Disruptor, agitator, idealist, optimist – these have been the hallmarks of my career to date. I’ve been fortunate enough to have enjoyed something of an illustrious career in leadership roles with some fabulous brands, Nintendo, Universal Pictures, Atari. A notorious upender of tables, my trajectory has moved inexorably towards making the jump from intrapreneur – sorry, I’m not a particular fan of that word, but it works, to entrepreneur. Easy right? I had all the right attributes to make the jump – drive, expertise, a great network, strategic thinking, ballsiness. Well, maybe…..
I write this, my first ever blog, to celebrate and reflect on my first-year adventures in my new life as a business co-founder, an outlet to help myself and hopefully others to understand the true reality of what that journey looks like in practice. Everyone knows all the analogies, it’s like being on a rollercoaster, entrepreneurs jump off cliffs and build planes on the way down, those all absolutely have merit and resonance, but they only scratch at the surface of the deeply personal journey which founding one’s own company brings. One year in, here’s what I’ve learnt so far.
1. From optimist to realist
One of the biggest changes is the cold truth that – if you mess things up, you ain’t got the security blanket of a big company to prop you up. No big juicy salary guaranteed to go into your bank account every month, no structures and processes to fall back on, no PA and for God’s sake, no IT tech support department! Whilst doing things that haven’t been done before is still core to who I am as a person, one has to do things through a more objective lens when it’s your own business. Rather than dive straight in headfirst on gut instinct, every key decision requires a full 360-degree appraisal and evaluation of the degree of risk. All that said, however, I love the new challenge of finding ways to bring transformation with a complete absence of big budgets. This unlocks true creativity.
2. Re-appraising identity
When it’s your own start-up company, you haven’t got a badge, a brand, perhaps even a corporate suit of armour to stand behind. Running big brands ensures you are the centre of attention, you’ve got all the power, all the influence, people naturally migrate to you. Starting out on your own, you lose all those trappings – it’s a reset. A complete career re-birth which is hard but exhilarating. You really see the nature of the human condition – those business contacts and relationships which endure beyond your career brand and those which perish once you are no longer in the traditional big league. I am fortunate enough to know some incredible business leaders whose humanity defines them, from Karen Blackett to Kerry Glazer, who have always been a true source of inspiration to me irrespective of my career net worth. I love the rawness, the realness, the humility of having one’s own start-up – there is no ego, no mask, entrepreneurs are truly naked. Everything my company achieves or, indeed fails at, comes down to myself and my co-founder, there is nowhere to hide….and I love it.
3. The double-edged sword of tenacity
Drive, resilience and tenacity are of course central to the DNA of any successful entrepreneur. However, do handle with care. One of the things I’ve come to realise is that bloody-mindedness can be critical to driving the fortunes of your business but equally one has to be careful that it does not equate to being blinkered, myopic and ignorant of those times when actually something just isn’t working, no matter how hard you try. It’s a real balancing act and one which requires intuition and clarity of thought to step out of oneself and into the emotion-free reality of the situation.
4. People power
As a strategist and creative thinker, I’ve sometimes undervalued the soft skills of people, building relationships and paying it forward. I’m lucky to have a co-founder who is the living definition of a people person. Someone who genuinely and authentically thinks of others and ways to support them as a way of life. In a way which transcends business and transaction, but who lives and breathes reciprocity and empathy. Someone who listens, deeply listens, to non-verbal cues, to what’s not being said and much as what’s said. Early stage businesses are dependent on building strong and powerful relationships, it’s not a hard sell, it’s the power of connection helping others to thrive by unlocking their extraordinary.
5. True bravery
And last, but by no means least, is the importance of courage. I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of business bravery and have lived and breathed this. Incremental is not my style, paradigm shifts and pushing boundaries are what get me out of bed every day. But actually, that’s only one lens within which to view courage. I now know that true business bravery is building a business from scratch, hour by hour, day by day. Knowing that nothing is guaranteed, everything you win, everything you lose is yours. You are making something special, you are creating a real legacy. And rather like the existential parable of Sisyphus who keeps pushing that rock up the hill no matter how many times it rolls back, a wonderful definition of courage comes from one of the very bravest, Winston Churchill, who reminded us “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it’s the courage to continue that counts”.
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