One year of entrepreneurial excitement

Flashback to June 2016. It all started with a single enthusiastic email to a lone startup founder. A cold email written without imagining the journey it would lead me to.

And here I am, more than a year later, contemplating with a dash of pride the road that has been covered so far, while expecting with hope and excitement what is yet to unfold.

As I am spending this time of the year surrounded by family — this time, I even entered 2018 with less than half a bottle of vodka in my blood — I thought I’d take some time to step back and think about what has been accomplished — both personally and professionally — and what lessons I ought to keep in mind for the next years.

Step 1: Escaping the rat race (and never going back)

They say everything happens for a reason. Well, let me start with my reasons.

What could have possibly led me to turn down the secure corporate career path that my university cursus had always prepared me for, while risking to be kicked out of France by the immigration office for not holding a “secure”, long-term job position (non-European citizens’ problem)?

Truth is, I’ve always told myself I would refuse to settle for a corporate career, but would rather go off the beaten tracks and take the risk of creating my own path. I am not saying this is the right approach, as this choice is strictly linked to your personal values. Some people prefer following a traditional corporate career and excel at it. They reap notable benefits along the way, since such a path comes with a comfortable situation along with a steady pay-check at the end of the month. But this just wouldn’t cut it for me.

In spite of my aspiration for professional freedom, and as I was terminating my final year of Master’s, I was rotting in a comfortable chair of a big company that was offering me nothing but nice perks and working conditions, along with long hours of inactivity and the feeling of being completely useless. You got the picture, I was on the fast-track to entering the rat-race from its bullshit jobs’ door.

Although being in such a situation would satisfy some people, this just wasn’t a viable solution to me. I couldn’t picture having a 9-to-5 job that would last from graduation to retirement. There was no fucking way I would be working faithfully 7 hours a day for my boss to eventually be able to become a manager myself and work 12 hours a day, while waiting for retirement to enjoy what remains of my life.

Why the fuck should we spend the best days of our life hoping for happiness in our last?

Asking the question sounds legit, doesn’t it?

My long-term goal boils down to two objectives: personal fulfilment through building a meaningful and impactful business on the one hand, and reaching financial freedom on the other hand.

For those who start bitching about the money part and are tempted to serve me the “you guys are just after the money” bullshit, let me be clear: money is not an end, rather the means to an end. This goal here is being financially free to do whatever the fuck I want, travel to wherever I want, invest in whatever venture I want, and continue enjoying the pursuit of my personal fulfilment without worrying about the money.

Of course, I knew this wouldn’t be an easy path. Developing a company from scratch with little resources and no one telling you what to do can be hard, daunting and risky. 90% of startups fail, and leave their founders in a financial distress. But as they say, better poor in freedom than rich in chains, right?

WTF dude. Cut the crap and the nice quotes, and get straight to the fucking point.

Okay, calm the fuck down. So just to sum up, here was for goal for freshly-graduated me: to pursue my entrepreneurial thrill (which implies quite a precarious financial situation at the start), while securing a working visa (which requires having a secure long-term contract with a minimum salary).

Just so that you know, meeting these two antinomic goals sounded technically impossible according to 99% of the “wise” advices I got at that time.

So what do you do when the odds are playing against you?

I’d be lying if I said this was an easy decision to make
You know what, FUCK THE ODDS.

Step 2: Working your way out of dilemmas

I know this might seem easy to say now that everything turned out pretty good. Yet it is with the same mindset that I have been approaching things from day one. A mindset of calculated risk-taking and deconstructing the worst-case scenario.

We all have encountered these situations where our gut feeling makes us lean toward a risky, yet preferable path, while our “rational” and risk-adverse brain tells us to play it safe. Remember the day you chose your university cursus? Chances are, your gut feeling has been telling you to go for another path than the one you ended up following; yet you had to listen to your parents’ advice and embark on the “secure” journey (probably law, economics or medicine instead of art or journalism). I could give you hundreds of examples of these dilemmas, but this isn’t really the topic, and neither is the fact that you shouldn’t always be listening to your parents’ advice

Go big or go home, literally home

One way I like to think about these kind of situations is picturing what the worst-case scenario would be, and then working backwards to set up the appropriate course of actions to get out of it. Once this exercice done, you realise the worst-case doesn’t appear that bad anymore, and sometimes even brings its batch of opportunities.

You think that’s bullshit, right? You’d be amazed by this Ted Talk on the human brain’s ability to synthetise happiness, no matter how things turn out. Seriously, just fucking stop whatever you are doing and go watch it.

In my case, even though I wouldn’t have been able to get a working visa in France, other entrepreneurial adventures were to be pursued in my home country, Tunisia, and god I am still awaiting the day I’ll go to chase them. From that point, my course of action was clear: Go big or go home, literally home.

