Welcome to ‘Interview with an entrepreneur’, a series where we talk to entrepreneurs, industrialists & businessman and delve into their business mind. Today we interview Mitesh Patel who is the Founder of Lenstore, the 10th Fastest Growing Company in the UK. From friends, Mitesh learned that online ordering of contact lenses was very popular in other countries. It allowed customers to buy contact lenses at a lower price than offered by Opticians, and have them conveniently delivered to their door.

Mitesh Patel

Mitesh Patel

As a child were you exposed to any entrepreneurial influences?
Yes, my parents ran a corner shop in south London for 25 years, and from the age of 3 I was used as a branding tool in the shop, as I was a lot cuter than I am now! I worked the tills there and did a lot of filling up of chocolates, managing to steal some for myself meaning I was probably overweight by the time I was 13.
But, yes, business was in my blood from a very early age – from both of my parents.
Actually, I recently had dinner with the Business Minister and we were talking about a statistic that I think is relevant here. It is calculated that when children at schools are asked if they consider running a business to be a viable career option, 9/10 of the children that say ‘yes’ have a family member who run their own business.
In my opinion, it’s incredibly important to have an entrepreneurial influence from a young age.

What does your average work day consist of?
Now this is tricky because obviously each day is very different.
Every morning I start by building a list of things that I need to do that day. So many entrepreneurs build to-do lists that contain 50+ items each day, and it’s so long that they’re not able to get through everything every day, and they go home disappointed.
The best practise for me is to allocate a period of time to each item on my to-do list each morning. My target is always to create 6 hours worth of work for myself each day, because I know that by the time I get to work 3 extra hours of work will show up on my desk! So I always aim to do between 6 and 9 hours of really high quality work every day.
As far as my areas of priority are concerned, I manage by walking around. I like to have conversations with people in the business to get a good sense of things that have been over the last few days. I am obviously involved in all business admin, legal and financials, but my main priority is to spend time with the team, and to understand and implement the growth strategy of the business.

What are your most effective marketing techniques?
Search engine results page domination, both PPC and SEO are the most effective methods for new customer acquisition.
But the most important and effective thing for us at Lenstore is to retain existing customers, and we do that by having a Zappos style customer service and order fulfilment. We have a very strong ‘keep every customer happy’ mantra here, as not only is good customer feedback very rewarding, but a huge amount of customer satisfaction means repeat business for the company.

What business achievement are you most proud of?
This is an easy one for me – giving 30 talented people an engaging, supportive and fun environment to work in.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give young entrepreneurs starting out today?
The absolute key to being an entrepreneur is being creative – and it’s easiest to be creative when you have lots of influences in your life. So read novels, go to museums, play sports, talk to people, and don’t spend 24 hours of your day working on your business as your become snow blind.
People always say that in the early years you have to give your life to your business. While I completely appreciate the truth in that, you can’t do it at the expense of being the person that you are. If you do that, you’ll be a worse businessman.

In today’s economy, how important is it that a person attend University to be successful in business?
It’s not at all important. I went to Oxford University, one of the best in the country, and the world actually, and it’s full of bright and inspiring people – but I can tell you categorically 99/100 wouldn’t be able to run a business successfully.
To run a business it’s important that you have an active mind, to be curious about, and understand what it is that consumers want. More importantly, you need to have the determination to give it to them. Unfortunately understanding that e=mc2 doesn’t help you with that.

What advice would you give to SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to grow in a time of recession?
Most deep pocketed advertisers increase their advert spend during a recession. The reason behind this is that ad time is much cheaper, as there’s fewer people competing for it.
The point is, that if you’re an entrepreneurial businessmen, you should view a recession as an opportunity to gain an advantage over your competition rather than anything else. Talented people are out of work, advertising spend is cheapest, and this is a time when consumers are actively looking for a good deal (and this doesn’t always mean the cheapest price). If you don’t think this is a recipe for building a strong business with a great ROI, then you’re looking at the word recession in the wrong way!
Lenstore itself has benefited from the recession, very obviously seen through our fantastic achievement of being ranked 10th in The Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 for 2012. This is because people are looking online for a better deal, a more convenient and cost effective way of buying contact lenses.