A brief reflection on starting my Masters and stepping back from the company I helped build

Me at the PopUp Painting launch, Soho Hotel, April 2013

Last night I arrived back into London from the Liberal Democrat Conference. The train ride has given me time to reflect, following four days rather more social and giddy than is typical for me.

Today I will register for my Masters in Political Economy of Europe at the LSE, bringing to a close my three and a half years full time with the company I co-founded: PopUp Painting & Events. In those three years we have grown considerably: with over ten thousand guests since launch, a presence in three cities (London, Birmingham and Brighton), and a rather impressive corporate client list ranging from Google to the NHS to VISA.

Alongside recognising the successes we have achieved, I have also reflected on my failings. Everything I have done has very much been learning on the job — as I imagine is the case for most entrepreneurs. I have worked hard, but I know there are things that could have been done better. As a manger, I have appeased some things rather than confronted them. I have been too slow to delegate work. The planning fallacy is perhaps my biggest weakness. I work thoroughly and efficiently, but not quite as much as I think!

The people I have worked with and encountered in my role have been generally quite interesting. The life of an artist in London is often one of squeezing one’s own practice into doing whatever it takes to pay the bills. Working with fantastic partner venues — from The Trafalgar Hotel to the Roundhouse — has been truly insightful. Talking to young professionals who have been amazed at their paintings (as 9/10 times our guests have no art experience at all!) has been really rewarding and also surprising: so many people, even when economic capital is not a barrier, often have little recreationally creative outlets. That is not to say that a lawyer, a financier or a medic is not creative. Everybody is creative; everybody innovates. But not everybody is creative for the sake of their own creativity.

I am proud of how hard we have worked, and it really has been hard work at times. Running an events company is shockingly time-consuming, and I am looking forward to being able to have a reasonable social life rather than being bound up almost every evening.

Despite these irritations, my experience has been much more positive than negative. People really loving a product you have created is deeply rewarding. Seeing the structures and methods you have designed thrive without you is a great source of pride. And contrary the snobbery of some artists who see us cheapening their trade, I view what we have achieved as fulfilling an ethic of empowerment: nothing need be exclusive; given the right guidance and materials, people can broadly do anything they want to. Experts are not born experts; skill can and is learned.

Ironically, my painting skills have hardly developed at all in this entire time! Notwithstanding, it is with that optimistic philosophy, that people can learn and improve, that I will start my MSC. Throughout the last three years I have seen myself become ever more relentlessly optimistic, and ever more — quietly — determined.

In building a growing business I have demonstrated my ability to make things happen. From my Masters I want the weaponry to fulfil a mantra that has become increasingly important to me: To do all the good you can, to all the people you can, in all the ways you can, for so long as ever you can. I can’t wait to get started.