A story for you. 2 years ago I created a pop artist marketing agency. I won my first client, and after a successful one-week trial, I started asking for £500 a week to manage pop artists’ social profiles, websites, mailers and fan events, double average industry rates.
Off the back of some great work, and an unexpectedly high chart position from my first client, I won work from every major UK record label. Within 3 months I had 5 employees housed in an office in Soho. 90% of people I pitched went on to be clients.
It never crossed my mind to work for free.
I was building a company that offered a unique, labour intensive and much-needed service to record label Product Managers… and that required being paid. Obviously.
Fast forward to today and I have my ‘startup’ Teen Events. I’m part of London’s Google-Campus-fuelled ecosystem of individuals ‘looking for funding’, with me somewhere at the back of the queue, beating the same drum and repeating the same bullshit. Because nothing great ever happened without funding, right?
We’re playing a game of dress up.
How the hell did I end up part of it?
I’ve met several angels in the last 3 months. Many have given me great advice. Some have asked me to come back repeatedly, refusing to give me the quick no I asked for. Some questioned if the world’s biggest band One Direction were popular. These meetings and their preparation took hours of work. It terrifies me to think of the time I wasted on funding that could have been spent on building an actual business. Worse, the angels only really told me the things I already knew – but didn’t want to admit.
I’m not investible.
I’ve used ‘once I’ve got funding’ as an excuse too many times. Can’t find a committed technical co founder? I’ll get one once I can pay them. Labels aren’t convinced of the site’s value? A redesign will help, I’ll do that once I’ve been funded. User growth good but not fantastic? Ah, I need cash for marketing.
- I need a co-founder who loves what we’re doing more than being paid
- I need a designer who will take on a short fun project
- I need to simplify my marketing messaging and product execution
- I need to sell what I’ve got – because it’s good enough
I’ve spent some time reflecting on how I want to spend next year. Whilst the idea of a fancy east-London office, free staff lunches and a limitless team is attractive, it’s not a game I want play. I want to create a real, sustainable business with an invested team who are part of something great.
I spend a lot of time working with funded startups. They have the talent and the means to create a success story, but all too frequently they have too much choice. This removes innovation, hustle and urgency. Worse, they’re accelerating an imperfect, wasteful, machine. Then the wheels fall off.
Being bootstrapped is as liberating as it is constricting. My single day development a week forces me to think smart, be data driven, and properly prioritise, reducing wasted hours and push my thinking and creativity.
I will get funded. And I’ll take it when my business foundations are in place and I desire to expedite the process of growing users and revenues. Until then I’m Olly, and I’m building a business not a startup.