The programme was never boring, no matter how familiar you are with the concepts. Our professor did an excellent job with the material, illustrating key ideas and facilitating breakthroughs in our thinking and understanding
Serial entrepreneur and founder, Simon Kelton, on how he found the insights, inspiration and the network to forge ahead with his latest venture.
Simon Kelton is a man of many and diverse interests and talents. A serial entrepreneur, founder, screenwriter and journalist, Kelton’s career is as eclectic as it is storied. Among his many achievements are founding roles in no fewer than 10 ventures, two books, 30 screenplays including the UK hit, Eddie the Eagle, and an award-winning stint as an adventure travel writer with the Telegraph Group.
Most recently, he founded Inspirational Adventures, a startup that connects travelers with out-of-the-ordinary trips and destinations, as well as complementary, creative content. Coming to INSEAD in 2021 to take the Entrepreneurship: New Business Ventures programme was, he says, a chance to look at this new challenge from a fresh perspective – a “sense-check” and an opportunity to “feel inspired.”
“Inspirational Adventures is not the typical corporate venture. We’re putting together something with a unique creative vision that is aimed at inspiring our users. To do this, I’m working with a team of very young collaborators – the average age is 21 – from all over the world. I felt it was time for a sense-check to ensure we were on track and ticking all the boxes. It was the right time to look at the different dimensions of the business and the journey from fresh angles.”
INSEAD also offered access to a European ecosystem – an entrepreneurial network – at a critical time for the company, he adds.
“We were at the point where we’d set up in the US and were moving into Europe, so I was looking to build contacts and connections on this side of the Atlantic. INSEAD offers the kind of world-class, international network – as well as the inspiration and the sheer quality of teaching and learning – that I was looking for. That, and as I have Master’s degrees from Oxford, Stanford and UCLA, I was just missing INSEAD on my CV,” he laughs.
Coming into the programme, Kelton was particularly interested in gaining competitive insights on operations, financing and how to optimise tech platforms – specific expectations that were not only met but exceeded, he says.
“I had a good idea looking at the format, materials and questions that this was the right programme before coming to INSEAD. But the true value came from our professors’ personal take on the subject which made the experience all the more exciting and inspirational.”
Ideas were continuously fleshed out using real-world cases, as well as research findings, which helped pull out their relevance and applicability, says Kelton. The admixture of concept and example meant that the learning experience was “always engaging.”
“The programme was never boring, no matter how familiar you are with the concepts. Our professor did an excellent job with the material, illustrating key ideas and facilitating breakthroughs in our thinking and understanding.”
One of these, he says, revolved around the topic of IP theft and team choices when founding a new venture, particularly when forging new contracts.
“I really used this part of the programme and the many examples we explored to reexamine many of my projects. I realised that in almost every case where there appeared to be an underlying blocker it turned out to be due to poor IP deals and team choices at the beginning. The answer is to become much more disciplined about who you work with and how you set up that deal, and if you are having issues to revisit the foundations of your business to see if there is a hidden problem that can be solved.”
A core takeaway from this discovery also touches on what Kelton describes as the dangers of “ego and hubris;” providing a timely reminder, he says, to look at early negotiations and deals from as many diverse perspectives as possible.
Diversity of perspective is perhaps the single greatest highlight of the programme, says Kelton. Working alongside different founders, having key “founder discussions” and exploring new ideas together not only helped him expand his own vision, but unearthed interesting and potentially fruitful synergies.
“Having spent over 25 years working in the US it’s very rewarding to spend time with such an international group. Not only does it challenge your preconceptions and develop your understanding of different cultures, but it also opens up all sorts of business possibilities. I came away with a wonderful commercial contact and possible investor in the Middle East, and I was also able to help a game developer from Eastern Europe with a personal contact of my own, based in the United States.”
Anyone considering the Entrepreneurship: New Business Ventures programme should expect to be challenged as well as rewarded, says Kelton. The days are intense and the learning will require a good deal of concentration, he warns. But the impact will be ballast for the road ahead.
“Whether you are an entrepreneur already, a creative business person or working in the corporate world, it is always helpful, affirming and exciting to go on a journey with some fellow travellers to think about and discuss why we do what we do. This not only makes you better at your job, it also gives you the passion and enthusiasm to weather the tough times ahead.”