I’m sitting here at 1.04am writing about the first 6 months. Part of me if I’m honest is thinking…just go to bed and the other part is pushing harder to keep going. It’s actually very symbolic of how starting a company or getting anything off the ground is. You sit there on one hand ready to take the easy option but something greater a force unknown keeps pulling you back to tackle the bigger mountain and climb even higher.
It’s been an incredible journey so far but hey we are 6 months in…that’s like we’ve just literally climbed the first little hill on a mountain hike to Everest. I remember catching up with my business partner Rod in a coffee shop in Elwood back in February. I had just finished up at a different start-up and I was searching for something that could fulfil a very strong entrepreneurial thirst. It seems like years ago that we were sat there meeting each other for the first time. So much has changed, developed and grown. I’m not necessarily referring to the ‘size’ of our business albeit we have doubled head count and moved offices etc..but more so the maturity, density and togetherness we’ve created in a short period.
Having said that it wasn’t all plane sailing and it remains a daily hustle and grind. One of the biggest challenges facing start-ups who bootstrap (a term for organic growth using only founder capital) is the amount of tasks and varied nature of them that you have to perform as you aren’t hiring subject matter experts for the first 12 months. For example, I put together most of our website and today I downloaded Microsoft Projects, I needed a project software tool and have been strongly advised this is the best and easiest to use. It’s a small example but a good one that illustrates the need to learn a range of skill sets, software platforms and then of course cost lines associated to ensure that you’re making the right decision.
This wasn’t a ‘big’ decision in all honesty, as Rod often says ‘don’t major on the minors’ and with good reason. You can end up spending your whole day rocking in a corner worrying about every last detail and in the end you have no idea half the time if that decision is going to make an impact in the long run or not. So I found the best way to deal with those decisions is to not sweat them and go with my gut. If my gut for some reason decides to evade me then I make a call regardless and move on…I tried sweating it out and its far too painful.
However I wanted to share with you 10.1 observations what I’m either glad we did or wish I’d known prior to kicking off and below is a snapshot to help any would be entrepreneurs or start-ups about to conquer the world:
1) Get a massive whiteboard
Ok, so I know everyone has seen one of these before and I know I’m not the first to bring this to light BUT I’m going to anyway. We took an office with an entire white wall and clear walls around so we could scribble…ALL day. You have so many conceptional moments that you have to capture in a central place so this is my first essential tool for any start-up.
2) Write your DNA, Values, Vision & Mission on that same whiteboard for everyone to see
It’s got a bit cliche I guess but my goodness has it helped us make decisions. We talk to all of the above on a daily basis and it enables swift decision making on business ideas, people and customers. It guides us when we are in the dark and enables the light to shine through in conversations and discussions where we can’t see a path out. Get em up!
3) Write your business model on the wall for your employees, customers and business associates to see
This one seems controversial but if like us you’re trying something different and want the world to know, you need to show people how it works. We don’t care if they can copy it because they won’t. I know exactly what McDonalds does…because I can see into the kitchen but guess what, I’m not starting a fast food chain and I probably never will.
4) Don’t hire dickheads
Yeh. Enough said.
5) Hire people who genuinely care about the vision (not a little bit but a lot!)
It’s amazing how much extra you have to get out of people in the early days. You are constantly ideating and executing and it takes it toll. If you don’t have people who are bought into the vision to the point where they take ownership it simply won’t work. Don’t join a start-up or start one if you’re looking for work-life balance. Start one if you want to see a vision come to life, enjoy building stuff and are prepared to ‘integrate’ life into your work (subtle but important difference).
6) Look after your body and more importantly your mind
Clearly sleep is a big factor here…and maybe I should be putting my head down right now. It’s critical that you keep exercising. I haven’t stopped playing soccer, I have started at the gym and I meditate 3-4 times a week. I was drowning in my own thoughts for the first few months and stopped all of the above (yes I know…classic error but I learned quickly and adjusted).
7) It’s all about ‘Clouds & Dirt’
Strategy and execution. One minute you’re changing the world on a whiteboard the next you’re calling, meeting, chasing people to enable your business to grow. You have to be able to do both not one or the other…both…all the time…everyday. Often I see people struggle to get out of the high level strategy to execute something minor. The business just stops. The other side is true too where you see people constantly worried about the here and now and not letting people breathe, imagine and ideate…essential for start-ups…that’s why we do them!
8) You can’t be bigger than an a behemoth but you can move faster
It’s a lesson we are learning because you constantly want to compete with bigger more established players but you have to remind yourself that it’s not why customers choose you. They choose you because you’re different, because you’re small and can offer great service and move at pace. It’s also critical for being able to see market opportunities and go for them. Just be careful it doesn’t take you away from your core and try your best to incubate not infiltrate.
9) Avoid dramatic mood swings the walls are too close together
We’ve been lucky we haven’t hit to many moments where we’ve lost our you know what. Partly because we believe in caring for the other person like family and have a level of taste which doesn’t see the need for shouting. However, you can get stuck in your own head sometimes and that’s why meditation is so important. We can practice observing those thoughts and not letting them own us. It’s also important to have trust so that your colleague can call you out pretty quickly on it and you can have a laugh about it and move on.
10) Remember life is bigger than the game
Ok so I think about Amadeus Group all the time but I don’t for a moment see it as my first or main priority. My family are. It’s that simple. I love my job and I respect the fact I get to create stuff and do stuff on my terms but it doesn’t own me. It’s not my identity. My family and friends are my identity and Amadeus is what I do.
10.1) Have a laugh
Probably the one thing we have been able to do…we laugh everyday. Sometimes for most of the day. We take work and our business seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously at all. In fact I should take myself a little more seriously. Maybe I would actually believe my own horsesh*t. But then I wouldn’t survive at Amadeus…because I would turn into point 4 😉.