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Claud Williams: Following your dreams to start a business

17th October 2019

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For Claud Williams, founder of personal development brand Dream Nation, dyslexia was a curse before it became a blessing. “I can’t speak for anyone else’s experience but if I’m honest, it felt like hell a lot of the time. Once, I was writing notes and someone looked over my shoulder and asked me why I was writing scribbles. I lied and said that I was writing in code so people couldn’t copy my work when really that was my best attempt at writing.”

Claud, 29, says: “I didn’t reach a reasonable level of reading and writing until year 10 in secondary school. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic. It teaches you resilience, patience and creativity - those are superpowers for entrepreneurs.”

Early ventures

He set up his first business by accident. After an injury left him unable to play basketball in college, he used his time to organise a basketball tournament for others. His older sister Meloney encouraged him to monetise it. He invested in a camera and used his images to help promote the tournaments. Before long, people asked him to take photographs at other events. In 2008, he set up his photography business, Starlight Imagery. After graduating in 2012, he developed it into a multi-media company offering photography, video and marketing services.

Claud accepts an award for his multi-media company
Claud Williams accepting an award for his multi-media company

“The business was doing really well and winning awards but I felt unfulfilled. I wanted to make a real difference in people’s lives. In 2013, I took the summer off to figure out what I wanted to do,” he says. Seeking inspiration, he turned to the memoir of minister and human rights activist Malcolm X, the autobiography of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr, and the self-help book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. “There’s a phrase that Napoleon Hill mentioned very briefly that had a really big impact on me: practical dreamer.”

For Claud, being a practical dreamer means being someone with a big idea and a plan to reach it. “By default, every entrepreneur is a practical dreamer. But so are artists, athletes, people who want to have amazing families,” he says.

Evolving dreams

Claud shut down his multi-media company, moved from Loughborough to London and started running personal development events and coaching through a new business, Dream Nation. “It’s for everyone who hears the expression practical dreamer and feels that it resonates with them. I’m not here to be prescriptive about what your dream is, I’m here to give you the tools to make it happen.”

Pip Jamieson speaks at a Dream Nation event
Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots, speaking at a Dream Nation event

He launched Dream Nation on 28th August 2013, which was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s ’I have a dream’ speech. Over time, he gathered a team of up to 20 people - full-time employees, part-timers and lots of volunteers. Since 2017, he’s steered the business in a different direction. He’s maintaining the focus on personal development but taking it from events company to tech company.

“The ultimate goal is to build an AI driven personal coach. There will be a suite of applications around personal habits and behaviour that can be tailored to you,” he says. “I’m still doing events and coaching but they’re not the business model, they’re a way to build and connect with the community. The technology will be the business. There are two apps in active development.”

Claude is also teaching himself computer science theory. “Compared to a full-time developer I’m a novice but I understand it on a theoretical level. I’m building a prototype for one of the apps and I’m currently looking for technical people to come on board.” He’ll be doing his first funding round next year.

His apps will focus on four key areas: productivity, emotional intelligence, physical health and financial literacy. “If you don’t have all four in place, it’s not impossible but it’s much harder to succeed.”

Successful banking

Improving financial literacy is partly what drew him to Starling. “I wanted to keep track of where my money was going. The overdraft was also a lifesaver - there was no hassle to open it at a time when there were enough stressful things going on,” he says.

Claud looks upward in a headshot
Claud Williams was inspired by Napoleon Hill to set up Dream Nation

“The final thing that made me fall in love with Starling was when I talked to customer services at 2 a.m. in the morning, which is useful as I’m often up working late. You’d think being a tech brand it would be colder and more algorithm driven but when I want to speak to someone, I can talk to a human within minutes,” he says. “Starling has a personality.”

Claud opened his personal account just one month after we launched in app stores in May 2017. Later that summer, he invited Anne to speak about her dream of building a better bank for everyone and how she achieved it.

Claud smiles in smart attire
Claud Williams, founder of Dream Nation

Being a practical dreamer: Claud’s advice

  1. Stop beating yourself up - we are all born with our own strengths, weaknesses, gifts and talents. We’re going to spend the rest of our lives figuring out who we really are and it’s not always going to be easy. So instead of punishing yourself when things aren’t great just embrace it and keep growing.
  2. Surround yourself with people who dream big. You’re the average of the five people you associate most with so find people who are trying - trying is enough - and you will push each other to get better.
  3. Learn to love learning and know that you’re going to fail - it’s inevitable. But it’s not about how often you fail, it’s about how often you can pick yourself up. Then you’re unstoppable. Failure isn’t the end, it’s just an opportunity to learn.

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