Ten things you thought would happen when you swapped city for start-up
…and how true they really are.
#1 You’ll immediately become 3 times cooler
TRUTH. Every entrepreneur thinks they’re pretty cool, and hey — that’s because we are! Much cooler than when we were working in that corporate job.
Ok, this one is FALSE, and hits on a much more important point: if you’re starting a company because it’s the cool thing to do, immediately stop. Re-think. That’s an awful reason to do it. Believe in what you are doing. Start something in order to make a change, or to create something beautiful, or because it’s been your dream since forever and ever and ever. Not because of any external perceptions.
#2 You start to appreciate the value of the pound
TRUTH. You remember when you only ever had that £3 meal deal on a Monday after a heavy weekend, to make you feel better about your bank balance? Now they’re a special treat reserved for the last Friday of the month to reward yourself. You might have saved up some money with the plan to go it alone, or you've taken a salary cut in order to get in early at a rising start-up. Either way, you’ll quickly realise how much £1 can get you when you try hard. And become astonished at how much you used to spend on Jaeger-bombs on a Wednesday night. (Author’s note: obviously I never frivolously spent money on such a ridiculous drink. Not me. Never)
#3 You become more interesting to the opposite sex
FALSE. I mean, you may get their attention at the bar by saying stuff like “I run my own business” or “I'm CEO of checkoutmycoolstartupname.com” but when you buy them a tap water, or invite them for a romantic, home-cooked fish finger sandwich, you might not come off as debonair as you were hoping. Depending on the type of person you are trying to seduce, of course.
#4 You’ll always be seeking investment; and if you haven’t got any, it means you aren't successful
FALSE. This one is a tough mould to break, namely because of the classic model most people think of when they imagine the timeline of an entrepreneur: Think of great idea > assemble kick ass team > pitch to some dragons > get money and buy football table for Shoreditch office > live the good life. What many people don’t realise: getting investment should be a last resort. Getting investment means giving away a part of your company and part of your decision-making power. It is not the default option! If you can go it alone (“bootstrapped”) then you definitely should. That said, most companies need a little bit of help at the start of their journey (sometimes just advice, often some money); but with the current flood of resources for early stage companies, many are able to survive for much longer before they start to seek outside help. Remember: getting investment is not a measure of your success!
#5 You have a start-up “dress code”
SEMI TRUE. Today I'm wearing a blue jumper with pineapples on it, with a bright red coat. Yesterday I wore…the same. It’s not a conscious decision; rather it’s based on what was clean when I woke up. During the early stages of your start-up journey, you’ll suddenly realise that now you’re not wearing a suit 5/7th of the week, your wardrobe is not as versatile as it could be. Combine this with minimal purchasing power (you can no longer indulge in an impulse ASOS splurge because they sent you an email this morning and you liked the look of that coat) and what you get is your start-up outfit. It’s not because you consciously want to have a “look” but because your wardrobe is what it is and right now you don’t have any time or money to do anything about it. Deal with it!
#6 You become much better at work life balance because you are no longer holding down a full time job whilst pursing your dream in your spare time
FALSE. Just false. Like, all sorts of false. You’ll get lots of chat from your friends about “oh, it must be great now you’re a man/woman of leisure” or people will envy you for having no fixed hours or “working from home”. Let’s translate: no fixed hours = working A LOT, and working from home = you’re actually working at home, not dossing about in your PJs. That said, it is really important to plan downtime. Don’t forget your friends. You’ll need them. Those days when you've fallen out with your founders (it’ll happen), or you've got some pretty harsh news from an investor about how you’ll never succeed (it’ll definitely happen), your friends and family are the ones who will be there to help you through. This is really important. A start-up is defined by its uncertain environment. With so much uncertainty taking up so much of your headspace, friends and family represent that little bit of certainty for when you need it. Something to ground you when everything else is spinning out of control. Cherish that. You’ll need it.
#7 You’ll find all these crazy clever ways to growth hack your business because you’re super smart.
MAYBE. You've heard all the stories. You’ll get some semi-naked people to stage some sort of campaign and get your brand into the news, or think of some other equally cunning way, no problem. Well, this stuff is incredibly hard and requires patience. And a good deal of resilience. Many, many efforts will go to waste. Some stuff will seem like an excellent idea, but just won’t work in practice for a hundred unforeseeable reasons. The trick is to keep trying. Your customers are out there. You’ll get them eventually!
#8 I'm a good person and I work really hard, so it’ll work out well for me…right?
FALSE. I'm not saying it won’t work out well — I genuinely hope it does — but it’s not enough to just work hard at it and be a nice person. Trust me — I'm only 3 months in and I still don’t know whether it’s going to work out. You have to work hard, sure — but the key thing is to work smart. Always experiment. Always be learning. However many times you've done it before, something new will pop up, and you’ll make mistakes. This is allowed — just be super careful not to make the same mistake again. You might need to be ruthless — you have a finite amount of resource and a slim shot at success. Time is your most precious resource, so don’t waste it and don’t let others waste it for you.
#9 I have lots of friends with great skills who will lend me a hand when I ask them
TRUTH…but not in a good way. So you’re bootstrapping your company. Awesome. And you’re lucky enough to have a bunch of intelligent, trustworthy friends who have offered to help you out when you need it. It could be PR advice, legal insight, design help, data modelling…whatever it is, my advice to you is: be wary. At imin we use a phrase called “skin in the game”. This means that, unless the person doing some work for you is being paid (cash or equity) or getting something else in return (CV reference, for example) you CANNOT rely on them to deliver. Not in a mean way, they are being super kind with their time and you should be grateful; all I'm saying is to be very careful. It can slow you down; or worse, give you unrealistic velocity calculations because you think you have all this resource which suddenly evaporates when you need it most. Trust me, either pay them (which can be awkward between friends) or pay someone else (freelancer). Or better yet, learn it yourself so you won’t rely on anyone else next time.
#10 Once you become an entrepreneur, you’ll be super busy answering emails from customers, interested collaborators, and investors.
SUPER FALSE. I started imin after working as a management consultant for 3 years. I used to get about 100 emails a day. It even used to be a badge of pride, some sort of stupid yardstick to measure importance. Well, you have to quickly get out of that mindset in your start-up — after the excitement of seeing firstname.lastname@example.org for the first time, you’ll look at your inbox, and…nothing. Google apps for business might welcome you and give you some tips, but no one is beating down the doors to talk to you. Even a few months later, you’ll do well to get 10 non-spam emails come through. You will struggle to shake off this feeling of unimportance. You’re a C-level executive now, right? Aren't directors so inundated with emails and requests for time that they have a full time assistant and stuff? Don’t be a douche — welcome this time to go build stuff, or even better, to talk to your (potential) customers. If you do that right, you might start to get those emails coming through. But by then you probably won’t have time for them, and will hopefully have realised what’s important — and it isn't the unread email count.
Last point: every entrepreneur should have insightful things to write, in the form of a blog. You haaaaave to have a blog and a following and social credibility and a twitter handle and an Instagram profile and you have to constantly update these things with sh*t from your life and start-up life.
I'm not sure about this last one. I mean, with the multitude of blogs out there, surely no one will take notice of your little blog. No one really reads blogs anyway, let alone gets all the way through them — who has the time?