A few weeks ago I wrote about disruption, and how to embrace it. The context was related to my sudden involvement in a new business (doubled by a drastic change in lifestyle, but that’s another story). The new business, a co-working space in Bucharest, called Connect Hub, is up and running now, and although it’s been opened for less than 2 months, is going strong.
The first two months were hectic, to say the least, but now the chaos seems to decrease in intensity. We’re slowly approaching the attention stage of the business. I found the speed at which we browsed through enthusiasm and naivety quite encouraging (but that would be, somehow, the expected behaviour, you know – after you started 7 businesses, it is supposed to know a little bit about this thing). By the way, if you don’t know anything about these “business ages”, I recommend you to read the original article: The 7 Ages Of An Online Business.
Now, back to the article. I’ll keep it short. These are the 8 lessons I learned during the last few months, since I started to apply business processes on top of my weekly, free Open Connect event.
1. Clients First, Processes Later
When I started the project, when people in the Open Connect community agreed they would like to move together in a new place, I went to see some office spaces in office buildings with them. Like, literally, I gathered a few companies and freelancers from the Open Connect community and we went together to see those places. I also let them know that I need a firm commitment from them.
I listened to their requests, suggestions and ideas. Some of theirs needs I was able to fulfil, some not, but I didn’t enter the business all by myself, without any customer. I took them with me even before the space was ready.
All my other business were started differently. They were mostly projections, they were built on expectations rather than verified reality. Some of these expectations worked, some of the projections “clicked”, but starting directly with the clients, this time, proved to be a very good risk management approach.
2. Business Partnerships Can Go Wrong At Times. It’s Ok.
In the very early stages of a business there’s a lot of stress. Things can evolve insanely fast. And, somehow, this stress can make some of your partners to feel insecure. In other words, they may get the cold feet and want to get out It’s ok. It’s allowed.
I mean, it’s not pleasant at all, but it’s something that should be taken into account and managed. Somehow. In my experience, the best way to manage these situations is communication. Playing the prima donna or getting passive-aggressive may give you some immediate advantage, but in the long run it won’t work well.
If you’re the founder, that’s tough. It’s like the earth is shaken under your feet, you feel unsupported and you have to do some serious extra struggle to patch up this process. Be prepared.
3. Early Delegation Is Lethal – Don’t Do It
in the very early stages of a start-up, you need to be in control. But hey, don’t be a control freak. You need that control in order to evaluate and measure (see number 6, below). That’s one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen in other startups: everybody makes a list of their tasks, now let’s look each in his own direction and expect everything to work smoothly. Well, guess what, it doesn’t. Not only it doesn’t, but it sets the ground for an implosion, sooner or later. Because, in the early stages, there’s a lot of entropy, of unexpected stuff and some clear head should be aware of this and keep things under control.
In the beginning, as a founder, you are responsible for the vision. You know where you want to go. You know how you will go there. So, man up, stand before everyone else and let them know that they should report to you somehow. Don’t patronise them, and explain why you do this, but also be very firm and set up clear boundaries.
Equally important is to give the necessary tools to the rest of the team. It’s a very thin line between being a one man show, and putting together an elastic and efficient small team. And by small, I mean really small: the entire hub is run right now by a team of 2 people, with 2 extra helps every once in a while.
4. It Hurts To Stick To The Plan. It Hurts Even More Not To
After we found a suitable space in an offices building, we made a project with an interior designer. We had to design a space that was equally appealing as a work-space, and flexible for an event venue (that’s basically the definition of a hub).
Sticking to the plans in Autodesk was painful at times: we didn’t have all the materials, some of them were more expensive than we thought, some of them required more time to be assembled, and so on ad so forth. But we did whatever it took to stick to the plan. And people were amazed: “guys, you did it exactly like in the pictures”.
A few weeks ago a client who held a workshop in the hub told me that they wanted to work with us because “they heard on the internet that the space was exactly like in the pictures”. It was one of the biggest compliments I received in the last couple of months.
