Vana Koutsomitis

Official site of Vana Koutsomitis

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A couple of months ago, I gave a speech to 200 people in the Mayor’s office in London for the final of BBC1’s ‘The Apprentice’. The biggest challenge for me was thinking about the fact that 8 to 10 million people would be watching the final episode, so I was not merely public speaking with a 200 person audience. Instead, I felt like I was giving the biggest speech of my life. Very rarely do people speak to millions of people; especially if they are presenting a startup business idea. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it required a great deal of mental preparation.

In order to overcome the stress of this daunting task, I followed the following steps. I decided to share them with you because I believe they can be helpful tactics for public speaking engagements.

  1. Take deep breaths. Don’t just breathe in and out of your mouth though. What you need to do is this: breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds. Then hold your breath for 7 seconds. Then breathe out of your mouth for 5 seconds. If you do this several times, you calm your body down.
  2. Smile. If you smile a lot before you go on stage, your body diminishes its stress levels. I once read that if you’re ever suffering from stress or anxiety, smiling or laughing is a great way to trick your brain into thinking that everything is “under control.”
  3. Pretend you are Mo Farah. Yes – I know it sounds strange but the best thing you can do is to mimic the body language of a winner at the end of a race. Put your hands up over your head and imagine that you just nailed your speech. This prepares your body to display positive and open cues to the audience.
  4. Choose a few friendly faces in the audience and speak to them. Rather than getting overwhelmed by the large numbers of people, you should find a few people who you think look engaged and just speak directly to them. Make eye contact often. And smile at them. Pretend you are just having a one-on-one conversation. It will make your speech much more powerful for the entire audience.
  5. Speak slowly. This is the best tip I’ve ever gotten because I never noticed how quickly I was speaking when I was public speaking. That is, until I was in the audience of another speech that I felt I couldn’t keep up with. There is nothing more frustrating for the audience than feeling lost in the speed of the presentation. Take things extra slow. Enunciate. It may feel like you’re speaking ridiculously slow but that probably means you’re doing a great job.

I hope these tips help you in your future public speaking endeavours.

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In your early to mid-twenties (and probably regardless of how old you are) passing on a ‘conventional’ career in favour of starting your own company is many things, all bundled up into a way of life and a train of thinking.  It’s hard, it’s fun; it’s exhilarating; it’s exhausting; it’s stupid; it’s brave; it’s daring; it’s precocious; its infuriating; its inspiring; its frightening, its liberating.

I started Inploi without ever having had a proper conventional job. I’d put off the real world whilst racking up degrees, and left Oxford’s SaÏd business school with a brain full of theory, a belly full of fire, and an imagination full of ideas. It was make or break— go off and get a real job, like the rest of my class mates, or, step into the unknown with little experience in the business world.  As it turned out, I went with the latter, met a great co-founder over the summer and continued on a roller coaster ride in pursuit of my dreams.

And what a ride it has been, and will continue to be! We work insane hours, have very little money, drink far too much coffee and frequently feel like we’re punching way above our weight. We cycle frantically all over the city between meetings, seeing potential investors, advisors, PR agencies, potential users for our app, lawyers, accountants, developers, film directors, other entrepreneurs and all other manner of people. People are remarkably generous with their time and willing to help, if only you ask them. We learn something new (and often very many things) every day. In a word, we’re on an adventure!

Occasionally when I’m having a down day, and I see friends who have fantastic careers and I consider our position, with no income and no ‘jobs’, I wonder if we’ve gone completely mad. But then I think about the potential of what we’re doing, and what it might be, and then dive back into it with renewed energy. And I think that is what anybody who has taken the start-up ‘plunge’ must draw upon to keep them going. It is absolutely crazy to attempt to set up a business without having a strong belief that what you’re trying to achieve has the potential (and indeed ought) to succeed. The ‘start-up’ life for the sake of it is a bad idea.

