Posted: Mon 31st Jul 2023
Congratulations to our Member of the Month for July, Danny Matthews, venture builder, founder of Short Story Ventures and Local Leader of Gloucestershire. He talks to us about why he only works with businesses that excite him – those that want to solve the bigger problems.
Danny aspired to be a designer growing up, but going to an all-boys public school in Coventry (that was trying to become a sports academy) meant he didn’t get the support or encouragement to pursue a creative career.
It was only through job hopping that he figured out what he really wanted. From starting an eco-friendly design and print business to becoming a tattoo artist and taking over a shop in Birmingham, Danny may have worked in many sectors, but there has always been a constant in his professional life – he always wanted to have something of his own that also fuelled his creative passions. He explains:
“I always had the feeling.
“Entrepreneurship wasn't as glamourised back then as it is now. There wasn't a real burning desire to become an entrepreneur or to run a business but there was definitely a feeling that I want to do something of my own.”
That leads us to the creation of Danny’s latest enterprise, Short Story Ventures, which he started in 2019.
How did the idea for the business come about?
I ran a mortgage and insurance business for 10 years. My route out of financial services, into the creative field, was via a serious episode of burnout that left me temporarily paralysed from the waist down.
I recovered in about two months, but it was this experience that my wife recalled when I mentioned that I once wanted to become a designer.
While most designers take the academic route into the profession, I didn't get the chance to do the whole university thing as I left school and home early. In hindsight, this was extremely beneficial.
All my design experience is self-taught. When I started, it was with practice and learning from people running a business instead of just academic design.
I soon realised that I had already experienced all the challenges that businesses usually face and I found a way to solve them with design and branding. This led me to move from freelance to running an agency, Danny & CO, which at its height, had 14 staff. However, I eventually felt trapped by being an agency that just did client services.
I wanted to create things. I wanted to launch things. I wanted to have my own products. So, a year ago, I changed the business to Short Story Ventures. Instead of calling it an agency, I call it a venture builder.
The idea is that we still do client services; we're still a branding and design agency, but we also invest in businesses we believe in. So far, I've invested in five businesses over the last four years. I'm also part of some business accelerators, in which I get equity and become an adviser.
How do you choose the brands?
I only work with businesses I can get excited about. In that regard, I have turned down way more business than I probably should, but it's about making sacrifices to work with the right people and have the right impact. I'm interested in businesses that want to solve bigger problems.
I called it Short Story Ventures because I have a strong belief that the biggest problems in the world can be solved if individual people make one change. It's about changing our own story to change the bigger story.
I'm really interested in companies that want to solve bigger problems, whether that's climate change or related to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They have to have real ambition and not just want to donate money to charity or use recycled materials.
Watch this webinar to find out why 94% of people are buying from meaningful brands and discover how you can create meaning and attract more customers too:
How did you get involved with the Founder Institute?
It is all thanks to one of my clients who went through the Founder Institute’s accelerator programme. Based in Silicon Valley and started in 2008, the Founder Institute is the world's largest pre-seed accelerator and mainly focuses on tech-enabled businesses that are also geared around achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
I knew this was a programme I needed to do and applied to run an accelerator in my area, in Gloucestershire. Last November, I became the first person in five years to be accepted to run an accelerator in the UK. I want that to fuel my long-term ambition of solving bigger problems.
The founders that go through the Founder Institute sign a warrant that gives the Founder Institute 2.5% of the business, and 1% of that comes to me for running the programme.
So, it not only allows me to be part of these exciting start-ups but also builds my portfolio in the background. I've already been asked to become an adviser for some of the start-ups and am reducing my other activities to put more into the Founder Institute because it's extremely fulfilling work.
Given your high bar to work with certain types of businesses, did you face any challenges?
One of the main challenges over the last five years was starting in a brand-new industry with no qualifications or experience.
Not from a practical, market point of view as people were willing to pay me from day one, but from a mindset point of view – being more confident, knowing that I'm good at what I do regardless of my education or background.
People could see the value in what I did and were willing to spend money. Having that mindset shift was a real challenge. I'm very lucky to be surrounded by coaches, consultants, therapists, and people that were instrumental in helping me shift my mindset and increase my confidence in doing what I really love.
What is next for Short Story Ventures?
Since 2017, over 300 enterprises have built their brand and grown their business with my Brand Confidence® Advantage programme, which I am relaunching in September. It's a 12-week group branding programme where I make the branding process accessible for businesses. It is for those that want to go back to the basics and reset the foundations of their business so they can grow again.
It means that you haven't got to go to large agencies that will charge tens of thousands of pounds or spend months fishing for freelancers. This is a proven programme that works in a range of business sectors and it can be done in just 12 weeks.
When did you first come across Enterprise Nation?
I recently rejoined as an adviser when I took over as the Local Leader for Gloucestershire. I was one of the first advisers when founder, Emma Jones, was launching the adviser marketplace on Enterprise Nation six to eight years ago.
I decided to rejoin because I noticed through the pandemic that most of my business came from communities that I was either part of or leading. It didn’t always come from the people in the communities, but I raised my profile with those people, built trust and they recommended me to others.
I have always been a massive fanboy of Emma and all that she has done for this country when it comes to small business. I knew the lady who used to run the Gloucestershire meet-ups was stepping down and thought it was a great opportunity to start serving my local county through an organisation like Enterprise Nation which has so much credibility and impact across the country.
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