We think Neil is a pretty special guy. He has an inspiring story, a big heart and a great outlook on life - something we wanted to share with our friends, so we grabbed him for a few questions…
Oh look! revolving doors ! We are in the same compartment. You have about 5 seconds to tell us something about Neil… GO!
As the great Burt Bacharach once said, ‘I just don’t know what to do with myself.’
Your most important value?
I love the childlike joy I feel when riding my bike, learning new things and getting my nails done. One of those is not entirely true.
How did you end up doing what you are doing today?
I became an entrepreneur by accident really - I was just struggling to make ends meet in London and an after work hobby gradually evolved into a business. I think my competitive spirit spurred me to grow Forward as fast as I could. I now feel very fortunate to have a lot of flexibility in how I spend my time and to be able to put some focus on giving back.
Was there a time in your life where you might have followed a different path?
I wanted to be a stockbroker before university. No offence to stockbrokers but I’m rather happy I changed my mind. Instead I ended up listening to far too much reggae music, which led to building a reggae website (reggaelegends.com, sadly no longer with us!), getting a job as a web designer, learning about internet marketing et voila, Forward was born.
How did the Forward Foundation come about?
Shortly after starting Forward I realised I was out of my depth. I had no idea how to run a business. So I searched for some wise people to help and found an extraordinary man called Frank Herman, or ‘uncle Frank’. Frank sadly passed away a few years ago but I still remember clearly the last words he said to me – ‘do some good along the way, son.’ The Forward Foundation was set up to honour the last and probably most important piece of advice he gave me.
What is the biggest challenge you faced as a young entrepreneur?
Getting funding when you have no experience or track record is always very tough. Poor cash flow ends more businesses than anything else. I think the same applies globally and it’s great to see micro-finance businesses like Kiva revolutionising the start-up world.
One piece of advice to a young entrepreneur?
It’s all about people. Surround yourself with smart people, ideally smarter than you! Treat them as you would expect to be treated yourself, don’t let your ego get in the way and provide the best possible environment for them to flourish.
Your most successful failure?
I’m glad I was a rubbish web designer, or I wouldn’t have set up Forward. With every setback comes opportunity.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you?
I practice transcendental meditation for 20 minutes twice a day.
Who inspires you?
My parents. I wouldn’t change a thing about my childhood and count myself to be very lucky.
What keeps you going when you are having a bad day?!
Meditation. And those close to me.
Favourite animal? (and why)
Dogs. Unwaveringly loyal purveyors of endless joy.
Describe a perfect Sunday.
Doing any pursuit that brings about ‘flow’ – the state of total involvement that gives a feeling of transcendence. Or to put that less pretentiously - watching a film with nice company, a beer and some tasty grub. Maybe after cycling in the morning to alleviate the guilt of gluttony.
Read Neil’s blog about meeting Fresh Life entrepreneur, Rhoda in February.