And, whilst we’re optimistic, we realise that all of our efforts may come to nothing. Inploi may fail to get any traction; there may be a point at which we decide it would be foolish to continue, and pull the plug. But we’ll only be able to do that without regret if  have given it our all trying to succeed.  We quit our jobs, have spent our savings and have stretched resources as far as possible, ‘bootstrapping’ along the path to launch. And we’re nearly there. But, if it fails, and it might, I don’t think we’ll have any regrets. Yes, we could have been building a career in a beautiful office somewhere, suited up on the 09:00-17:00. Instead we’ve dived headfirst into the tides of business, and got our hands dirty trying to build one from the ground up. We’ll come out of this experience, whatever the outcome, with our perspectives forever changed. We’ll have learnt and experienced things that we could not have done any other way. And that makes the journey and every ounce of effort we put in completely worth it.

If you have an idea which you deeply believe is capable of and ought to succeed; have some support for this from the people who would be your users or customers; have the stamina to operate under conditions of extreme uncertainty; and some way of supporting yourself long enough to see a start-up to the point of investment (and this may mean the doubly difficult approach of getting the ball rolling whilst working on another job), then step into the void. Who know’s where you’ll end up.

@mattdelahey

Throughout my experience on the show, I have grown very fond of my fellow candidates and their larger than life personalities. We have been able to get to know one another in a rigorous business setting. Under pressure and stress, people tend to reveal their true colours; this was definitely true in our case! I thought it would be fun to match each of the final 5 candidates with a wine that reminds me of them. All of my choices are simply based on my wine preferences and I believe that each of these wines are perfect for any occasion. I have listed the candidates in alphabetical order. In case you are interested in purchasing any of these wines, they are all available on Virgin Wines’ website.

In the next couple of weeks, VinobyVana will be coming to the UK market via Virgin Wines. I am working with Joris Magenti, a fellow Oxford MBA graduate, on this venture and we are sourcing the aromatized wine drink from his hometown in France. Make sure to grab a bottle for your holiday festivities! VinobyVana Pink Grapefruit is the perfect party drink.

Gary Poulton: Red Claret

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Gary is the type of man you can always count on to make the logical decisions. He is an old soul and has the ability to rationally deduce what is going on in any situation. He is contemplative and thoughtful. He is comparable to a traditional French Cabernet Sauvignon. He is robust and slightly oaked but also consistent. You always know what to expect with him! I have chosen a Cabernet Sauvignon blend to characterize Gary because he also has something unique and special about him! Try this Cabernet Sauvignon Blend with Merlot and Cabernet Franc – Chateau Moulin du Terrier Bordeaux Rouge.

How I describe him:

  • Reliable
  • Classic
  • Traditional

Joseph Valente: Chianti ­Classico

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Joseph is a passionate, bold young man who knows what he wants. He is ambitious and has great aging potential. He has fruit upfront, like a Chianti, but also maintains the traditional, structured notes that the old Italian wines are famous for. Joseph has a lot of wonderful character. He is well­balanced, with a mix of logical and passionate characteristics. This full­bodied red embodies Joseph’s Italian flavours quite well! Try this: Monte Bernardi Retromarcia Chianti Classico.

How I describe him:

  • Smart
  • Logical
  • Bold

Charleine Wain: Sauvignon Blanc

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Charleine is a strong woman who makes an impact on everyone she meets. She’s funny and kind but also exuberant and diligent. She is just like a South African Sauvignon Blanc. She is classically elegant but also has something sprightly and fun about her. Something different and spunky. Charlene is a mum and she exudes a special warmth that is characteristic of this wine. She knows how to make everyone feel comfortable and she is an easy drinking wine for any occasion! Try this: South African Sauvignon Blanc ­ Cederberg Sauvignon Blanc.

How I describe her:

  • Bright
  • Bold
  • Jovial

Richard Woods: Champagne

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Richard has a great personality. He is always positive, optimistic and bubbly. Like champagne, he is a cornerstone for every dinner party. Not only does he bring positive energy to every situation, he exudes confidence and wittiness. Richard is comparable to a semi brut champagne. His bubbly nature is immediately apparent but it is subtle and light. He also has a hint of sweetness that lingers in the mouth after! Try this: Pierre Paillard Grand Cru NV.

