By Gloria Lombardi

While we expect senior business people with decades of experience to have great insights to share, there’s much to learn from the younger generations.

Aged 23, Mark Matlock is a young entrepreneur with bold ambitions. He is the founder of three companies.

Integritas Arts advises on art investments, and Grown at Home is an app for selling home grown produce.

We Compare Any Care is a care home comparison website, designed to ease the process of finding the right home for your loved ones. Considering how difficult it can be to find a nursing home that offers the right level of care that’s local and affordable, We Compare Any Care is a helpful place to start during a stressful time.

MARGINALIA wanted to speak with Matlock to explore the skills required to be a successful entrepreneur in the 21st Century. In this interview, Matlock shares his views on the challenges and benefits of growing and leading a tech start-up, such as We Compare Any Care, with focus, purpose, and direction. He also offers advice to entrepreneurs who believe they have the next big idea, and shares his ambitions for the future.

Gloria Lombardi: You’ve launched three very different businesses – did each start from personal interest?

Mark Matlock: Yes, I was inspired to launch Integritas Arts due to a love of art. I founded the company when a was a teenager, helping a local antiques dealer, and in the process learnt how to authenticate and value items, as well as the art of restoration.

Grown at Home was inspired by my love of good food. I find home grown vegetables have a real difference in taste and nutrition. But I found it difficult to get hold of great organic produce, besides what I grew myself. It felt like a gap in the market. Healthy eating is on trend for every generation, and celebrities often endorse the idea of eating simple, good food – and avoiding highly processed foodstuffs. The Grown at Home app sources home grown food and arranges delivery to your door.

At 20, I came up with the idea for We Compare Any Care when my grandmother was in a care home. I was touched and grateful for the high-level of care she received, but I saw how much effort my family had to put in to make the right decision. I could imagine how families might have concerns about the quality of care and the costs when considering rehoming a loved one. There have been some horror stories in the news.

By developing a comparison site for care homes, I hope I’ve made things easier for families at what can be a stressful and emotional time. The site helps you find suitable homes and families can write reviews. Each care home lists its services, so if you’re looking for particular types of care, you can see which homes tick your boxes.

GL: Do you need tech expertise to run a tech-based company?

MM: A basic understanding helps. I work with the coders and software developers to design how things should work, but I’m not a coder myself. Without a technology background, it can sometimes be challenging to explain my vision in a way that the software programmers can quickly grasp. I’ve had to learn a lot about technical constraints too. There are many steps from idea to deployment, so I have to be patient and trust the process. Designing tech products can take months, and supposedly small changes can have big impacts.

But no, you can lead a tech company without knowing an awful lot about technology. If you’re entrepreneurial and there’s a market for your idea then you have to find the right people to support you – and so your idea has to be financially viable!

GL: So leading a team is important?

MM: Absolutely, yes. Teamwork is the most essential component of building a company. As the founder, you must always be respectful to the people who work for you. Leadership is about taking the time – providing the time – for people to understand the vision. It takes a lot of communication. You can’t assume everyone’s on the same page.

You have to look after your team – their work is the bedrock of the company; if you take care of them, they will take care of your company. It’s a shared responsibility.

A favourite phrase of Richard Branson’s is, “If you look after your staff, your staff will take care of the clients”, and it’s true.

I do wonder how larger tech companies treat employees. It’s not easy for anyone to spend all day long in front of a computer. While many of us have meetings and such, software developers often spend an inordinate amount of time on solo-coding – getting into the flow and focusing intently. Managers need to be sensitive to people’s concentration, but they also need to manage the team and not just the work, and that includes caring about colleagues’ mental and physical wellbeing.

Showing gratitude – in word and deed – can invigorate a team and improve engagement, but sometimes loyalty or engagement can translate into long hours – and it’s easy to suffer fatigue or even burnout.

GL: Do you feel, as an entrepreneur, that you have a role to play when it comes to using technology to better society?

MM: Yes, it’s always best to create something that can be a success and that also serves a purpose. This feels very 21st century to me; business ethics are often discussed, and I think many of us are trying to improve the world in terms of connectivity.

At We Compare Any Care, for example, the purpose is to ensure people have transparent information in front of them. To move a loved one into a care home is a massive decision for the family. They want their loved one to have the best life they can, to be cared for with compassion, and to live with dignity. So the purpose of We Compare Any Care is to serve the public – this is not an elitist or expensive service.

