Despite his success, less than a decade later, he quit his six-figure salary and sold all of his possessions, including a 19th Century manor house in the Cotswolds, his collection of classic cars, antiques and artwork – including work by Damien Hirst – to raise money and start a new business.
For me, the article raised two really interesting questions:
- What would I do differently if I were starting my business again?
- And – six years on and six years older – would I still have the courage to leave the security of the corporate world and do it now?
Everyone with a business has asked themselves the first question: if I were starting my business again, knowing what I know now, what would I do differently? For me, there are two very significant points.
First and foremost, I’d have put more working capital into the business. Not so that I could take more money out of the business in the early days, but to enable me to make better decisions.
Today, you can start a business with very little money. The old days when you needed high street premises, stock and six months’ advertising in the local paper are gone for good. But maybe the pendulum has swung too far the other way – towards the perception that you’re not a real man if you didn’t bootstrap your business.
The more I see of business, the more certain I am that not having enough capital in the early days is bad news. Yes, obviously it places a strain on cash flow and leads to sleepless nights and arguments with your spouse – but not having enough capital is bad for your decision making as well.
A shortage of capital forces you to make short term decisions for the benefit of your cash flow – not long term decisions for the good of your business. It forces you to adapt the worst possible definition of a client – ‘anyone with a pulse.’ A shortage of capital hampers you in the short term and in the long term – because it takes time to recover from the bad decisions you were forced to make for the good of the cash flow.
The other thing I’d do differently? As the saying goes, I’d ‘check my ego at the door.’ Let me hold my hand up and say that when I started TAB York I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. When you’re running a division inside a major company you think it’s just like running your own business. It’s not. It’s not even remotely like it – as you very quickly find it. But you’ve come from the corporate world. The culture is ingrained. You can’t show weakness or admit you need help.
So very simply, I’d have asked the very talented people I was working with for more help – much more quickly.
And so to my second question: six years on, six years more secure, six years deeper into the corporate culture, would I still have the courage to start my own business?
I’m certain the answer to that is a resounding ‘yes.’
Starting – and running – a business is a lot like falling in love and starting a family. The parallels hold good all the way through. And just as you can’t choose when you fall in love, so you can’t choose the moment when you absolutely know you have to start your own business. Everyone reading this blog knows the story of my breakfast at Newport Pagnell: and everyone reading the blog has their own version of the story.
Yes, of course we’d all do things differently. But the key thing is that we did something. That we had faith in ourselves – and that we were brave enough to push our breakfast to one side and say, ‘No more. It has to change.’
That’s why I’m so proud to work with you all. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you next week – and let me know what you’d do differently if you were starting over…