(12 things I’ve learnt about starting a startup - part 2)

In part 1 of the twelve things I’ve learnt since leaving corporate life and starting my own business, I wrote about the excitement, the flexibility and the amazing people I’ve met since venturing out on my own. In this second part, I continue my observations about the differences between corporate life and startup life, with another six ups and downs on this rollercoaster ride. Hold on tight…

1.     You have to make all the decisions

Some more irony for me here as when I used to manage a relatively large corporate team, I was asked for (and was able to provide) a decision on a daily basis. I used to relish the responsibility, delight in my inner reasoning and feel confident that the outcome was the right decision. Now, add in the fact that a good or bad decision can make or break your business, or make or lose you money, and decisions take on a whole new significance. Some of course are no-brainers; where the answer is obvious or a deal is so good it’s not to be missed (although those bargain business cards were still a bad decision). Others, however, are agonising, particularly when they involve spending (my) money. I’ve yet to crack the formula for an agony free decision process but what I have learnt is that a) you have to make a decision, and b) if you make a mistake, learn from it.

2.     Others might not work to your agenda

As a ‘solopreneur’, I’m heavily reliant on others to support me in one way or another. Be it designers to design, suppliers to supply, mentors to mentor and a whole host of other people and businesses that help me do what I can’t myself. And whilst I think that my business idea is the best thing since teabags, others might not share my enthusiasm as much. This brings home a stark realisation that whilst I’m 100% immersed in my business, I’m but a fraction of other peoples attention. In corporate life, when someone wanted something done they would either demand louder, or escalate to someone else to demand louder. Here there is no one to escalate to other than myself; and I’m not one of those shouty types. What I am finding, however, is being genuinely nice, friendly and honest to others helps to build relationships whilst still allowing me to achieve what I need.

3.     It can be lonely

To some extent, this point relates to others on this list; having to make all the decisions for example. But more than that, it’s about an emotional and sometimes physical loneliness that can occur. As I mentioned previously, I’m a ‘solopreneur’, a sole founder. No co-founder to bounce ideas/decisions/challenges off, share the workload, or just chat about our weekends. And with so much to think about and do when starting a business, the lack of a co-founder can make for a more challenging and sometime lonely ride. You can obviously download to family and friends (and I often do) but again, your 100% immersion in your business is only (rightly) matched by their 100% immersion in their own lives. A remedy I have found for this is being around other entrepreneurs. They’ve been through or are going through the same highs and lows as you, and more often than not can provide sage advice on how to deal with it. If nothing else, they have a sympathetic ear and sometimes that’s all that’s needed.

4.     It’s your money

My first proper job was in a bank; making the tea initially but then progressing to filling the cashpoint machine and serving behind the counter. When the doors were closed, we used to play catch with rugby ball sized bundles of £50 notes (about £50k worth)! This created a strange relationship between money and me. Not a dismissive or reckless attitude but an acceptance of money for what it was, a commodity. And not something to get stressed (or greedy) over. My experience of corporates is that they used to spend money like it was going out of fashion. Projects that cost millions that were then canned half way through due to some cost cutting exercise, or just a change of mood.  Of course, they used to make billions as well. Now, however, when every penny spent in my business is my money, my relationship with it has changed. From giving out ‘free’ samples or deciding whether to send something first or second class post, every penny now counts. And this cost consciousness has extended to my personal life as well: checking prices in the supermarket, where I never did this before; deciding whether I really need those new pair of trainers etc. So I think this new relationship with money is a good thing – although I would still play catch with £50k given the chance.

5.     Emotions run high and low

I’ve not been on a real rollercoaster for a while but when I was growing up, I used to love them and went on them as often as possible. In those days, most rollercoasters started with a gentle climb to the top of a steep drop, then hell would break loose for a few dives, twists and turns, then there would be a more leisurely cruise to the end of the ride. This is much like startup life in my experience. A steady progression, filled with anticipation of what was ahead. The high of achieving a goal or securing that big deal. The crazy and sometimes scary twists and turns that follows in fulfilling that deal. Rounded off with a sense of achievement and relief when it’s all done and delivered. Then you pay to get on the ride again.

6.     Be patient, persistent and prepared

In my personal life I can probably tick all three of these. Patient, yes, you have to be with two young daughters; persistent, yes, I’m a perfectionist so make sure any job is done well; prepared, yes, I don’t like to be caught out. In my startup life, however, I can probably only tick one – persistence. Starting a business is definitely harder than I imagined (see previous 11 points), so you have to be persistent to get through the challenges and difficult times. I’m also learning that success does not happen overnight. So I’m having to be patient, focus on what’s important and keep believing. On being prepared, well I think there is only so much you can prepare for. Despite well-made plans, the unexpected always seems to happen. So being prepared for the unexpected seems the best mindset to adopt.

Starting a business is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, and emotional highs and lows. Where corporate life had its moments, these moments seem to be intensified in startup life. But if you can brave the scary bits, have a positive mindset and keep smiling, it’s worth the thrill. Can I have another go…

What about you? What do you think are the ups and downs of corporate life or startup life? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.

Jason Nichols, Founder, New Kings Coffee


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