I wanted to write this post to give others an insight into my journey and to help other aspiring entrepreneurs achieve their dream of starting and building their own business.
When I was in my early twenties, I was obsessed with reading about the Founders of Facebook, Twitter, Box.com, Zappos and even latterly Uber. I was always dreaming about becoming an “entrepreneur”. Even this word sounded cool to me and often far fetched from where I was working each day. It seemed like I was not special enough or not knowledgable about entrepreneurship or business to become an “entrepreneur”.
This detachment came from my early teens where I tracked the likes of James Dyson and Richard Branson with their incredible and expansive businesses. In this light, I always thought one had to be an inventor, a creator of a great idea to become successful in business. I never quite had “that idea”.
I continued to read about successful entrepreneurs like James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne and thought it was like a magic trick that couldn’t be accomplished by someone like me. I knew I was certainly keen to work hard on a new venture or role but it always seemed to elude me.
This certainly changed for me when I was reading the 4-hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. I thought at the time that this would give me the perfect business plan to go out and to create an online business that could flourish and provide me with passive business income. The actual truth of what I took from the book was entirely different. It was that I worked out my hourly rate and what the profitability of my work was an employee. When I understood that I was paid £8.50 per hour and I was a 85% gross profit entity even after bonuses, I realised that things really had to change and continuing working in this way was not going to work for me.
I then went off to to work in Sri Lanka for a startup charity, returning to work then in the charity sector, which I didn’t really like and then moved into the Financial Services sector, always a dream of mine – it wasn’t what I thought it would be like either. Then I fortunately got a role within a leading IT services and consultancy business, Appirio, which was where I really honed a new model of working and delivering value to end clients. This incredibly fresh and challenger mentality that was so ingrained within the company, certainly proved fruitful for the Founders and the participating employees within the share scheme, as it was acquired by Wipro for $500 million.
After the takeover was approved and publicly announced, I realised that this was my chance to start a business. I didn’t quite know how or when I certainly knew why. I had been given a great opportunity after the acquisition and to start up a business without major risk – if there is such a thing!
With this added energy and impetus, I spoke to friends, past work colleagues, past clients about how my company had been acquired for $500 million. Many of these great people in my network not only congratulated me but asked me one of the most challenging and surprising questions I’ve ever faced… what’s next James?
I knew now that I simply had to move on from my newly acquired company and start out on my own. It’s the sense of challenge, adventure and even the unknown that has always excited me when wanting to start something new. To prove to myself that I can do it, even if others have doubted me. This time, it was harder, it was me doubting myself and my capabilities. I still had this nagging thought of am I worthy? Can I really be an entrepreneur?
It was when I refocused on the fundamentals, what I wanted, who I wanted to serve and ultimately would anyone pay for my expertise. These questions were fortunately answered after many conversations, one acquaintance of mine asked, why don’t you come and work with me?
This was it.
This event and the way the opportunity was completely different to how I’d imagined becoming the Founder and business owner. After resigning and starting up my new business, I had a strange coincidence take place. I wanted to register a domain for my new business and came up with the name Sales for Startups, as I would be advising tech startups on how to grow their Sales revenues, I thought it was quite clear to prospective customers.
When about to press “Register” on my new website, salesforstartups.co.uk I realised that I had bought the domain three years earlier in 2014 and came up with the idea while staying with friends in East Dulwich. Weirdly, I not only live in the area but also have now bought the domain for a second time and have started a successful consultancy for tech startups!
In summary, a complete and unnerving focus on coming up with “the idea” in my opinion is harmful, as it clouds your judgement and relinquishes the chance of seizing opportunity when it arises. A business is born when another individual agrees to pay or use your product or service. My simple advice to anyone wanting to achieve this similar feat is to get someone else to pay for you product or service, then you might be able to start a business. Then you’ll really know if “the idea” works or not.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?