“We want to be dolphins but we have to be sharks
Sharks are survival driven, hunting and killing just to keep going, this is not fun!
Dolphins have time to play and breath; just to be “
Which would you rather be? And, on this dolphin day what am I trying to do?
For those who seek to support business owners and provide services, which take some of their pain away do we actually understand what motivates and drives people to be in business and the challenges that they face?
This may be an active choice but it doesn’t mean that its an easy one and we should work hard to understand the motivators and even harder to understand the gaps which need to be filled by support services.
In an effort to try to bridge the gap I am carrying out a series of interviews with enthusiastic and committed business owner/founders to try and get a deeper understanding of their drivers and more importantly their needs.
Interview no1 was a really open and free flowing interview and I’m very grateful for the shared insight.
It seems that one of the big drivers for setting up a business can be simply a desire to escape the creative shackles of employment. With a clear mission to create software that “works elegantly” and delivers a “great user experience” this creative developer felt constrained by employment. He, who prefers to be anonymous and some of the later insights will explain this, wanted to be in control, not simply be work for hire.
“Gaining control means that I am accountable and know why and how something is happening. “
Pride is a huge driver in this creative world but equally I’m sure in other not so obviously creative businesses. To create something which we can be proud of motivates us to turn up on a Monday morning keen to get going not just counting down the hours until Friday. To have the ability to create something which will make the world slightly better or simply entertain people is freedom.
However the reality is that there is a need to achieve financial success before this creative freedom is open to us there will always be an element of work which we undertake quite simply to “keep the lights on” but the dream is to have sufficient financial stability to enable us to be creatively independent. This is a realistic goal, a colleague of the interviewee, a game developer now has generated sufficient revenue to spend his time exploring possibilities, exploring and playing, enjoying Dolphin days.
One of the keys to achieving this freedom is research and development and support is needed to ensure effective time management and focus delivers effective research and development. R & D is a very on trend theme and it’s a key driver in this business, there is a need to be completely on top of competitor’s activity, R&D is survival not just a trendy tax break.There’s a very real danger of being cocooned in a creative zone only to realise too late that, someone else has already launched the project you have been working on. Managing scarce resource in this case time and making sure that the team is always on top of current trends is so important in this fast paced industry.
As an advisor its important not only to understand the business owners motivations but to understand what the landmarks of success look and feel like, once we have this insight we can guide business owners towards the landmarks
So what feels like a significant win?
“Getting the office was a huge psychological step, we had previously been working out of my garage which was cold and draughty, at one point it was -2 and none of our fingers would work! We were working on big projects for London based clients through an agency, so it was like the agency was the swan and we were the swan’s legs working frantically and freezing to death.This is absurd; we’re doing good work and doing well.
So we changed our approach to the company mentally and moved into an officeThis felt like a big win and helped to calibrate the ambitions of the business “
There’s something here I think about how the business looks to the outside world, does it look like a grown up business or a start up that may or may not succeed and can we help businesses to take these grown up steps by encouraging them to think bigger and gain real value for their own work for themselves.
Next we started a discussion about being robust enough to adapt and completely re- think the business, this is another significant indicator that the business is sustainable, but this may take some handholding from business advocates as there are some great brave leaps into the unknown, but the ability to re-boot a business is certainly a significant win. A change in technology, the saturation of the market with iPhones which didn’t function with Flash, meant that 80% of the business was redundant. Instead of throwing in the towel the business adapted and took a leap into new technology, Augmented Reality.
Whilst it’s easy and obvious to talk about success I believe it’s also important to analyse failure, for it’s in this area that we stand to gain the most insight.
Discussion around failures en route to success opened up an interesting subject, that of employing family in the business. When really tough decisions have to be made during times of realignment there are some really, almost impossible conversations to be had. These conversations are so difficult that it would almost be easier to let the business fail than have them, and certainly the truth is avoided for longer than it would be if family weren’t involved. Interestingly the biggest mistake wasn’t seen as the delay in addressing the problem but in actually employing family in the first place. The later fall out and the inability to have discussions, which weren’t loaded with 30 years of disagreements on non-business issues, has left a very deep scar and perhaps again a bit more hand holding on HR issues could have helped keep the creative focused on creating.
Another critical area where support was really lacking is in relation to cash flow and funding options.
A familiar story, no support was forthcoming from the banks, although willing to lend £15k to the business owner personally to pay off a credit card they were unwilling to lend to the business. The impenetrable sea of information on grants and other sources of funding meant that in order to get off the ground the only option open to the business owner was to dig into his own already threadbare pockets.
At start up stage and at each stage of growth, support is needed to breakdown the information and support access to finance both traditional and new channels. I will be watching with interest as our creative is currently looking for funding to support a new product launch and hopefully now has more support accessing funds for growth.
So we talked about some of the practical issues but then moved on to some of the intangible, immeasurable emotional issues.
Do business support people truly understand, unless they’ve been there themselves, what it takes to keep going, to walk into the office every Monday with a smile and an optimistic outlook?
This takes real grit and determination.
“I’m overly optimistic on a weekly basis, if I hadn’t been I wouldn’t have been able to do this. It takes so much out of you, so much to pick up the phone with a smile on your face”
So as business advisors we should seek to support and nurture business owners recognising the emotional toll that simply keeping going takes, by nature people will not always own up to the down days as they have a default up-beat survival button but we should help take up some of the strain by acknowledging the emotional roller coaster.
“Optimism needs to be supported and nurtured, popular thinking seems to put success and failure as polar opposites but its important to understand that failures are part of the learning experience en route to success. It requires resilience to weather the failures and move slowly towards success.“
A really interesting morning spent with someone who has great potential to bring some life enhancing work into the world. I for one would like to work harder to ensure that businesses like this one can have dolphin days and change the world for the better.
Please contact me if you would like to share your story, with shared knowledge and recycled experiences we can make the world of business a more successful and happier place.