Name: Bruce Walker
Where’s Home: Edinburgh
Profession: Founder of WeAretheFuture
Did you go to university?
I did, but I dropped out in my second year to commit to WeAretheFuture full time
How did your family react to you dropping out?
It was a mixed reaction. I think the only way I could square it to my parents was by saying I was taking a year out and if after a year, it didn’t work out, I would just go back to uni and finish my degree. Nothing would have changed other than I would have gained a year of wonderful experiences.
What is WeAretheFuture?
We are a global entrepreneurship organisation and we host big international summit programs for entrepreneurs, with the key aim to inspire and connect them.
How did the idea for WeAretheFuture come about?
It was a school project really for me, it was something we thought there was a bit of a gap in the market for. At 17 we didn’t really know where to go for support in business so we thought, what if we put on an event and we listened to those who had already been successful to learn from them. That was the first step into it. After that we looked at it quite closely. We saw that there were quite a lot of events, but typically they were old fashioned as the speakers would talk for 45 minutes to an hour and then their audience would go home or back to their offices. Whereas, we thought the most effective way to reach people was to do shorter, snappier talks, with extremely inspiring role models at different stages of their lives, rather than focus on the generic, white millionaire. We then wanted to go one step further and on listening to the talks people could then enter a room with all the resources they would need to start a business.
What was challenging when you first set up?
I think with a lot of businesses and especially with ourselves, it was our ability to influence people. That’s influence in terms of sales, marketing, speakers and cutting deals. When we first started out, I was 18 and things only really got going when I was 19. By the time I dropped out of university my ability to influence people wasn’t particularly high, as I had no track record or ‘real’ experience and no one knew who I was. So that was one of the main challenges, convincing people.
I suppose after that, the only other challenge was ‘how ambitious we felt’, I know that sounds fluffy, but we are so often limited by our own ambitions, because we set our own parameters. That was definitely one of our challenges, going ‘actually, maybe we can achieve something bigger’ and then actually going for it and having the conviction to see it through.
Did you ever doubt yourself you could do it?
Definitely. There was self-doubt that we could mobilise all the different moving parts that was required for a big event. Then we were doubting whether we would make any money from the event to cover all the costs. There was a lot of pressure, running an event at 18 years old, costing 25k, with the goal of making more money from it.
At 18 I didn’t have any money at all. The way I funded it was through sponsorship, through tickets, through exhibition stands. It was about selling enough, it was about going to corporate sponsors and convincing them to invest in us.
Who did you seek advice from?
I was pretty lucky -I approached the City Council and they told me that there was already another group who had approached them about running an event in the city and that I should speak to them before I put forward any plans, so I went to meet them. Half way through the meeting a man walked in called Russell Dalgleish. Russell was someone the other group knew and was offering some advice to them. After that I approached him for advice. I was a bit naive at the time and almost immediately asked him to join my board and Russell rightly declined because he didn’t know me. Over time, I then asked him another 3 times if he would get involved and eventually he said yes-I had finally ground him down! He came on board as an advisor, but as time went on, he joined the board, before becoming the Chairman. He has actually just stepped down after 3 and a half years but he has been a tremendous advisor and friend.
What pressures and challenges do young professionals face?
I think the biggest challenge, is not knowing what you want and then being pressured into making a decision quickly. I think that the other challenge at the moment is this feeling within the millennium generation, that we’re all determined to have an impact on the world. But I think what people forget is that we make our greatest impacts on the journey, not when we reach the destination. Throughout what you are searching for, you are not going to end up at the peak right away, but actually you do your best learning and your best growing on the actual journey. Coming to that realisation is really important for anyone, particularly young people.
How did you market WATF?
Our target audience is anyone who is either interested in starting a business or people who are already on that journey or who already have a start-up. We reach them mostly online but also through our partners – we partner really closely with universities, with schools, with accelerators, incubators and co working spaces, to make sure we are involved in that eco system. We have managed to build up a large online community and have worked with up to 6,000 entrepreneurs in the last 4 years. We have now got that big community of people.
How are you different from your competitors?
In part, it’s our global network and it’s our global influence so we run more events internationally than we do in the UK; we only have 2 events in the UK and the rest is all international programs. I think that helps us because we pull together the international learning. It means we have accumulated communities of innovators and entrepreneurs in places such as Hong Kong, China, Silicon Valley, Berlin and India, rather than just being concentrated here. This international network means we are always looking at the best practise in different parts of the world, so we’re looking at what is the bench mark at a global level and how we can make sure all our events are competing at the global level so that they are world class quality rather than what people are accustomed to on a local level.
What do you wish you had known then that you know now?
I don’t know if I’d have had the capacity to but what I would do now is, I would appreciate our value much more. I didn’t really know the value of what we were creating in the early days and therefore I couldn’t price it right, which has taken us a long time now to renegotiate a lot of our partnerships with people.
What personality traits have you learnt about yourself along the way?
I have discovered I’m really NICE. The reason I have found this out, is that when it comes to making decisions that impact other people, I find it can be quite difficult.
Any utter disaster along the way?
All our problems were very hidden away from the rest of the world, but I was given good advice, to tell the team as the burden was too big to bear on my own. I needed to let them know that we were in a difficult situation but that they would get paid.
What have been your best moments so far?
There have been far more highs than lows. We ran a program in LA,
for inner city kids called TechOut LA because the statistic were so dire that they were more likely to go to jail than they were to going to graduate high school. We began a procedure to get them to lift themselves out of poverty through education and technology.
As we’ve gone through this merger process we now have the capacity to make much bigger changes. One of the programs we are running is finding leaders in the water industry, taking them together both in Scotland and India – the focus of that is how do we use innovation that is coming out of different parts of the world to start solving some of the world’s biggest problems – this is partly focused on the Ganges clean up project- how do we put technology into the Ganges to help clean it? It affects 600 million people – 12 billion litres of sewage goes into the Ganges every day – if we have even 0.0001% influence on the project then that for me is globally transformational.
What are the next steps for you?
The next steps for us is to launch FutureX Group, which is going to include WeAreTheFuture as one of our brands. More to come on this soon, but essentially we’ve consolidated our work across three independent brands, all working under the same roof, so that we can have a much greater impact.
What is the end goal?
There is no end goal – the purpose is we want to build a better world through this. I believe business has a capacity to transform local and global communities and that a purpose lead business approach helps everyone get there and helps uplift all of society. That is the vision, there is no end approach to that. There is no end destination, this is a business that can evolve and change. We have taken no capital so we are under no pressure to sell or do any of those things.
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