(12 things I’ve learnt about starting a startup - part 1)
Corporate life had its moments; good and bad, more bad towards the end. But I didn’t appreciate how comfortable it really was until after I’d left: the guaranteed monthly paycheque; the free office with all the mod-cons; the multi-million pound budgets (of someone else’s money); the relatively little consequence when anything went wrong etc etc. Of course, all of these things become irrelevant on a day to day basis, when you’re battling with corporate politics, or someone’s over-bearing ego, or feeling unvalued for the meaningless work you’re slaving over, or the coffee machine running out of coffee, again. But whilst I left corporate life for these reasons (well maybe not the coffee machine, although the coffee was pretty dreadful), it’s the former ‘benefits’ that are more apparent to me since starting up my own business.
So I thought I would write about the differences I've observed between my corporate life and my startup life. Here’s a list of the first six of twelve things I’ve learnt since starting my own business. Hang on tight and keep your arms and legs inside at all times. It’s certainly a rollercoaster ride…
- It’s exciting, really exciting.
I’d always wanted to run my own business; it just took me 20+ years to remember that. I actually started my own business when I was 18. My parents ran their own catering business and when an opportunity arose for me to provide a mobile bar service, for weddings, school reunions and the like, I jumped at the chance. It was exciting; earning my own money, being in control, working hard. I really enjoyed it. Right up until I was seduced by how much I could earn working for a corporate. So my first startup experience was short-lived. And it took me over 20 years to remember that I had actually started a business once and really enjoyed it. Starting again now has brought back all of the excitement I felt back then. Being in control of your own destiny, working for something you believe in, it’s exhilarating (and a little scary at times)!
- You can work wherever you want
One of the things I read to prepare myself for leaving corporate life, was to start experiencing working in different environments. I’d always worked in big corporate offices. They’re kind of the new build houses of the business world – all magnolia walls, perfectly boxlike features, characterless. So in anticipation of my new free range work-life, I started to experience working out of alternative places – working from home, coffee shops, co-working spaces, even just sat outdoors. I loved this. I loved the variety, the different people you’d see and meet, the different sights, noises and smells, the different rhythm to the day. And this freedom to choose where I work has stayed with me in my new startup life. I now choose my work environment based on where I want to work and what I want to achieve – at home when I need quiet time to focus, at a coffee shop when I need the buzz of other people to inspire me, at a co-working space when I need to be motivated by other entrepreneurs and outdoors when I need to clear my head. I feel so much more productive now and at times when I start to feel unproductive, I change my environment and work somewhere else.
- You get to meet some amazing people
Reflecting back on my corporate days, I think the money and the power (control over others) attracted a certain type of person to the senior roles. Not everyone of course but definitely a majority. Which meant that at certain levels, everyone was pretty much the same. Since entering the world of the entrepreneur, I’ve now met a kaleidoscope of people. Startup founders from all walks of life, at all stages of life, with different outlooks, opinions, observations and different motivations, intentions and goals for their businesses. Most aren’t driven by money, more so their purpose, and rather than control people, they embrace others to be part of the journey. Entrepreneurs are amazing people!
- Your time is your own
I love taking my six year old daughter to school in the morning. We only have a short 20 minute walk but during that time, she gets my undivided attention to talk about the things important to her. Normally something new she’s learned at school the day before, or an observation she’s made about the world. Nothing earth shattering but it fills me with a warmth to hear the amazement in her new insight. Prior to startup life, I’d leave the house for work not long after her and her younger sister woke up, sometimes earlier. I would often get home just in time for bedtime, sometimes not. There were days when I only saw them for 20 minutes; some days not at all. I now get to choose when I work, when I see the kids, when I have lunch with my wife, when I cut the grass – you get the picture.
- You are accountable for progress
Of course, the flipside to all of this freedom is that there is no one to check that you’re doing what you should be doing. This can be impactful and if truth be told, I was probably a bit too ‘free’ with my newfound freedom in the first few months. The antidote to this, I’ve learnt, is discipline. Set some objectives for the year (reminds me of corporate appraisals – shudder!); what would you like the business to have achieved by year-end – how many new customers, new products launched, revenue earned etc. Then work back from these to calculate monthly, weekly and even daily goals. It doesn’t have to be the project plan from hell but can simply be a 10 minute conversation with yourself first thing in the morning – “what do you want to achieve today and does that move you towards your bigger goals?"
- You learn loads
Ironically, 20+ years in business hasn’t taught me much about running a business. Maybe because I’ve gone from the Finance industry to Food and Beverage, or because corporate roles are relatively specific, whereas as a business owner you’re required to do everything. Or may be it’s due to the tools and resources you are required to use – gone are the days of preparing endless Powerpoint presentations, it’s now all about cloud accounting, social media posts and SEO. Whatever the reason, I’ve learnt loads over the last year and I’ve had to. Without the teams of people to call on, the spare budget hidden within the cost centre account, the leverage of a corporate over smaller suppliers, I’ve had to do everything myself. And it’s great. I’m not sure that the new skills I’ve picked up over the last year would come in handy if I were to go back to a corporate role but fortunately that’s not the plan.
Tune in next time for part 2 and six more insights from my startup journey. Plus, it would be great to hear your own insights, be they from corporate life or startup life, let me know in the comments below.
Jason Nichols, Founder, New Kings Coffee