FA blog #2: Faking it
There exists a preconception about starting a business, that the founder(s) must be in some way extraordinary. The Bransons and Roddicks of this world are idolised, and rightly so, for disrupting the status quo and building hugely successful companies based, in part, around their individual brilliance.
This myth is in actual fact, completely true. Neil, Jez and I are individually more charismatic, insightful and well-dressed than any superstar entrepreneur you can think of. And since we are three, and not one, we have ten times the potential. Synergy.
My actual point, obviously, is that a lot of people may never consider striking out on their own because they compare themselves to these behemoths of business, and inevitably come up short. Where would we be if every new business required a founder of this calibre? (Rhetorical).
Personally, I thought that I could do it as soon as I had that million-pound idea, but otherwise never took it seriously. I started work, as did a lot of my contemporaries, in the first place that I could find it; pressured, by parents/society/economic downturn to just get a job. But that is a rant for another time. As I slowly gained an understanding of what I actually wanted from work, I became more and more worried that there was nothing that I could do, short of going back into education and completely re-training, that would really satisfy me.
Inspiration came in the form of my brother, who had also recently scratched that entrepreneurial itch. And even when I had set upon the idea of either joining a startup or building something myself, it still took a significant stroke of luck to find Neil and Jez at the right time and in the right frame of mind.
To sum up those five paragraphs: The hardest thing is starting. But the harderest thing for me was realising that a former ski bum turned procrastinator, with a 2:2 in fancy dress, could actually make a go of it.
Another significant barrier to starting a business, is money. Money money money money. MONEY. (The O’Jays, 1973). In particular, what you are supposed to do if you aren’t earning any.
If you’ve started thinking seriously about this, and you’ve spent the last six months researching, networking and finding reasons not to do it, and you still can’t shake it off (Taylor Swift, 2014), then in most cases you will be faced with a period of zero income.
This is undeniably daunting, and another solid reason why a lot of people might not consider leaving the warm embrace of their capitalist overlords. In this respect, we are fortunate that we are able to maintain at least part-time jobs and of course share the work between three.
In recent years the traditional write-a-business-plan-get-funding-start-business model has been subverted by what the silicon valley people call the ‘Lean Startup’ model. And it was this approach which allowed us to get a business off the ground and not have to endure student living again straight away.
In a nutshell the lean startup aims to get a product into the market in the cheapest and fastest way possible, and then use immediate feedback from the market to adapt and evolve the product and business as it grows. This way, your business model is based on current data rather than forecasts and assumptions based on past results. Duh.
As is often the case, our original idea was quickly sidelined as we realised where the real opportunity lay, but rather than being many months and hundreds of thousands of pounds down that path, we were able to nimbly change direction with very little sunk cost.
Only now, after over a year of trading and proving our concept, are we ready to start talking to investors. And we come armed with experience, not estimates. And figures, not forecasts.
To be clear, we also have estimates and forecasts.
To return to an earlier point: Don’t let self-doubt get in the way of your dreams. I worried before I started this, and I still do, that I might not have the drive, focus and patience to see this through. I could write a book on procrastination.
The Important turning point for me was understanding how I work best, and not beating myself up when it didn’t conform to standard ideas e.g. early mornings, long hours and no social life. It turns out that I work best after a lie-in, in short bursts and with plenty to distract me when I need it. Of course, this is all my personal preference, but if you believe the opposite, then you are categorically wrong and headed for an early grave. Read this book and then we’ll talk: “Why We Sleep”, Matthew Walker (2017).
In short it’s all about playing to your strengths, and this is particularly important when you work as a team and bring different things to the table... Which brings me nicely on to another hugely important part of our journey:
Starting a business is hard. And stressful. And all-encompassing. Without the friendship and support which Neil, Jez and I share it would have forever remained a fun idea we discussed in the pub a couple of years ago.
We have made a point of vocally expressing our support for each other at every opportunity, and rather than feeling gratuitous, it only strengthens our resolve. We have run into countless issues (sometimes more than once) and pushed through them because of this.
Our supportive ejaculations are never insincere. Everybody works in a different way, and when you are a new team, this can cause frictions. In the excitement of starting out, these small issues can be overlooked, and allowed to get worse. It’s about being honest with each other and yourself.
Lest this turn into an all-out, company-retreat, team-building, circle-jerk (Sorry MOM!), I’ll leave you with a final thought.
Teddy Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena...” (full quote here)
So if you’re sitting on an idea, or have been dreaming about handing out business cards with “CEO” written on them, then go for it. Like a fine wine sitting in your cellar... you should enjoy it immediately, because you could get hit by a bus tomorrow.