Graham Shapiro, Professor, Award Winning Inventor, Designer, & Digital Entrepreneur

Professor Graham Shapiro is an award-winning British inventor, designer & digital entrepreneur. He is an Ambassador of Innovation for the University of Cambridge and Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at The University of Westminster. Freeman of the City of London, Fellow of The Chartered Society of Designers, Chartered Institute of Marketing and Royal Society of Arts. Graham invented the interloopmailer® and Reggie®. His company, Graham Shapiro Design, has produced branding and websites for some of the world’s most respected companies for nearly 30 years. Graham is also the founder of The Graham Shapiro Foundation. A Charity that’s aim is to establish a real way to support mental health, wellbeing and to inspire innovation and young entrepreneurialism in the UK.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Graham shared his professional trajectory, insights on the three key trends to watch out for in tech, the secret mantra behind his success, personal sources of inspiration, favourite quote, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Graham. Please tell us about your background and areas of expertise.

I had a rough start with learning difficulties in school, facing frustration and bullying until my late teens. Back in the 1970’s, awareness and support for such issues were lacking. Despite this, I always had inner strength and a desire to succeed. After initially struggling with exams and being discouraged, I persevered and obtained 3 O levels before pursuing a Diploma in Design and eventually a degree in Visual Communication. This kickstarted my design career.

Starting my own business was never a planned decision, but I always embraced opportunities and business concepts. My mindset of ‘anything is possible’ allowed me to take calculated risks that paid off. Fear of failure has been a driving force in my success. I excelled in connecting with people, had a strong imagination, and a talent for drawing, which became my strengths in the design field.

As the great Winston Churchill once said, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.’

Growing up in a less affluent background and facing eviction as a child instilled in me a drive for financial security and a careful approach to money. Despite not planning to start my own business, my love for design led me down that path.

My breakthrough came in 1995 when I pitched as a sole trader for Samsung’s European product brochures, winning a £250,000 contract. This marked a turning point in my career, providing financial stability and international recognition. From there, my business flourished with new opportunities worldwide.

Nearly three decades later, I am a proud British inventor, designer and digital entrepreneur, leading a company that creates innovations for globally respected companies. As a Professor, CEO, inventor, and digital entrepreneur, my areas of expertise include: Business and Leadership, Innovation, Digital Entrepreneurship and Mentoring.

What do you love the most about your current role as a designer and digital entrepreneur?

Above all, I enjoy the sense of leadership and responsibility that comes with being a CEO. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to guide and inspire my team towards achieving our goals and vision. I enjoy the challenge of making big decisions, problem-solving, and strategizing for the future of the company.

As a designer and digital entrepreneur, I am constantly learning and adapting to new technologies and trends in the digital world. I love the fast-paced nature of the industry and the opportunities it presents for innovation and growth. Building and growing a digital business requires a combination of creativity, analytical thinking, and entrepreneurial spirit, and I thrive on the challenge of navigating this dynamic landscape. I also have the most amazing team of designers and developers that bring our ideas to life.

One of the things I love most about my role is the opportunity it provides to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Whether it is through creating a product that solves a problem or inspiring others to pursue their own entrepreneurial dreams, I am passionate about using my platform to make a difference.

Can you please tell us about ‘The Graham Shapiro Foundation’? What is its mission and vision?

The Graham Shapiro Foundation was established as a platform to support mental health in a very real and meaningful way, to proffer wellbeing and to inspire innovation and entrepreneurialism particularly with young people, in the United Kingdom.

Our mission is to promote mental health, wellbeing, and innovation in the UK by providing resources, support, and inspiration to young entrepreneurs.

We envisage a future where mental health is given the priority it deserves, where innovation thrives and when young people are empowered to create positive change in our society. Through our efforts, we aim to build a community that supports and uplifts one another, fostering a culture of resilience, creativity, and compassion.

What are the three major trends do you foresee in your industry in the next 12 months?

  1. AI (Artificial Intelligence): In the next 12 months, I see AI growth dramatically within businesses, with an increasing focus on ethical AI practices, with more regulations and guidelines being implemented. There will also be a rise in the use of AI for personalized healthcare and predictive analytics. Additionally, advancements in natural language processing and computer vision technologies will continue to enhance user experiences.
  2. Sustainability and Eco-Friendly Design: As concerns about climate change and environmental impact continue to grow, there is a rising demand for sustainable and eco-friendly design solutions. Designers and digital creators are at the forefront and are expected to incorporate more sustainable practices and materials into their work, to meet the demands of socially conscious consumers.
  3. Personalization and Customization: With the advancements in technology, it has become easier for designers to create personalized and customized experiences for users. In the next 12 months, I believe this trend is expected to continue to grow, as consumers seek unique and tailored experiences. From personalized marketing campaigns to customized product designs, designers and digital creators will continue to focus on creating experiences that cater to individual preferences and needs.

You have been a recipient of prestigious awards and accolades over the years including one of the ‘Inspiring Innovation and Young Entrepreneurialism in the UK’, one of the ‘Top 100 Influential People’ among others. Our readers would love to know the secret mantra behind your success.

I believe there is no one secret mantra to success as an entrepreneur, as it involves a combination of hard work, dedication, perseverance, creativity, and a willingness to take risks. However, some key principles that have helped me achieve success include:

Having a clear vision and setting specific goals for the future and love what you do: It’s important to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve and set specific, achievable goals to work towards: after all the future is where we are going to spend the rest of your life.

