Four Of The Most Valuable Lessons I Learned While Building A Business

03/10/2016 17:42

From an early age, I knew I'd have my own business. I just wasn't sure what it would be. Traditional schooling wasn't for me. At the time, I just couldn't see the value in learning things that had no place in the real world. The area of a trapezoid? Ask the architect, not me.

I guess you can say I was born with a pair of frog legs, ready to jump at the chance. Even when I was accepted to university (by the skin of my teeth), I thought I'd take a year to engage my curiosity and I went to work--ending up at an ad agency, it turns out. Being the brash young bloke I was, I thought: "I could do this."

After a stint, I took a job in Sydney, with the promise to myself that I'd be back to the UK in a year to start my own business. A little later than that, I returned home and started a mobile marketing consultancy. As many entrepreneurs do, I worked out of my kitchen.

Navigating the early stages of entrepreneurialism, armed with the equivalent of the marketing yellow pages, I called virtually every marketing director in London until someone would give me a break. After spending a little more time being scrappy and bootstrapping myself, I decided I wasn't quite where I needed to be. Rather than abandon ship, I took the plunge and formed an actual company. Fetch, the agency, was born.

It wasn't quite that tidy, actually, and I did learn a few valuable lessons along the way:

Know Your Limitations: I was a kid when I started out--and I knew it. So, I was creative in the beginning and hired people who looked more seasoned (you know, like thirty), to attempt to address the ageist objection in the room. This allowed me to be free to do the talking and sell my knowledge and my passion in order to build the track record I needed. I believe this is commonly phrased "fake it 'til you make it."

Take Pride in (and Value) What You're Creating: I know there are those whose passion is to create "companies" that they can flip at insane valuations. For me, I was focused on building a real business, not a quick buck. I knew that meant creating tangible products and services. The only reason Fetch was taken seriously out of the gate was because we had invested in developing a product and offering that worked for our customers that was rare to find in the market. We always believed that our relationship with customers is an exchange of value, not a transaction. That's why I think our first big global still our client today.

Get The Right Help--at the Right Time: When I made the move from kitchen consultant to form agency, I found my co-founder. While he was a bit older than me (see point 1), we executed against a shared vision. As the business matured, we were able to hire in all types of new skillsets --creatives, account people, technologists who all sign up to the same purpose and mission of our business.

Question Yourself (but Don't Doubt Yourself): Being CEO is a grand title. In building a business as the founder, I was really a "manager"--of people, of clients, of money. As the agency grows and I share those responsibilities, I am forced to the next jump, from the comfort of doing what I know how to do well, to the uncharted course of being a real chief executive. To do that, I constantly ask myself these questions: What things am I doing now that I SHOULDN'T be doing? And What things SHOULD I be doing that I am not doing now? To make that happen, I have to trust the team I've built to help me to stay true to the values on which we have built the business.

Thankfully, I had the courage and gumption to jump and I've been lucky to have others put their trust in me to grow.