Sometimes it’s as simple as listening, much can be learnt through a conversation but much is lost through our addiction to our phones and constant worry about the near future.
That small moment you take from your life to listen can provide you with some of the most valuable knowledge that you will hold throughout your whole career; it only takes one conversation to hear a lifetime of experience and learnings.
I thought, today, I would share some thoughts on what we can learn from our elders. Here are some insights that I have learnt from working with our parents and things I think they could learn from us in return.
I have been lucky to grow up in an entrepreneurial household. My father started a logistics company from scratch as did my mother with a world health company.
It is fair to say that I don’t like rules or sticking with the heard and this has both helped and hurt me over time. At the end of the day, however, you learn from experience, here are some of the lessons that I learnt;
Mentors are Key
I spent a lot of extra time and money on my shoe company that I really didn’t have to. This comes down to me not listening to the experienced people around me and the fact I didn’t ask for help.
I was consistently told things however I was naive. I always believed that I could do amazing things, I ignored many things such as pre-sales, the importance of finding partners that have strengths in your weaknesses and being careful with contracts. In the end, this naivety did hurt my business.
In saying that, the fashion industry is was a truly unique industry, everything is about who you know and how you present yourself. You need to spend large amounts of capital going places, meeting people and looking the part to prove that you deserve to be there. I was working in a space where there is a huge emphasis on the way you present your collections; you spend extensive amounts of money on photography and lookbooks so you gain PR to build momentum and make yourself known by stores.
I found it hard to translate this through to my funders, the issue I faced was that they were traditional and therefore spending these extensive amounts of capital was seen as risky and many arguments would arise. I understood why they were like this yet it was hard to bring both traditional concepts and ‘risky’ ideas together to find a balance point that made us both happy.
Through this experience I learnt the importance of mentors, the more I tried to take on by myself; the more I valued the knowledge of those who had been there and done what I was trying to do.
New school businesses do and don’t need to have capital from the beginning
There are definitely two different ways to run a business;
- Pre-sales and running a business with a positive cash flow
- A capital scaling business
It’s important to understand (which I didn’t twice!) that you need to be able to start a business and bootstrap it from the beginning for as long as you can without getting capital injected.
It teaches you how to actually run a business and allows you to concentrate and focus on what’s important to you. If you understand where your values sit in your business, people will share your love for what you do and you will be able to scale with something they understand and share your love for.
If you get a capital injection early you will probably scale too fast and just scale a product that people will enjoy, but not love or even worse, not like at all. Only a year into LT2, I realised the difference and the importance of this notion.
If you think that capital is needed for fast scaling, then you should read more information on how the second to market usually come out on top i.e. Google, Uber.
Business needs a Purpose
It’s simple, your business needs a purpose.
Previously, it was about making money and supporting your family but today we live in a different world. Today money is easier to make and employees/co-founders want to have more than just a money making position, they want to know there is a greater purpose.
In the future, there will be more currencies than dollars… Money can’t always be the driver behind a business.
Creativity means nothing if you aren’t practical
I touched base on this last week but it’s so important. I struggled during my shoe career due to my huge focus on producing a product that encapsulated every inch of my imagination without thinking about the practical side.
I always believed the best-designed product would sell no matter what.
I learnt the hard way and my advisors were right, sacrificing certain aspects to get a lower price product with more available fabrics and materials would be more reactive and important to buyers than creative flair.
You can’t always allow yourself to be immersed within the creative side, sometimes you need to make sacrifices in order to practically run a business.
There are no rules in business
People always ask how to sign large deals… The answer is still the same as it used to be.
If getting a big deal across the line means that you have to send the person you are dealing with on a round world trip to Disneyland – do it – you can have that in the contract too.
It’s all about foreseeing the opportunity and understanding how to make it happen – whatever it takes.
After we hit a sales target, what do we do?
Large companies that have been around for a long time are all about keeping their shareholders happy with dividends and profits.
Today’s companies don’t last as long as they did before – there is a lower barrier to entry for competition so it’s important to truly differentiate yourself.
To create a sustainable business, you have to put twice the time into culture, community and momentum to constantly keep the ball rolling. These come first, dollars come second.
Only do business with people you would drink beers with
I learnt this from my older advisors.
Business relationships are about the long term and if you can’t relax and shoot the shit with someone; it will be hard to sustain a relationship through the hard times.
Just because you like pies doesn’t mean you have to sell pies
Sometimes when you start a business the thing you enjoy doing isn’t the thing that lets you stay afloat. You need to concentrate on the things that keep you in the green and build towards the things you really want to do.
Don’t narrow your options down simply because you enjoy something or you are good at something – explore and learn.
Diversification within your business streams
Previously business was about nailing a niche. The future will be about flexibility and being able to reallocate resources and be agile to take opportunities.
Become more bespoke
Look into other business models; financial advisors are doing success fees now; big firms can’t just stick to the old business service model.
If business is about trust, put that trust and time into those you work with.
Understand valuations in today’s world
Tech founders in the US; the way businesses were validated for worth once is not how it is done today, technology has changed the focus.
If you have two high-skilled tech co-founders with a semi-validated MVP product, they are instantly valued at $1.5 – 2m, in the US. That is because of the worth of the founders rather than the business.
It’s about investing people.
Getting out and understanding the environment from other industries that are relevant to you
You need to keep half your head in the sky and half in the ground.
Every moment you miss – someone else is catching up or moving ahead.
Don’t just turn to start up events randomly
You can’t build trust like that.
If you attend; commit to the scene and turn up every time.
I have dealt with four very large families in business in my life and all of them required me to meet the whole family and have 1v1’s with the family bosses.
Reflect on why they do this and why it is so important. One bad deal or one bad hire can ruin your business.
Take relationships slowly and seriously, you will reap the rewards in the long term; it’s about the bigger picture. Even if your startup collapses, you will have the trust of those that can support you in your next venture.
And looping back to where we started, listen to those around you;
So far, my mum has been right about things 9/10 times throughout my entire personal and business life.