Another week, another raft of stories about unicorns – companies that didn’t exist a few years ago and are now worth a billion dollars.
(And Duolingo is one of them! Seriously, whatever happened to four years’ hard work at university?)
We do not – as yet – have a unicorn among the members of TAB UK. What we do have is a lot of members who’ve been in business for a lot of years. And that’s the point I want to make this week.
Open the business pages and it’s the unicorns – the Duolingos and Starling Banks of this world – that grab the headlines. That’s understandable: companies and entrepreneurs who go from zero to hero sell newspapers and generate clicks.
‘I thought I could do it better. I thought I owed it to myself to find out. I’m not in it for the short term.’ Those three sentences are not a news story. And yet they’re the story behind so many members of TAB – not just in the UK, but around the world.
In my last post I mentioned the one TAB board I still run, which has now passed its 7th anniversary. The members of that Board illustrate my point perfectly. Why did they start their businesses? Not for money, but because they owed it to themselves. They had to find out if they could do it better.
They accepted they were in it for the long haul. They did not have the fashionable business maxim – start it, scale it, sell it – anywhere near their to-do list.
Part of that long haul is meeting challenges. And as Wednesday morning brought the boss of Lloyds warning of the importance of mental health issues, let’s spare a thought for the support the entrepreneur needs.
Entrepreneurs face mental and physical challenges. They need stamina – and they need support.
Yes, you started your business for all the right reasons. Yes, you accepted you were in it for the long haul – but nothing prepares you for being responsible for 20 mortgages. Nothing prepares you for telling Bill that the company has outgrown him. And nothing prepares you for the physical and emotional stress of running a business: of being the person who makes the final decision every time.
That’s why I think TAB UK is so important. When I’m talking to a potential new member it’s very easy to outline the ‘obvious’ benefits of TAB – accountability, peer support, experienced entrepreneurs to bounce ideas off.
It’s much more difficult to explain those ‘hidden’ benefits – the support, empathy and understanding that are there when you really need them. I’m breaking no confidences when I say that every single member of my original Board has drawn on that support over the last seven years.
And now to wider matters…
My blog post on January 10th was the first of the year, and the first of a new decade. I made a simple point: the pace of change over the next ten years is only going to accelerate.
So it obviously makes sense to discuss the events of 1472.
That was the year Edward IV set up the Council of the North: its aim was simple – to improve government control and economic prosperity and benefit all of Northern England.
The Council was based in Yorkshire, first at Sheriff Hutton Castle, then at Sandal Castle and finally at King’s Manor in York. Henry VIII re-established the Council after the Reformation (when the North was identified with Roman Catholicism) and it was only abolished in the run-up to the Civil War.
Could Boris I now be following in Edward IV’s footsteps? Much was made in the election campaign of the Conservatives’ commitment to spread opportunity and investment evenly throughout the UK. But was it just warm words, designed to make the ‘red wall’ crumble, or would we see some positive action?
“Absolutely fine,” a friend said to me. “But let’s see the evidence. What they need to do is persuade Amazon or Google or Facebook to move their HQ out of London. Hartlepool maybe…”
Well, it may not be Amazon, Google or Facebook and it may not be Hartlepool. But as I started writing this post (on Sunday evening) there was a story in the Sunday Times: ‘Boris Johnson sends the House of Lords up North.’ York is the rumoured destination, with the city apparently having moved ahead of Birmingham in the race.
What a coup that would be – and a clear signal that the Government really does intend to make good on its promises.
Whether the House of Lords moves to York or not it reinforces my original point. The next decade will be one of rapid change. With technological change and a workforce with a new set of demands, it will present entrepreneurs with new and ever more complex challenges.
And that’s before we factor in Brexit…
This is my last post before the UK leaves the EU. Whichever way you voted, the negotiations with the EU – now not due to begin until March – will bring yet more uncertainty. We’re all going to face challenges we’ve never faced before: a support network like TAB UK is going to be essential for long-term success.
…And talking of challenges, I’d better do it now. Time to book a table for lunch. Before it’s full of overweight blokes in ermine…