I’m on a panel discussion tomorrow about start-ups and newly established businesses. This is what I will be saying……
There were 3 stages of being scared that I went through when I started up my current company.
Firstly I was scared because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I kicked around lots of different ideas, some of which were boringly mundane, some of which were really interesting. My criteria were pretty straight forward – something where I wouldn’t go bankrupt or get bored. I did it the old fashioned way, making a list of business ideas that I might want to do, writing a short outline business case to test whether it was feasible and profitable. It was hard when I prepared the list not to censor myself, and pre-exclude anything that wasn’t “realistic” i.e. similar to what I had done before, and to remove all of the “cool” ideas. Instinct tells me that people censor their list of business ideas due to a misguided sense of being “realistic”, which in this context is just a euphemism for safe.
The second stage of fear was not knowing how to do things. I had a briefly run a social enterprise, which had done some great work, but hadn’t succeeded because the people didn’t get on. This gave me some skills, and some confidence about the kind of issues small businesses encounter. For the distillery there was a lot not to know, both technical and legal, and this required a lot of research and planning. The newer and more innovative the industry the more there is not to know, which is scary, but also means that you have more freedom. Good technical support, and networking were the keys for me. Finding the Institute of Distilling at Herriot Watt and the team up at Strathearn Distillery were key moments. 6 months later people were coming to see me to ask how to do it.
The final stage of fear was worrying about what my old work colleagues would say. It feels daft in retrospect that I worried about this, but I did. I had come from a comfortable and quite conservative management culture, where risk taking and creativity weren’t widely distributed. It took a lot to actually tell people what I was going to do, and while some close friends knew the plan, most people found out about it when I changed my job title on LinkedIn. Ultimately the only way to deal with this is not to give a fuck. Which isn’t an attitude which comes easy to someone who was a Civil Servant.