How I describe him:

  • Witty
  • Funny
  • Bubbly

Vana Koutsomitis: Aromatized Wine Drink ­VinobyVana Pink Grapefruit

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I am an outgoing person with a lot of energy. I love to socialize, meet new people and explore new environments. I would compare myself to VinobyVana Pink Grapefruit. I like to keep a rosy, pink outlook on life because I believe in the power of optimism. At the same time, I am different than the typical wine. I am an aromatized wine drink that is new and unlike anything you’ve tried before. I’m traditional and classic but have a hint of juiciness and fruit flavour! Try VinobyVana soon.

How I describe myself:

  • Charismatic
  • Fun
  • Different

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One of the biggest hurdles I faced when I began working on my own was the lack of structure in my daily routine. One day, I would wake up and tackle my emails in the morning. The next day, I would have my meetings in the morning and deal with emails in the afternoon.

What I found eventually was that I was constantly off balance. I didn’t understand what the issue was. As I began to structure my days more, I began to find peace and harmony. I was also able to improve my efficiency and achieve more on a daily basis. I was able to finetune my daily routine to figure out what worked for me. This is not a one-size-fits-all formula; each person has to tailor their daily routine to fit their own needs. However, I would like to outline my daily routine, to inspire you to create one for yourself.

7:00am –      Wakeup

                        Coffee and Breakfast

                        Read News   

                        Get Ready

9:15am –       Go to office

10:00am –    Arrive at office

Work on proposals, writing or creative work. I find that I “produce” best in the morning. As the day goes on, I get more and more caught up in distractions and admin work.

1:30pm –       Lunch without phone. I find it important to disconnect for 30 minutes to refresh and reboot.

2:00pm –      Answer emails and handle social media.

3:30pm –      Handle admin work. This includes legal, accounting and bills.

7:00pm –      Leave office

Go straight to the gym. I find that if I go home before going to the gym, I feel much more lethargic. I prefer to go directly from the office.

As you can see, I am a morning person, so I tend to do my most important work in the morning. This varies from person to person, so you just need to create a daily routine that maximizes your efficiency and motivates you to do your best work possible!

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My biggest piece of advice is this: try not to work from home.

When I first started my company, I did not consider renting an office or workspace. My assumption was that I would work from home. It seemed like the perfect setup; I wouldn’t have to waste time on commuting and I could focus all my energy on my startup. Within a month, however, I realized the downsides of working from home.

Initially, working from home made me work longer hours because I would work from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep. But this was neither sustainable nor productive. Although I was working more hours, I was not utilizing my time efficiently. The time I spent on my personal tasks began to blend in with my work time. Before I knew it, I found myself working in pajamas and doing my household chores during my lunch break.

Working from home also made me feel lonely. I began spending the entire day at home alone and did not interact much with people. This was a stark contrast to working in an office, where you interact with colleagues throughout the day.

Early on, I made the decision to rent a desk from a friend of mine who had a startup of his own. I paid a small fixed fee per month to utilize the desk and I could come and go as I pleased. This is something I highly recommend, if you have the financial resources to do so. Setting aside a small allocation for workspace can be enormously beneficial for your productivity, efficiency and mental health.

If you are able to spare a bit of money each month, you can consider the following options:
Co-working spaces are a good option.
Co-working spaces allow you to work among a group of likeminded individuals in an office environment. Surrounding yourself with this startup energy is beneficial because it propels you forward and can motivate you to get the most out of your workday.

Another added benefit of working in a shared space is the new connections you can create. Expanding your network will help you get integrated into your local startup scene. Other entrepreneurs can help you by giving you tips and advice and they can also introduce you to relevant partners, employees or investors.

Or you can rent a desk from an existing startup.
This is the route that I chose from the beginning and it has worked well for me so far. It is a more intimate option than the co-working space, where you often have hundreds of people within the same building. Additionally, it is a more stable option when it comes to having a desk of your own. In a co-working space, you will rotate desks each day, depending on when you come and go. If you rent from an existing startup, you will probably be allocated a desk that you can keep on a daily basis. This makes it easier to leave your belongings in the office, which is very convenient.

