My Entrepreneur Mindset

A short interview with Entrepreneur, Kirsten Lees, Founder of ThinkFirst (“We prepare your business for the content-led communications revolution”

Where did you get your idea from, how did you test it and how did you move to working version 0.1?

I’ve been working in content and communications for a long time so I know the industry and I could see organisations drowning in the opportunity to communicate. They were spending huge amounts of money and were getting very little tangible satisfaction from all the effort.

Organisations would often find themselves going into a sort of frozen panic because of the need to keep up. They would keep up with technology but often miss out on the basic principle that ‘its all about the business’. I would see a lot of money being spent, but without thought, without plan and without strategy, and I could see that there was a huge gap between business intent (ie the people who make business decisions) and the people in the basement who were pumping out communications and content.

My idea was to bridge the gap between output and spend, on communications and content, with business goals.

So how did you test out your idea?

It was a very scary process. I funded myself for about a year to test the proposition and to improve the model. Even though I knew the idea made sense, I had to come up with a methodology. In a way, my product is the strategy path. I had existing clients and I took them through beta versions of my process. I planned to charge reasonably significant sums for the work that I offered, but I wasn’t ready to do that at the outset, so I created a series of workshops (6 over 6 months) which were very low cost for people to participate in, and to which I attracted probably 40 businesses of different types to come along. Each one was my opportunity to test aspects of what ultimately went into my model.

I also employed a kind of business coach who worked as a ‘touch base’ and helped me work out what I was trying to get out of the business. For every idea or version that I had, he would help me make sure it was on track in terms of intent. This was valuable as its very easy to get distracted when something works, but it might not be the thing that works that takes you closer to your goal, it might just be purely a distraction.

How do you manage career risk?

Career risk is constant for a woman. When your career is disrupted by child responsibilities you have a choice: you either have to play it very, very safe or you are simply forced to take a risk or say ‘oh f*** it I only have one bash at this’. So “F*** it” became my career strategy. I know what I’m good at and in the end, I am better at working at things I believe in. I find it easier to work on and construct something that I believe in than go down other people’s paths. So in a way it was minimal risk because it suits who I am.

How do you look after yourself and stay strong?

Physically — it is really hard to be clear about the need for exercise when you are running your own business, but it is very important.

Mentally — I do a lot of yoga and mindfulness. It might sound silly but it makes me act better at work and with clients. In my job I really need to look after clients. I always ask myself before a meeting how I want to ‘be’ in this meeting or that — it is very helpful to make sure your mindset is prepared for all the different interactions the business entails.

Finally, always remember why you are doing it, and tell someone outside so they can remind you. When you say ‘this is too hard’, they will say ‘no actually this is what you wanted and actually, it is working well’.

Kirsten Lees