Posted on July 14, 2017 by staff

Entrepreneur: Parallels exist between dyslexia and business


A tech entrepreneur has said learning to cope with dyslexia is similar to learning to succeed in business.

The UK’s most famous example of a successful entrepreneur who suffers from the learning difficulty which can affect a person’s ability to read, write and spell is Sir Richard Branson.

Adam Curtis is CEO of Swansea-based Hoowla, which develops online conveyancing software for solicitors and featured on our ‘101 Tech Disrupters’ list of the UK’s most promising tech start-ups.

“I didn’t really get on well at school because I was dyslexic. Back in the 90s, the Welsh education system didn’t accept that dyslexia existed,” he said of his childhood in South Wales.

“I guess my robustness came from being an Englishman growing up in Wales in that system… [but] I was in the remedial set and it didn’t make me feel back then like I was going to do very well.

“You do meet a lot of businesspeople who have struggled with dyslexia – it teaches you a valuable lesson that they’re trying to teach everyone now: how to be entrepreneurial.

“There’s a set route of doing something and that’s not going to work for you, so you’ve got to find a way round it. That’s the same as the system of business.

“Most businesses that succeed wouldn’t have succeeded if they had followed the standard route.”

The boss of another successful start-up on our ‘101 Tech Disrupters’ list, Manchester-based Hello Soda, experienced something similar at school in Wales.

CEO James Blake told us that one of his life-defining moments was being told at the age of 14 he couldn’t do history because he was dyslexic.

“I was determined to prove everyone wrong and I ended up getting a Masters in history,” he recalls. “The teachers were giving up. It was one of those moments in your life when you go one of two ways.

“My parents sat me down and said ‘nobody can define what you want to be’… [but] I had to work harder than most people.”

Curtis left Wales to study at the University of the West of England and begin a career as a software developer before returning to Swansea to go into business, founding software development and web design company Clockwork Bear – which he still owns today – in 2009.

Four years later, he began Hoowla, which uses tech to make the conveyancing process more transparent and keep all parties involved in a house purchase up-to-date. Already working with 100 businesses, the firm is expanding into family law, wills and probate, personal injury and more.

“We’ve had serious players try to invest in us but we’re entirely self-funded,” he said. “I’m a big believer in bootstrapping. By the time I get to the stage where someone would want to buy it 100 per cent, I don’t think I’d want to sell it!

“It becomes your life – in a good way. I love every single day. I drive all over the country with my business with a big smile on my face.”

He now goes into schools himself as part of the Welsh Government programme Big Ideas Wales.

“There’s a lot of emphasis at the moment on how we can get young people to become programmers,” he said. “It’s exactly the same in schools now as it was in the 90s: limited resources, a picture of Bill Gates from the 80s on the wall.

“You have to get into it yourself, and having an iPad isn’t going to help. I was fortunate that when I was at GCSE level, someone I knew taught me how to program.

“What I was taught in the 90s is what you need to teach them now. Don’t teach them the latest flashy framework; teach them about basic building block algorithms. If you learn .net or java, you’ll have the basics you need.

“In our industry, you’re always going to have to learn – what I’m using now didn’t exist five years ago. I do worry at the moment that, education-wise, they’re trying to jump on the latest bandwagon.”