As a serial entrepreneur and board member at one of the world’s biggest football clubs, Didac Lee doesn’t lack confidence. But, until he took the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning’s Ignite programme for budding entrepreneurs, that wasn’t always the case.
“The first thing I learned when I arrived in Cambridge was that there are no excuses,” says Didac Lee, serial entrepreneur and FC Barcelona board member, who admits to having felt nervous at the time about his prospects. “I felt that I was never going to create a company because I was a village boy from Spain and my English wasn’t very good. I had a lot of excuses.
“But when I was in Cambridge, I realised that there were people from everywhere – from India, from Germany. They weren’t any different from me – except that they weren’t making excuses. So that’s what I learned from them. No excuses.”
Lee, who completed the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning’s Ignite programme at Cambridge Judge Business School in 2005, is living proof of that philosophy. It runs through everything he does – even his Twitter profile. “Head in the clouds,” it runs, “and feet on the ground. #CarpeMomentum.”
He started his first company, Internet service provider Intercomgi, in 1995, with just €18,000 (£15,000). He had, he says, no knowledge, no experience and no established network. But he did have dedication, and the ambition to think bigger. By 2005, Intercomgi employed 30 people. But, he felt, he could do more.
“I was very local,” he remembers. “The company was focused in my home province of Girona, and it’s a small province. A friend recommended the Centre’s Ignite programme, and it changed me a lot. It was a turning point. It helped me to open my business mind, increase my contacts and improve my networking skills.”
He won the Ignite award for Best Technology Entrepreneur, and returned to Spain eager to start a new enterprise, Inspirit, which today comprises nine technology companies operating across sectors including online marketing, security, software engineering and e-commerce. It has more than 400 employees and branches across the world, including Brazil, Japan, Mexico, China and Silicon Valley.
As a board member of FC Barcelona, he’s taken on the challenge of improving the club’s social media profile and extending its global reach. He also has interests in numerous other enterprises, including founding Scubastore.com, one of Europe’s biggest outdoor sports online retailers.
For a man who’s clearly serious about what he does, his advice might sound surprising. “Set up a company you’ll have fun with,” he says. “A lot of people try to set up companies, exit them, and make a lot of money. I think the money is a consequence of the work, not the main reason to start. It’s so important to find that reason – the why. A lot of people focus on the how but they don’t focus on the why.”
And, of course, that initial idea needs to be translated into serious work. “It’s about passion and motivation. Passion is when you would rather be working on your project than going to the cinema. Motivation is when you have a reason to do that. My reason was that I wanted to do something big – something global.”
He’s certainly succeeded in that: he picked up an award last year from the Founder Institute as highest rated European mentor and is currently one of Wired‘s Top 100 European digital influencers. But Lee isn’t finished yet. His next project will be an investment fund – “venture capital with an entrepreneurial approach” – with which he’s hoping to find and help build future successes by working with early stage startups.
“If you start small and think big, you can achieve anything,” he says. “It might sound a bit romantic. But I truly believe it.”
Didac is interested in hearing from…
… potential partners or investment prospects – particularly if they already have products in the market.
Find out more
Applications for this year’s Ignite programme, an intensive, one-week training programme for aspiring entrepreneurs and corporate innovators to trial and prepare business ideas for the commercial environment, close at the end of May
Follow Didac Lee on Twitter @DidacLee