Why I knew I would run my own business – and why anyone can

No need for imposter syndrome, says the founder of Stepladder and Studio 185
Ben Richardson
Ben Richardson

We talk about the benefits of having an entrepreneurial country, yet no one ever teaches you how to run your own business. For me, as cliché as it sounds, I feel like I always wanted to do it. When I was younger, at the age of ten, I was running loyalty programs in my street for free car washes, at 13 my now business partner and I were bulk buying whatever we could lay our hands on (pens were our staple, we got hundreds of them from a mate’s dad and sold them at 10p each in the playground) and flogging said stock in school and at the weekend. At 16 we started our own fashion label. I’ll be honest, it was absolute rubbish but we had a lot of our designs printed on decent quality t-shirts and set about selling them to independent fashion shops in London. Covent Garden and Brick Lane did reasonably well for us, but ultimately, as those who know me would tell you, fashion was never really ever going to be my calling!

Later in my teens I got to spend some time at a large advertising agency where my cousin, Warren Moore was Creative Director. The atmosphere in that place was quite simply electric. Young (but older than me) trendy talent, coming up with brilliantly creative solutions for their clients and celebrating pitch wins in their in-house bar… from that moment, I wanted my own agency!

Our first proper venture was Stepladder, started in May 2009 and is still going strong today, one of the four members of the Avenue Group. Like in those early days of realising young people needed pens at school, we started out looking at the market. The world was in financial turmoil coming off the back of credit crunch which made for an extremely cost conscious marketplace. With just the two of us, some second hand IT equipment and two rented desks in Clerkenwell, we could be very malleable with our pricing structure. The other big opportunity came from the fact that the world of Real Estate branding at the time hadn’t seemed to have caught up with the B2C sectors in terms of strategy and customer profiling. Having hired a lot of underperforming agencies myself having worked client side, I fancied our chances against the ‘competition’. Thankfully now, the market has really flourished in this sense, there are some great agencies out there specialising in this sector, making for a very competitive landscape and ultimately, a better real estate market as a result.

I never really had imposter syndrome. It may sound egotistical and maybe a bit naive but I really backed myself and believed I could out gun my competition both creatively and tactically in terms of delivery and cost. Where I really suffered was trying to fit in and appear credible to my target market. I’m state school educated and left school at 16 due to personal circumstances with very little in terms of qualifications. The complete opposite to my customers. I thought I looked different and I knew I certainly sounded different. I really struggled with this for a long time and I tried everything to overcome it. I wore suits to appear more professional. I developed an awful ‘work voice’ that when I think back to now makes me shudder with embarrassment. Being different is a bit of a super-power if harnessed correctly, and I think it can be used really well as a differentiator but finding the confidence to own it is the hard part.

There is so much talent out there, real natural talent, young masters of their craft but the only thing stopping them from moving forward at pace is the lack of commerciality in their mindset. People want to run their own businesses, but don’t know how. I’m a big fan in giving the next generation opportunities maybe ahead of their years in terms of typical career progression. When we do this at Avenue, we often need to spend the first 6-12 months coaching them in the business acumen before they can really own their domain.

Because as I have shown, anyone can do it. It takes courage, bravado, and resilience. But you can run your own business.

Ben Richardson is the founder of Stepladder, Beyond, Studio 185 and LongStoryShort, a under the umbrella of the Avenue Group.

Written by
Ben Richardson
August 8, 2023