deadline is looming or a product that we built has broken.
It's the biggest misconception about being a business owner.
Yes, you have more flexibility, but it doesn't mean you have more time to do things.
What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid them?
1. Thinking that asking for help is a weakness
I used to think I'd figure it out, or I couldn't ask that person who was super successful because they'd think I was an idiot.
It opens up new and exciting opportunities when you learn how to ask for help, embrace your vulnerabilities, and accept that you may only sometimes be correct. I'm part of a Vistage group, as peer and group learning is a big part of my journey.
Surround yourself with people more intelligent than you who have done more than you. When I joined my Vistage group, they were all more intelligent than me, and it stretched me. It got me thinking differently; they'd ask questions I would have never thought to consider. If you're networking with people on the same level, you'll get an answer, but you might prefer something else.
2. Not realizing that being an entrepreneur is different from being a CEO in the business
The decisions you make and what you spend your time on as an entrepreneur or a founder are not the same as being the CEO of your company and doing activities a CEO would do.
The entrepreneurial piece is the drive to make it work, working all hours, hustling, and doing things last minute.
The CEO role is more strategic; it's what will scale your business and increase its value.
Unfortunately, I held on to the entrepreneurial piece for far too long. It's only recently that I transitioned into the CEO role. You can avoid this mistake by understanding the entrepreneur and CEO activities and how they differ and knowing when to put each 'hat' on—discerning the difference between being busy and doing everything yourself and leading a business.
3. Chasing shiny things
I've kept it somewhat in check, but my favorite thing of all time is coming up with new ideas. I've been guilty of starting too many projects or doing too many things.
We've created a culture at Duo that supports innovation, allowing us to bring new products and services to market.
Building a step in the process to check our ideas add value to others and align with our business ensures we make the right decisions; if it doesn't align, we shouldn't be doing it.
To avoid this in your business, be clear on your goal, deliverables, and numbers; use this as your decision-making filter.
Does it take you closer to your goal or further away from it? If it takes you further away from it, don't do it.
What are some things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
1. Think like a CEO, be strategic, and have strong leadership skills
Typically, entrepreneurs devalue leadership skills. They'll go on a scale-up program, where they'll learn to sell more, create products, and get investment. Post-scale-up, the business is in chaos because there is no established culture, the team needs to know who is leading them, people are leaving, and it's a toxic environment.
If an entrepreneur gets the leadership right from the beginning, they'll bring their people on the journey with them, and they'll invest in them, and in turn, they'll perform at a higher level. Avoid falling into the trap of prioritizing the sales and scale of the business over leading people, as the rest will come.
Instead, bring someone in if needed. In my business, I don't line manage anyone. My strengths are strategic thinking, the company's commercial side, product development, and networking.
I've learned to become a good leader, but I leave line management to those around me who are far better at it than me.
2. Headspace should be more noticed
As an entrepreneur, you spend your time doing a million things. To think strategically and make significant decisions, you must give yourself headspace.
3. Invest in things you need more time to be ready for
I've invested in so many things that, arguably, I needed more money as they were expensive. But usually, the value you get out of it is tenfold. I've invested in business groups and training that, at the time, was a 10th of my turnover.
I'd question why I was spending so much. But each time, I come away with connections, contacts, clients, or game-changing ideas or strategies.
When we're not making much money, our instinct is to conserve cash; it's all about the cash flow, right?
Sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate; if you sit in that safe zone of I'm not going to invest in myself, your growth will be much slower than if you're prepared to invest.
What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you've faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?
1. When I started the business, nobody really knew what culture was
It made it much harder for me to sell as I'd often get asked why culture is influential. Is it going to bring me more sales?
It was the intangible positive of having a good culture. Now people get why culture is so influential, but it's about human behavior too.
Why should you care about how someone in your business is motivated? We're ahead of the curve again. The education piece, at times, feels exhausting.
We overcame this by realizing that our work is the right solution for our clients. I believe it and have seen massive successes with it with our clients. Eventually, the market will catch up, and people will be ahead of that curve.
2. Creating products when all my experience was in service-based businesses
When I first started creating products, I didn't know how to make one let alone market one. At times, I questioned whether we could pull it off and create something people would invest in.
We overcame this by networking and surrounding ourselves with people who had made products. We tried and tested things. Finally, we accepted that we might have to do some MVP products that wouldn't work.
But that was okay, as it's knowledge, and we learned from it.
3. Overcoming COVID
When it happened, we were already delivering virtually with our global business. Using Zoom wasn't new; I knew we could provide virtually, and it worked. The first six months went well, then it continued for longer, and doubt started to creep in.
Will people feel comfortable parting with their money when there is still so much uncertainty? We were comfortable with the unknown, but our clients weren't.
We know how to influence people with change with our behavioral insight. But when it's forced change, and it's not a lack of change, it's a different ball game. You can't force people to part with money and tell them it'll be okay.
It's challenging not to panic; we were developing our behavioral product and spending significant money on it.
Nevertheless, we had to push forward with it because, at some point, the market would come around, and people would buy it. If we had stopped, we wouldn't have had a product to sell when things got back to normal.
Which critical pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier?
1. Avoid getting disheartened if several customers don't buy from you
It doesn't mean that what you've got isn't viable; the market is so big that you're more likely not speaking to enough people or the right people. If you talk to enough people, you'll get the business. You've got to go out and find them. Then, when you've found them, replicate them.
2. Get your processes in order
Document your standard operating processes immediately because it is much harder afterward.
Although I learned this one early in my entrepreneurial journey, it's excellent advice. Cash is king.
Some people are comfortable with irregular income, but I didn't want that feeling of falling off a cliff each month. So I created a retained income model from the beginning.
All entrepreneurs need to hear this advice, especially those selling one-off products, as your cash flow is on a rollercoaster. Consider how you can create a consistent income to cover your expenses with your retained income; anything above is the cherry on the cake.