The great Steve Jobs, CEO & Founder of Apple once said, ‘Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.’

Surrounding yourself with a strong team: building a team of talented and passionate individuals who share your vision and work well together is crucial to success; this applies to both home and workplace.

Continuous learning and growth: Being open to learning new things, adapting to changes, and constantly improving your skills and knowledge is essential in the fast-changing business world.

As Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Being adaptable and resilient: the ability to adapt to challenges, setbacks, and unexpected changes is key to overcoming obstacles and staying ahead in the competitive business landscape.

Building strong relationships: building strong relationships with customers, partners, investors, and other stakeholders is crucial for long-term success and growth.

Staying focused and disciplined: Staying focused on your goals, prioritizing your time and resources effectively, and maintaining discipline in your work habits are essential for achieving success as an entrepreneur.

A combination of strategic planning, hard work, resilience, and a willingness to learn and grow. By staying true to your vision, surrounding yourself with the right people, and continuously striving for improvement, you can increase your chances of achieving success.

If you could have a one-hour meeting with someone famous who is alive or dead, who would it be and why?

Well for me, it has got to be ‘two’ people, if that’s permitted.

First, Nelson Mandela – I would love to have a one-hour meeting with Nelson Mandela to learn more about his experiences and wisdom from leading the fight against apartheid in South Africa. His ability to forgive and his commitment to peace and justice are truly inspiring.

Second, Steve Jobs (CEO and Founder of Apple) – I would love to have a one-hour meeting with Steve Jobs to learn more about his visionary approach to design and innovation. His influence on technology and product design has been profound, and I would be interested to hear about his creative process, design philosophy, and insights on creating products that truly resonate with consumers.

Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?

I am grateful for the support of many individuals who have helped me reach where I am today, including: my grandad, grandma, mum, stepdad, wife, daughter, close friends, my design teams over the years, clients and my chairman.

What’s a productivity tip you swear by?

One productivity tip that I swear by is setting the top five clear and achievable goals, daily on post-it notes. By clearly defining what I want to accomplish and breaking it down into smaller tasks, I am able to stay focused and motivated to work towards my objectives. This helps me prioritise my time and resources effectively, leading to increased productivity and success in my business ventures.

What is your favourite quote?

Creativity is intelligence having fun – Albert Einstein

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I have multiple, overlapping objectives and so over the next 5 years, I see myself continuing to grow and expanding my business ventures, into new markets, strengthen existing client partnerships. I will support sustainability, social responsibility and various initiatives focused on mental health, wellbeing, innovation, and young entrepreneurship.

I want to create mentorship programs, and academic pursuits. I hope to have made a significant impact. I also hope to have built a strong network of like-minded individuals with whom I can collaborate, liaise and learn. Ultimately, my goal is to continue to push the boundaries of what is possible and inspire others to do the same.

I also envision my mental health and well-being charity, The Graham Shapiro Foundation, to have made a significant impact on the lives of individuals struggling with mental health issues. I hope to have expanded our reach and services to reach a larger audience and provide support to those in need. I also hope to have established partnerships with other organisations and stakeholders in the mental health field to collaborate on innovative solutions and initiatives.

I hope to have raised both additional awareness and the funds necessary to support our programs and initiatives, and in this way, to have made a positive impact on the overall well-being of individuals.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’

What advice would you give to anyone starting out on their career in your industry?

My advice to any young entrepreneur starting out in this new digital world is precise and simple. It is to stay curious and keep learning: The digital world is constantly evolving, so it’s important to stay up to date on trends, technologies, and best practices. Take advantage of online resources, courses, and networking opportunities to continue learning and growing.

Find your niche: With so much competition in the digital space, it’s important to carve out a unique niche for yourself. Identify your strengths and passions and focus on a specific market or industry where you can excel.

Build a strong online presence: Your online presence is crucial in the digital world. Make sure you have a professional website, active social media profiles, and a strong personal brand that reflects your values and expertise.

Network and collaborate: Building relationships with other entrepreneurs, industry influencers, and potential clients can open up new opportunities for your business. Attend networking events, join online communities, and seek out collaboration opportunities to expand your reach.

Be adaptable and resilient: The digital world is fast-paced and constantly changing, so it’s important to be flexible and able to adapt to new challenges and opportunities. Stay resilient in the face of setbacks and failures, and be willing to pivot your strategies as needed.

Focus on providing value: In the digital world, success often comes from providing value to your audience. Focus on creating high-quality content, products, or services that solve a problem or meet a need for your target market.

Seek feedback and iterate: Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from customers, mentors, and peers. Use this feedback to continually iterate and improve your products or services, and stay responsive to the needs of your audience.

Stay organised and disciplined: Running a business in the digital world requires discipline and organisation. Set clear goals, prioritise your tasks, and establish routines that help you stay focused and productive.

Embrace failure as a learning opportunity: Failure is a natural part of entrepreneurship, especially in the fast-paced digital world. Instead of seeing failure as a setback, view it as a valuable learning opportunity that can help you grow and improve in the long run.

Stay positive, passionate and persistent: Building a successful business in the digital world takes time, effort, and dedication. Stay positive, interested and passionate about your vision and goals, and remain persistent in pursuing them, even when faced with challenges or setbacks.

I’ll leave you with a Mark Zuckerberg quote I like about business and entrepreneurship, ‘The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.’

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