Welcome to the Tough Cookies series where we interview and celebrate the strong and determined individuals who are making waves in the tech industry.
This week we catch up with Ash, founder of Yena, who is taking his company from strength to strength this year by opening meetup groups in places around the world such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Melbourne. Ash consistently shows amazing commitment and support to the startup scene in Bristol – making him one tough cookie we HAD to interview!
So tell me a bit about Yena and why you founded it?
Yena originally started 6 years ago as a network for young entrepreneurs, where free events acted as a safe space to connect, learn, share and do business. I started it because I was one myself and realised just how challenging the journey is for anyone aspiring to run their own business. It’s lonely, it’s expensive, it an unending learning curve and no one tells you where to start. After 3 years, people wanted to buy something from us so we launched a membership, accessible for all sectors, ages and stages to help anyone, anywhere access a startup ecosystem affordably and get on their way to building a successful business.
So when you say “young” entrepreneurs… how young are we talking?
When we started out, Yena was designed specifically to be exclusively for under 30s. We then moved that to 35 after realising that your 30s are arguably the loneliest time to start a business as your friends have all likely built a foundation of a life and career by then while you’re about to undergo something incredibly different with sacrifices to be made. As we developed our paid membership, we realised that this limitation didn’t deliver on our core mission and so we scrapped the age limit and the acronym. ‘YENA’ became ‘Yena’ and the product became accessible to all. However, our Rebel Meetups (as they’re now called) are still designed to be a safe space for the next generation to connect.
It must have been a great moment when you did your TedX talk! How did that come about?
Oh, there’s a whole blog on that here! In short, though, it’s about relationships, perceived value and timing. Delivering value to enough people, for long enough, in the right subjects, and the relevant circles, will expose you to opportunities like this. I did just that until one of the organisers of a local event asked me to speak and I, of course, said yes! Sadly, their first email fell into my spam though, so I actually only had about two weeks to write a talk. I winged it on the day with an ‘invisible clicker’ too. Watch it, if you’d like!
Are you seeing a change in the way young people are founding tech companies?
I think we’re seeing a generational change in the attitude towards business altogether, both for the good & the bad but I think the good wins out in the end. There’s a lot of fallacy around entrepreneurship with many people wanting to explore it for the title alone. Luckily though, I think most realise soon enough (or right away, anyway) that entrepreneurship is a vocation that can give you a career without ceilings and the flexibility of making your own rules.
I think we’re seeing a generational change in the attitude towards business altogether
Thanks to the internet, more and more people (young people especially) are able to start up than ever before. And we aim to help make that even easier by providing an ecosystem of support, accessible digitally, for just £9 a month.
What has been a low point for you in your career and how did you overcome it?
Do I have to pick just one?!
I think imposter syndrome is a constant/consistent low-point for all founders and is always a surprise with how rapidly it can come and go. One minute you can be feeling top of the world and the next minute (literally) you can be facing bankruptcy, burn-out or self-doubt. The best way I’ve found to deal with this is to become comfortable with its inevitability. Knowing the logic behind ‘great times’ existing is because ‘bad times’ also exist, allows you to remain slightly more calm during moments of doubt, until they pass and you’re back at the top again.
This process can numb the emotional experience for founders though, generally across all aspects of life. So my tip to remain human while managing the stress is to double down on enjoying the great times. That little reward can really keep your motivation going.
You’ll always wish you’d started earlier and you’ve actually far less to lose than you might think.
Any advice for a young person looking to found a tech company?
Just do it. And sooner than you think you should. You’ll always wish you’d started earlier and you’ve actually far less to lose than you might think. Ignore the doubters, stay true to your mission, deliver, deliver, deliver. Oh and get the best accountant you can afford – they’re invaluable.
Any other great networking events we should be going to? (Aside YENA of course!)
Glug is fantastic for creatives. They have events across the world with great speakers and a ‘notworking’ culture, of fun before business (in a good, not-cheesy way). Startup Grind events exist globally too and are generally organised fairly well. However, I often find the best networking is done at events you’d not expect to be at. My oldest tip for finding interesting clients/partners/people is The Boat Show. Anyone there is either selling a boat (in business, probably rich, interesting stories) or buying a boat (also in business, probably richer, possibly even more interesting stories). Although I do tell a lot of people that so now the Boat Show may just be full of techies… ha!
And finally… if you were a fruit what would you be and why?
Always love the last question of an interview for this very reason…
I’d probably say a banana because, thanks to Yena, you’ll usually find me among a bunch (of people, not bananas). However, I’m probably at my best when I’m on my own – it’s weird being a secret introvert running a company that requires a lot of extroversion!