View from the Monolith

According to Wikipedia, the fifth largest employer in the world in 2015 was the UK’s National Health Service, clocking in at a cool 1.7 million employees. I was one of them. My name is Rob Edwards, and I’m going through a period of adjustment as I move from that to the Finnish start-up scene.

Welcome to the view from the Monolith

That 1.7 million is a little misleading of course. The NHS is subdivided many times. I worked for a Trust in London that had ‘only’ 5,000 employees. (Probably. Our IT Training team needed to train all staff on a new IT system, and we were never quite able to nail down exactly how many people that would be). The Trust included four hospitals, and each hospital had its own departments run by consultants — doctors who made life and death decisions every day. Brilliant, amazing, talented, wonderful people, but put four of them in a room to decide something and you would get an average of 5 deeply held contradictory opinions.

And then there was all the oversight. Targets and budgets imposed by central government, a government whose policies were changeable thanks to the fickleness of politics. The NHS is too big to truly fail, but spontaneous it is not.

I love the NHS and am proud to have served, but crikey it was slow.

And now I’m here in Helsinki at The Shortcut, learning about the Finnish start-up culture. Four weeks in and I’m suffering whiplash.

Head… spinning…

Start-ups are so much smaller, so much faster. We’ve had some fascinating guest speakers in the first few weeks of the Catalyst Programme (learn more about that here). We heard from eighteen-year olds who started a company, PALS, two years ago and are already talking about revenue trebling in the last year, Taxify, a tech company also only a few years old, that are already major global players, and Naava, a company that is bringing cleaner air to offices using NASA tech. Fascinating, diverse and to me, astonishingly rapid.

If the pace of it all is bewildering, the acceptance of the potential for failure is remarkable. One Venture Capitalist told us that the model they used required a company they invested in be able to recoup the failure of nine other companies, because those were the statistics. We heard from one person who had been a Founder of four different start-ups, some successful, some not. He wasn’t blasé about the failures, but took them in his stride, as part of the start-up gamble.

Do I have the mindset to be an entrepreneur, to found my own start-up? Perhaps not. But the culture is exciting, the ethos fascinating. The thought that one big idea, hard work, planning and a dash of luck could set you on the path to being the next big thing? I can see the appeal.

I’d certainly throw my hat in the ring to join a start-up, and that’s the other side of the Catalyst programme, to prepare people for that culture shock. And I’m up for that, just as soon as the room stops spinning.

Thanks for reading, join me next time on View from the Monolith, when I’ll talk about some of the language of the start-up community.