This week Inspired Series interviewed Laurence Grant and Robert O’Sullivan, founders of Croydon-based networking company Shaking Hands. Since its inception at the start of 2016, Shaking Hands has gone from strength to strength – the dynamic duo won an award for ‘Young Start Up Talent’ in Croydon, they were shortlisted for Best New Business in Croydon, Chair the Good Employment Charter in Croydon, and have recently been made Commissioners on Croydon’s Small Business Commission. Rob and Laurence’s passion, enthusiasm and ambition is testament to the spirit of Croydon’s thriving business community.
What inspired you to start Shaking Hands?
RO: We met doing door-to-door sales in Croydon and the idea for Shaking Hands started off in a bedroom flinging ideas around. We knew we wanted to make a social impact and promote strong collaborative thinking in Croydon. Shaking Hands gives us a platform to help companies challenge the barriers that they might be facing.
What would you say is key to your success so far?
RO: The people that have joined us. Based on the concept of what we are trying to build, they have been key for us.
LG: Being able to facilitate a collaborative spirit is really at the heart of what we do. Everyone’s ambition when starting a business is to make an impact or solve a problem, you are much more efficient at solving problems when you’re a bigger number of people.
Having grown up around Croydon, what are your thoughts on its transformation and what does it feel like to be part of it?
LG: There are so many large developments that it’s actually changing the make-up of the landscape and skyline of Croydon. It’s a real privilege to be bridging the gap between existing businesses, new businesses coming through and social enterprises so that when Westfield arrives for example, it can integrate into what Croydon already has, rather than forcing smaller businesses out.
RO: Croydon’s offer far surpasses a lot of other places in London and for us that has been the perfect building block to grow our network. Now we are seeing some of the best bits of creative areas like Brighton, Brixton and Shoreditch all coming into Croydon, which is very promising.
You are both young guys, what’s next for you and Shaking Hands?
LG: There are a lot of two, three and five year plans. Initially, our three-year goal was to be a voice for SME businesses and to have some kind of foothold in local government. Yet, here we are, only a year later, sitting at the highest position possible alongside the council with over 60 businesses as members and the awards – so when people ask what’s next, I guess the sky’s the limit.
RO: We would like to expand into other boroughs around here such as Brixton, Kingston and Brighton. By sharing information and resources, we can collaborate with these boroughs to make South London a better place. I guess following that, our dream in five years is to be a representative for SMEs in all the South London boroughs.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
LG: There are the less obvious things such as paying back our business loan, which was a massive milestone for us. Appearing on Sky News, having Shadow Small Business Minister Bill Esterson come down and do a Q&A for our members and being shortlisted for Best New Business in Croydon are all massive highlights for us. But – also – helping small businesses achieve their goals are mini victories every day.
RO: Exactly – it’s having that open-door policy where you’re able to speak to businesses of all sizes, sit down with them and have a conversation about their goals, visions and objectives and then facilitate the introduction that helps them. The Young Start-up Talent Awards was also massive for us. To have the recognition that this is a good idea and to beat 200 other young entrepreneurs and be able to say that you have the best idea in London’s largest borough was definitely a special moment.
There definitely seems to be a generation of entrepreneurs coming through. Do you have any tips for young entrepreneurs?
RO: Immerse yourself in your industry, get out there to networking events, meet people, be around the people in the industry even if it costs money to be in the room – you will naturally start bringing all that stimulation together into a plan. The scariest part is just having some faith and going for it.
LG: I think there’s a lot of stimulation for young entrepreneurs with the success stories you see in the media and people are starting to realise that with online and social media they have a huge platform to promote themselves. But – there’s a difference between people that see what they can have and work hard to go and get it and those that see the success stories as something that’s out of their reach. It can seem daunting to many people but if you have good idea, you just have to take a leap of faith and run with it – keep on pushing it and get to a point everyday where you have achieved something.
Croydon has been compared to Shoreditch and Brixton. What is your vision for Croydon in the future?
LG: Croydon has got much more potential than Shoreditch – we are in the corridor between Gatwick, Brighton, Brixton and central London. Shoreditch is cool but new development there – unlike Croydon – is limited. To get the best result, you need to provide opportunities to the small creative businesses – pop-up ideas need to be supported and allowed to thrive. Central London is Croydon’s competition so we need to set the bar that high.
RO: Croydon needs developers like Inspired Homes who integrate into the local community and give something back like the Ben Eine mural. You need a connected city to help the community flourish.
To find out more about Shaking Hands, visit www.shakinghands.co.uk.