About 3½ years ago I founded a start-up based on an idea that had been rattling around my head for years. It was something I had to do. I bootstrapped it and set sail at the beginning of a journey.
I hadn’t always taken risks; my early career had been pretty traditional: working for a large telco & tech company in a variety of roles and deciding to move to London about 3 years ago to join a tech/marketing research & advisory firm, supporting business, technology and marketing challenges. My official background being fairly varied albeit along a track of sorts, but that’s not what I’m here to share.
As a first time founder of a start-up, I was involved in every aspect and continually learning. About 7 months into the build of the Minimum Viable Product, a large US company announced that they were going to launch something similar. A “holy crap” moment! We pivoted the MVP but found that, without more funding, it was tough to do this and continue to iterate the idea whilst gaining traction in an increasingly noisy market.
At the beginning of 2013, I built a plan for v2.0 of the project, bringing people on board whilst attempting to find external funding with concept validation from v1.0. We ground to a bit of a halt: partially due to funding and a rapidly disrupting industry but also as everyone (crazily) had other full time jobs.
Yes, it was ambitious. Yes, it cost a lot of effort, time and money. Yes, we probably would have needed ten times the start-up capital. Yes, despite some successes, we were crushed.
C’est la vie. I wouldn’t change the experience; I learnt a lot. It also got me here talking to you and that’s progress – part of the journey.
Last year, I attended a fantastic General Assembly (hat-tip to GA!) course to formalise some of the knowledge I’d picked up whilst promoting our original project. Going back further, I have spent as much time as possible connecting with the vibrant, dynamic and evolving London start-up community.
One of the guys that worked with me on the original project recently began developing his own idea. We discussed it and recognised the cross-over from experiential, product strategy, data-led growth and Digital Marketing perspectives and that I could add value to their efforts. I’ve been supporting them (also on the side) over the last few months whilst they build their MVP. Drop by to say hello – they’re a great bunch.
Looking back, the last 4 years or so have been a series of ever increasing “risks” which have proven that it’s more fulfilling to keep exploring than to settle. I’m at the stage now where I’ve learnt so much, I’m beyond the incremental jumps my official career will allow. Restless, I’m exploring opportunities that take advantage of what I’ve learnt, implemented, and thought about, rather than just a narrow subsection. Another risk is definitely on the horizon; perhaps the biggest so far.
Whilst I don’t feel qualified to give you advice – as I’m still on my journey and haven’t “escaped” yet – there are a few things I’ve discovered along the way which may be of value when thinking about what you do next:
1 – Fear is completely natural; however it doesn’t need to disable you. Use it to motivate yourself (easier said than done!). Risk and failure aren’t real, they’re only perceived and mostly disproportionate with the reality.
2 – Be in permanent, personal Beta. Explore, test, iterate, fail, adapt and – most of all – learn along your journey. If your employer doesn’t have scope to enable you to do this, find your own way. It’s okay to zig-zag to acquire skills and stories.
3 – Be prepared that it’s hard to bring your official and extra-curricular stories together. Employers and recruiters alike sometimes struggle when they can’t put you in a neat little box (sorry guys, it’s true!).
Finally, I’ll leave you with a quote:
“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning to sail my ship.” (Aeschylus)
Enjoy the ride.
PS - My Twitter profile reflects the interesting stuff I discover during my journey.
PPS – don’t forget, always pay-it-forward…
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