No one had told it would eventually work out, and I’d be cocky (and unadvised) to give you great speeches about the importance of taking risks in life and all this bullshit. One thing I know for sure though: Hadn’t I taken this risk, no one would have taken it for me, and I’d probably be still be rotting in a comfortable chair in a corporate position, slightly richer, but definitely not that well-rounded and fulfilled.

Step 3: Finding your sweet-spot

With retrospect, pursuing the risky path appears as the best decision I could have made, since it led me to an incredible journey: a journey of entrepreneurial excitement, of rich encounters and steep learning curves. And of that journey I have only seen the beginning, since the most exciting steps are yet to come.

My long-time wish as a business student was to be able to work on a project I believe in, an idea I am passionate about.

Joining AirFit made this possible, since the mission we are pursuing couldn’t be more in line with my values. As an amateur athlete who has been working-out in outdoor areas for a few years and who is fond of fitness and crossfit, I couldn’t be more thrilled by AirFit vision. We aim at making it possible for everyone to get a free access to an outdoor fitness zone. Outdoor fitness has been my hobby, expanding and facilitating this hobby across France and Europe is now my professional mission.

In the span of a year, my associate and I grew AirFit to a team of six people, increased our sales turnover by 249%, secured valuable funding by gaining the trust of a French accelerator, and traveled across France to pitch AirFit to our clients and to exhibit our fitness stations in different fairs. The passion, hard-work and consistency we have been investing into this journey enabled us to grow AirFit from a young startup no one had never heard about, to a fast-growing and innovative player in the French outdoor fitness industry. We are now preparing for a fundraising operation that will enable us to accelerate our development and continue building a killer team that is driven by the same purpose, the same passion.

As a young graduate, never had I imagined I’d find myself leading the development of a startup whose mission I am so passionate about. They say the professional sweet spot lies at the junction of what you love to do, what you’re good at, and what people will pay you for. Well, AirFit sounds like a pretty sweet-spot to me.

Some people spend their life struggling to find that sweet-spot, and most of them never make it. One of the main reasons preventing them from making it is fear: the fear of going out of their comfort zone to pursue their dreams, the fear of being rejected by a potential employer, the fear of failing at their entrepreneurial ventures and being judged by their pairs, the fear of financial distress…

What if we stopped fearing the outcome, and rather focusing on the process? Remember, the worst-case is not that bad, and you’ll always find a way to turn a challenge into an opportunity. There are no failures, only results ; and the way you look at these results is up to you. Some might perceive them as daunting events, beat themselves up because things didn’t work as they excepted, and just quit. Others will see these negatives results as an opportunity to grow.

There surely will be obstacles along the way. What matters most is not what these obstacles are, rather how we react to them. The beginning of this entrepreneurial journey led me to change my outlook on the life’ setbacks: obstacles are not only to be expected but embraced.They are actually opportunities to test ourselves, to try new things, and ultimately, to triumph.

“Don’t worry about the failures, worry about the chances that you miss when you don’t even try”

Step 4: Being grateful and thanking my beloved ones

As commitment and consistency have enabled me to face the numerous challenges I went through, I came to realise that the daily rush dose arising from work had the effect of sometimes making me feel frustrated and embittered.

In that perspective, I found that gratitude is an indispensable tool in creating more positive energy in my life. As the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed at work has as perverse frustrating and stressing effect, practicing gratitude enables me to look at the bright side of the picture and to change my mindset in order to maintain a positive attitude. It only takes a few minutes a day to think about a the small things you are grateful for: good relationships, a happy event, or even a nice weather… you would be surprised by the results.

But this journey surely wouldn’t have been that fulfilling without the support of my beloved ones. I’d like to thank all the people who believed in me and pushed me toward this path, even though the odds weren’t playing in my favour. Either my family members who have traditionally been risk-adverse when it comes to life choices but who supported me anyways, or my closest friends who keep on pushing me on a regular basis, even though I am sure they sometimes get sick of AirFit making up over 90% of what comes out of my mouth.

Above all, I’d like to thank my associate who has trusted me by giving away a big chunk of his company to a 25 years old, freshly-graduated dude he knew nothing about. All this wouldn’t have been possible without him, and he remains a true source of inspiration and learnings.

As the first page of a new 365-pages book unfolds in front of us, I hope 2018 will bring you closer to your long term goals. Instead of just wishing you the best as it would fall on you unexpectedly, I wish you to find the inner strength and inspiration that will enable you to get this best out of yourself, and smash the shit out of your objectives.

For now, I’ll just leave you to your new year resolutions, or your epic hangover recovery.

To this year of excitement, discoveries, encounters and successes, to the future challenges, to the personal and professional learnings we’re heading towards, to all of you who supported me and made this year so enriching, happy new year my friends !

“Action may not always bring happiness. But there is not happiness without action” — Benjamin Disraeli