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Opinion: Lloyd Dorfman says entrepreneurs must be prepared to take a gamble and work hard


Starting a business can be lonely and there will be setbacks along the way. Entrepreneurs have to be prepared to take a gamble and work hard.

Starting a business has many challenges, but if you crack it, there are few things more satisfying. Forty years ago, I founded Travelex from a shop in central London. It was 1976, the run-up to the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and London was preparing for hundreds of thousands of tourists. So at the age of 24, hungry to set up my own outfit, I thought it would be a good idea to start a currency exchange business in London.

For the first few months, it was just me in the shop. Setting up on your own is hard and invariably lonely. However, Travelex grew from that single shop to become a highly regarded international business. In time, we became the largest retail foreign exchange firm in the world, and established a wholesale business. To do this, we had to challenge the established order, and especially the big banks, with their stranglehold over airports.

There was no 40-year masterplan at the beginning. Entrepreneurship is not always like that; rather it is about spotting and taking opportunities. Action is paramount, and often the first-mover will have an advantage. I had three key ingredients at the beginning. First, a customer base that wanted to use my services. Second, the start-up capital, as a family friend gave me a loan of £25,000 to start the business. Third, I was committed to giving my all, and had the unstinting support of my immediate family.

Nowadays, there are myriad challenges facing small businesses, from access to finance, staffing and regulation. At the same time, technology has opened up opportunities. Despite the challenges, the entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing in Britain.

We should do everything to encourage entrepreneurship from all sections of society. That is why I am delighted that one of the programmes run by the Prince’s Trust, which I chair, helps youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds to start a business.

The Trust, as with Travelex, is also 40 years old this year, having been founded by the Prince of Wales in 1976 after he left the navy. More than 80,000 firms have been created through the Trust’s enterprise programme since it started in 1983. They tend to have high endurance, with 73 per cent still trading after three years. Several have grown to be success stories.

There are huge advantages to setting up your own business. You can be your own boss and control your own destiny. But it requires resilience and perseverance. It’s important to not be deterred by setbacks. They will inevitably happen and it’s how we react to them that determine the success of the business.

In addition, for an entrepreneur with several good ideas, there are multiple opportunities. Travelex was sold in 2014, and nowadays I am Chairman and majority shareholder of two businesses, the Office Group (flexible office provider) and Doddle (online shopping click-and-collect), both of which are disrupting their sectors.

Being an entrepreneur is a risky business, and it’s not for everyone. But I am proud of the two organisations I have led, Travelex and the Prince’s Trust, and for the role they have played in encouraging entrepreneurship.

Lloyd Dorfman founded Travelex and is Chairman of the Office Group, Doddle and the Prince’s Trust