Spotlight on - Charles Burns
We spoke to The Apprentice’s Charles Burns- founder of Allergi, about his day to day running of his own business, and his business journey so far.
The Apprentice gets around 7 million views, so It was bizarre becoming instantly recognisable.
I’ve been an entrepreneur as long as I can remember. Age 11 I was bulk buying sweets from Costco and selling them on the school bus. I was making £100 a week aged 11. It came to the point where I was aged 15 and I had £20k in cash in a bank account.
It’s normal to me that every opportunity that came along, I tried to make money from it. I was also academic, and my parents wanted me to go to University. So I went to university to try and get a law degree. A day in I knew it wasn’t for me. So then I had to convince my parents that it wasn’t for me. I didn’t like university culture at all, but what I did enjoy was finding opportunities- for example when nightclubs needed flyers, I would end up producing the flyers for these nightclubs and making some money.
It was during this time that I was watching Steve Jobs’ speech at Harvard, and he gave me my favourite quote of all time: “You cannot connect the dots going forwards, only backwards.”
And also “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Listening to this it dawned on me that, I didn’t want to be representing big business, I wanted to be doing the business employing people. So I left university.
I went to work at my family jewellery business, but I wanted to add my own value. Tesco was running a programme called the store management development programme. Which I thought would be great to expand my skillset. I was there for a year when I realised that it wasn’t for me, it just so happened that my old school had asked me to come and talk to them about my other options other than university. I was at the school career day, and I realised that there was another programme relating to being a buyer at Tesco, and I knew that this was for me, so I pursued it.
My day to day
I founded a company called Allergi, to make eating out easier for people with allergies. We’ve created a revolutionary app. Day to day, I’m on calls, I’m negotiating, I reach out to restaurants and I manage the people around me to make sure everything is done.
It’s important to me to think about how we use marketing and technology to run a great business. The business itself has been in the running for a year, but the app has been out for 5 weeks now. We’ve already been nominated for awards such as innovator of the year. It’s new, its fun and it’s exciting.
Drive and determination
My Great Great Grandad came to England with nothing from Poland. He worked in a bakery and when the owner got ill, my Great Great grandad bought it off him. So I believe that entrepreneurship is ingrained in me, there are entrepreneurs on every side of my family. I know for a fact that when you grow up around entrepreneurs and are exposed to it from an early age, you think that it’s the only way for you. I always knew I would work for myself.
You can’t need constant approval when you’re running your own business, you have to be able to take knocks.
I’m a passionate person and I’m always thinking about what I can do to improve myself and what I do. That is also the type of person I like to work with.
Starting your own business
The biggest thing that will hold you back from succeeding is people saying that you can’t do it. There will always be people that will tell you that you’re not good enough. But you don’t have to listen to the people that don’t support you. Surround yourself with people who believe in you.
People are often put off by the fact that their idea already exists, and they decide not to go for it- you will only succeed if you believe that you can do it better. Be productive and smart with your time- and have a great time doing it.
Managing at Tesco, they had 3 core values. One of them was ‘Treat people how they like to be treated.’ It’s important to respect the people you’re managing, get to know them, put yourself in their shoes and realise that we’re all individuals. This is how you’ll motivate your team and get the best out of them. You should be empathetic to those around you and not just treat them as numbers on a spreadsheet.
How has Covid-19 affected your business?
I’ve seen restaurants closing as a good opportunity, people can test the app and see if there is any data that is wrong. We can then see this before restaurants are even open! Restaurants are sat at home not doing much, especially if they are independent. They are available to speak to me now so I’m working this as an opportunity. I could have easily given up and not done anything whilst restaurants are closed, however, I’ve used it to my advantage, working as hard as I can throughout this period. There is always a way to get around the problem.
The worst case is you’ve learnt a lot, the best case is you’ve learnt a lot too. As long as you keep learning and progressing, you’re succeeding.
Keep doing what you’re doing, at 16 I would not have told you that I was going to be on The Apprentice, I wouldn’t have told you I was going to get big investments and have so many problems for my business, Allergi, to come out of all of that at the end. Have confidence in yourself, keep being curious and keep being passionate. You’ll attract the right people and good things will happen.
Thanks so much to Charles for chatting to us, you can check out Allergi, here!