If you are tight on cash, work from a coffee shop.
Working from a coffee shop is my least favorite option, as it can often be loud and distracting, but it is definitely preferable to working from home. Spending your days in a caffeinated, buzzing environment is beneficial because it is energizing and allows you to separate your work time from your personal time. Additionally, it will expose you to people, which will ensure that you don’t feel lonely and isolated the way I did when I first started working on my startup.

Creating structure is crucial for maximizing your productivity as an entrepreneur. After a few years of working on my own, I have perfected my workplace setup, so it really works for me. The structure and routine that I have created sets me up for success. Although I don’t work in a large office or have a “start time” every morning, I create an office environment and set a schedule that I stick to.

Overall, I think choosing the right place to work is crucial to succeeding as an early stage startup. Stay tuned next week for my blog post about how to structure your daily routine!

When is the right time to leave your full-time job to pursue your startup dream? The truth is, it will always be a tough decision. People often say, “there is never a ‘right’ time to have a baby,” and I think the same sentiment applies to venturing away from a stable income to start your own company.

Here are my four tips to build the foundation necessary to succeed with your new company:

1. Build a solid team.

This is crucial for setting the company up for success. The most important foundation for your company is its PEOPLE. I believe that there is power in numbers and it is imperative to have a team that can handle all the different aspects of the business.

I have tried running a startup on my own and it is almost impossible to create a sustainable business this way because you don’t have enough support to handle all the moving parts. My best advice on assembling a team is to make sure that each member has different, complementary strengths. The best team, in my opinion, consists of one person who is good with numbers and can handle accounting and finances, another person who is good at sales and marketing and can communicate effectively with customers and investors and another person who is detail oriented and can handle operations and the administrative aspects of the company.

2. Create a concise business plan.

Once you are able to clearly define what your business will do, you will be able to hit the ground running. Don’t be overwhelmed by the prospect of writing an 100-page business plan. Instead, follow the advice of venture capital firms and limit your business plan to twenty PowerPoint slides. Your abbreviated business plan should be short and sweet and it should contain the following elements:

● Mission / Vision: One sentence that defines the goal of your company.
● Problem & Solution: What is the problem your company aims to solve and how does your company provide a solution?
● Market: How big is the market? What is the is the size of the opportunity?
● Plan of Action: What steps will you need to take to achieve your goals?
● The Team: Who is on your team and how will each person contribute? How have you defined the roles?
● The Financials: Outline how much your startup will cost to launch and how you plan on monetizing it.

Sequoia Capital, one of the largest venture capital firms, provides an excellent guide for creating your business plan. You can find it here: https://www.sequoiacap.com/article/writing-a-business-plan/. I think it is important to have your business plan completed and polished before leaving your day job.

3. Save up and prepare to live on tight budget.

Changes to your budget and lifestyle will likely be one of the toughest adjustments that you will have to make when you leave your full-time job to create your own company. Living on a tight budget is essential when starting your own venture because you probably won’t have a steady stream of income for several months. My best advice is to consider less expensive living arrangements, as rent tends to be a high expense. Maybe it’s time to sublet your cousin’s guest bedroom?

I would recommend saving up enough money to sustain your living expenses for at least nine months. Running out of cash is one of the most common reasons that startups fail. In order to set yourself up for success, you need to make sure your reserves are plentiful enough to last until you generate income or raise money.

4. Identify at least three mentors to support and guide you.

My experience has taught me the importance of having mentors and advisors who can help guide you in the right direction. Before you make any decisions, identify at least three people that you trust and respect to mentor and guide you. Preferably, these individuals work in your field of interest. Your mentor could be a former colleague, a family member or a friend. Tell your mentors your plans and ask for their opinions. Having a third party opinion is extremely valuable because it will make you think of potential roadblocks and issues that could arise. Inevitably, your mentors and advisors will ask you some tough questions that will encourage you to develop your business plan more thoroughly. Additionally, they will serve as a sounding board if and when you need help.

Mentors and advisors are crucial because they act as a support network. Creating a strong support system will make your startup experience smoother.