Further, I think transparency in the care industry is very much needed. In the UK at least, there have been some troubling stories of sub-standard care and worse. Running a care home is a complicated business – they have to truly treat every resident as an individual and manage complex individual needs. Those that do it well should be praised and seen as ‘market leaders’.

We Compare Any Care helps the reputation of the care sector, and helps families feel confident about their choices.

GL: What are the key skills required to be a successful entrepreneur in the 21st Century?

MM: New ideas must be generated and assessed. Have an open mind and be ready to fail. Failure is something to overcome, but you have to be prepared to change how you do things. If you can’t get momentum after three attempts, reassess your goals and consider other ideas. You have to know your markets and have a sense of the future; your idea can only succeed if the market is ready, or will be. For example, the government spends in excess of ten billion pounds on care. It’s a massive market and, if I think about scalability and efficiencies, it’s a market that merits more business attention.

Be confident and be bold. Your confidence has to inspire consumers and investors, and employees. You have to believe in your vision and your product, but you also have to listen to others. You don’t have to take all the advice that is offered, but you can learn from it. As much as you might love your ideas and products, you can’t be too attached. You will need to make changes, even compromises. You have to think about the purpose and the market more.

Plan ahead. What will your product and company be doing in five years? Will you really be selling the exact same stuff? Think about how the world is changing, how technologies are changing. Your great idea may not be a great idea for long. What will you do to develop your business?

Also, think about partnerships. There are so many technological developments, you can’t be expert at all of them. By working with other companies you can benefit from shared developments and tech, and expand your markets.

GL: What advice would you give entrepreneurs who believe they’ve got the next big idea?

MM: Keep your cards close to your chest, and your purse strings closer. You should always be discreet with information – knowledge is valuable. Don’t be too loud about your idea until you’ve really got it going. And obviously, know your finances; don’t just be the inventor, be the business person.

You’ll probably be very enthusiastic about your idea or fledgling business, but share that enthusiasm with the right people.

Have an NDA in your pocket – a non-disclosure agreement can protect you and your company from a myriad of unforeseen matters.

When seeking investment, know the facts – know your numbers and markets. Don’t waste people’s time by being unsure. Have the correct paperwork in place. In short, run your business, however small, in a professional manner. Get the basics done.

When launching, hit it right the first time. First impressions count, and people will judge your product or business on how it looks now – not on how you promise it will be next year. Investors will assess your work to see if they can make it better, to see if they can get a return on their investment. They will consider the market and your competitors, so you need to present a solid company that shows great potential.

Have humility. I think there are many things that I can still change, to improve the care sector and my own business. I don’t take things for granted. I test my own websites frequently, I consider new features and improvements, and work with my developers on the priorities. What I’ve created works for current generations, but what will people in ten years want from the care industry? I need to anticipate future needs and make sure I’m providing what people want.

Be quick and persistent. Considering the speed and impact of technological developments, I think it’s likely that the future will be highly regulated. It’s going to get harder to innovate owing to government regulation. The future is going to be bureaucratic, and launching a start-up will become a painstaking process. Right now, it’s pretty easy to create a website and offer a service, and create a legal company etc. If you have a good idea, get on it now as I don’t think you’ve got much time left.

Finally, have good people around you; positive energy is a great thing. Ensure you look after your health as business is stressful and challenging.

GL: Is there anything entrepreneurs may forget to focus on when they start out?

MM: Mainly, their family and friends. Starting a new business is time consuming but you should still make time for your family and friends as you need emotional support when going through unstable times. When you’re starting off on your own with limited funds, you can go through some very turbulent stages, and you need the stability offered by your loved ones, who can support you in a friendly way.

GL: What are your plans for the next 5 years?

MM: At the minute, I’m dedicating a lot more time to the comparison site because care is somewhat of a passion of mine. I’m doing this because I really do want to bring integrity back into the care sector.

I’m going to launch sister sites to We Compare Any Care. These will focus on helping the care sector directly. It’s very exciting for us, we’re venturing into new territories. We’ve had massive support so we’re looking at a prosperous future.

We want to expand globally, to meet different people’s requirements and needs, perhaps across the USA, Western Europe, and Australia.

So I’m not standing still. My goal is to make We Compare Any Care the first place to go when looking for nursing home recommendations.