5. Health Is Not Optional
I’m not kidding. The effort required to make things happening in the first few months of a start-up can be really taxing. I felt this really, really hard this time, even if I’m keeping an active lifestyle, I eat right, I run, I teach tango and so on. Well, during the first few weeks it was so time consuming that I couldn’t teach tango anymore (but I got back again to teaching after the first month).
The fatigue may not be felt only on the physical level. You may get mentally exhausted, you may get emotionally unstable and that’s as dangerous as getting sick. After a couple of wrong steps in this area I backed up and doubled the time for myself (outside of the business) and also improved my diet even more.
One more thing: being healthy during these times it’s not optional. It’s compulsory. You are the one holding the vision, you are the one training the team, you are the one responsible for everything that happens. If people around you are getting crazy (and, if there is even a small penchant for playing the drama queen, believe me, under this stress, people will play the drama queen big time), so, if they are getting crazy, it’s your task to keep a clear mind, a cold head and a strong vision.
6. If You Don’t Measure It, It Doesn’t Exist
Especially because of the speed, you will find it difficult to measure everything around you. Well, if you’re not measuring it, it will be lost. In the very early stages of a business, a lot of stuff is happening, a lot of new and unexpected situations are created, and each and any one of them needs to be properly integrated.
Not all of them will be solved. Well, not all of them will be solved in an efficient way, anyway: there will be losses, misunderstandings, lost opportunities. But all of them can be measured. And that’s something that is very, very often overlooked.
For instance, we wanted to implement a marketing idea, a series of events, for about a week, grouped around a common theme. The implementation was a big fail, nothing worked well. But at the end of it, I insisted to measure it, and it turned out that, despite the emotional cost of feeling that we worked for nothing, there were some real benefits. Not as big as we expected them, but at least it was something.
If we didn’t measure this week, it would have been passed under the “failure” label. Which was not only bad, but inaccurate as well.
7. The Fluffiness Of The First Few Months Is Allowed
This one is in very close connection with the one above. By “fluffiness” I mean the fuzziness of the processes, the continuous movement from one day to another. No matter how thoroughly you plan, no matter how many scenarios you make, at some point, things will go crazy. It is supposed to be like this, you know. You’re in an uncharted territory. That’s why it’s called a “start-up”, because you’re just starting things up. It’s not like you’re having a blueprint and everything will fall into places.
Well, when things are going crazy, just cope with it. Don’t expect that everyone around will be functional 100 percent. Don’t get angry if they mess up. And there were a lot of mess-ups. Some clients were not politely treated, some opportunities were lost, but, at the end of the day, I accepted that as an inherent cost of the early days.
The fluffiness of the first few months will soon be replaced by clear process and everybody will know what are the benefits of every good move and what are the costs of any bad move. I accepted this “fluffiness” as a witness period, so we can refer to it later on, when everything will work right.
8. I Still Have It 🙂
Entrepreneurship is not a thing you do every once in a while. Once you did it, it’s in your blood. You are “infected”.
For the past 5-6 years I functioned as a digital nomad, a one-man-show working in coffee shops, starting ventures related to the online, things that kept me in a quite comfortable state of “floating”. After 10 years of hard core entrepreneurship, I guess this approach was a healthy reaction and I enjoyed every minute of it.
But now, with Connect Hub, I started something in the real world, with real people, real desks, and, yes, even real toilet paper. Toilet paper that needs to be changed, you know, every once in a while. And fast. Otherwise the saying: “the shit just hit the fan” will get a very realistic touch, pardon my English.
So, I still have it. I can still do it, I can still get involved in creating and managing processes in the real world. I do feel a bit rusty in some areas, and some things changed during the last 5-6 years, but, overall, I think I’m on the right track again. There’s still a lot of stuff to be done, and I expect at least 6-9 months of hand-on activity until I will decide to delegate the wheel to somebody else.
Because, obviously. I would want to start something new. 🙂