“So, if we don’t get any work at all, how long can we survive?”
I wonder if Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak ever asked each other this question while setting up Apple? Three months ago, a pair of lesser known Steves (myself and my Co Founder Steve Cockett) launched our own start up, Golden Egg Innovation. The ‘what if we never earn again?’ calculation was made on more than one occasion. It didn’t stop us embarking on the most exhilarating adventure of my 25 year career but there was plenty of soul searching which came part and parcel with taking the plunge. As we devoured start up manuals and autobiographies in preparation for launch, I read surprisingly little about handling moments of fear and self-doubt.
As a result, I thought it might be valuable to share the eight hardest questions I was forced to ask myself before eventually building the courage to go for it.
Why would I leave a great job?
Who on earth would be stupid enough to quit an enjoyable, well paid job at a company where they love the people they work with? Isn’t that just throwing away a career that you’ve worked long and hard to build? The case for staying at my previous employer, deltatre, was strong. They helped transition me from a BBC programme executive to a technology innovator over five exciting years. In that time I was even presented with the BAFTA for Digital Creativity on behalf of our team’s work for Channel 4’s London 2012 Paralympics coverage. The perfect job for me surely?
But still, there was a voice inside, nagging me to go on this adventure. “You’ll regret not doing it,” it would whisper like Gollum. “You won’t be able to look yourself in the eye”.
My heart knew Gollum was right but my head found his arguments of regret and shame as flimsy reasons to justify such a monumental decision. I had to build a stronger case to convince myself. Controlling my own destiny would make me happier, and there was a great potential upside if the business succeeded and I came to terms with the worst case scenario. If all went wrong, I’d have learned a lot, had incredible fun and would just have to knuckle down and find myself another job.
Am I being selfish towards my family and friends?
I am married with two daughters under the age of five, so I found myself wondering whether it was fair to pursue my own ambitions while putting everyone else at risk. There is certainly no way that Steve and I would have pushed ahead with Golden Egg without the backing of our families. When I shared our notion, my wife cross examined me with a relentless flow of common sense. Just as I felt ready to throw the towel in, she would say, ‘sounds good’. That moment brought an incredible feeling of togetherness alongside an increased determination to make things work.
Do I really have the confidence to follow my own path?
Some people have an unwavering belief that their business idea is a winner in which case this might not be an issue. However, Steve and I wanted to predict how we would get on in order to have the confidence to take the plunge. In hindsight, I think startups ideally need a blend of both approaches. We could not have progressed without the months we spent creating and tweaking Excel sheets. It forced us to question and understand what we were doing. But in the end, I still relied heavily on a conversation I had with a great old client of ours from Star Sports in Mumbai. A year beforehand I told him how much I admired the Star team’s relentless bravery towards innovation. “We just jump,” was his simple reply. In the end, Steve and I just jumped too.
What do I actually do?
You’d think anyone starting a business must have a pretty clear understanding of what they are selling. But the toughest question we have found to answer succinctly is “What do you do?” Get your response right and you have a potential sale. Just as easily you can waffle out an omelette of vagueness. There is nothing more uncomfortable than witnessing a haze of confusion mist over the eyes of the person you’re talking to. As such, we invested much of our time trying to simplify what we offer. I think the biggest challenge is that we have a range of skills and so intuitively try to get that across. Chances are, the client is really after one thing in particular when we chat, so our best answer would be to say that we do exactly that. If my house is leaking, I want a plumber – rather than someone who explains the full list of skills that a plumber possesses. Nowadays, Golden Egg Innovation helps companies do exciting things with digital technology. If you haven’t glazed over, we can help you do this through Concept Creation, Innovation Strategy and Process and Product Execution.
Written by MTA member, Steve Boulton