Heavy is the head that wears the crown. That’s the saying, right?
While it’s true of all leadership roles, the entrepreneur or founder operates in a different space, leaving the security of a monthly paycheck to take a leap of faith to pursue a business idea. Contrary to a cliched desire to change the world or make a truckload of money, there’s plenty of evidence that entrepreneurs seek autonomy, freedom and the desire to build something on their own terms. Without a doubt, they are a unique breed – often optimism, resilience, and relentless energy are common traits, however, this exhilaration is also accompanied by the stresses and strains of spinning many plates, many of which are well beyond their comfort zone.
My time at ico has afforded me the privilege of working with many founders who share the aforementioned traits. Starting a business and building a brand may well have been democratised by technology, but some things remain unchanged – the risk, making multiple decisions on the fly, constantly improving a product(s) or service(s), building a culture as well as a team all while trying to balance the books. As a business leaves the start-up phase and begins to scale, new challenges arise. So, it’s no surprise that while the journey can be exhilarating, it can be super lonely and it’s easy to feel lost. Learning to be comfortably uncomfortable is par for the course.
It’s no surprise that while the journey can be exhilarating, it can be super lonely and it’s easy to feel lost.
My most relevant experience beyond ico is my own involvement in investing and co-founding a pizzeria and then bar after relocating to Shrewsbury from London. After getting to know and becoming friends with the founder of an impressive market cafe, we found ourselves exploring ideas that could fill a void on the Shrewsbury high street. The entrepreneur in question has no formal ‘business school’ education – his experience was a short career in the army and in various kitchens. He certainly knew very little about brands but liked the idea of building one. What he did have, however, is a fearless attitude to risk, boundless energy, a shed load of creativity and a commercial instinct that can’t be taught.
For me personally, the game-changer is putting your money where your mouth is. When it’s cash you could use to pay off your mortgage, there’s no turning back. My 20-year career and day job hadn’t prepared me for that sense of unease. Writing a business plan, developing the idea and creating the brand was a fun challenge, but before I knew it I was signing for big-ticket items on credit, dealing with hard-nosed commercial landlords, and realising the rent free-period was running out fast. Little did I know that was just the beginning. Fortunately, I had a business partner who took most of it in his stride, which increased my confidence in the unknown aspects of the venture.
Like any partnership, you can share the successes and the struggles. The partner becomes the sounding board, the support, the alternative view – however, many founders don’t have that luxury. It can become a lonely place very quickly, particularly in the early stages of a business. We’ve come across this on many occasions at ico, even amongst serial entrepreneurs. It was listening to their trials and tribulations that sparked the idea of our new podcast – Lost in Founderland. Our idea is rooted in the fact that, whatever the industry, there is common ground. Building a brand is hard. It takes time. It’s a struggle – many founders share similar experiences. It’s why we decided to bring two very different founders together from contrasting sectors to share what being ‘lost’ means to them, and how they have overcome what may appear (at the time) to be insurmountable challenges. The founders we talk to have not made it (yet) or exited – and while they may be at different stages of growth, they are all very much in the thick of it, putting all their efforts into scaling their business and building their brand.
It’s a struggle – many founders share similar experiences. It’s why we decided to bring two very different founders together from contrasting sectors to share what being ‘lost’ means to them
My own experience exposed that I (and much of the creative industry) can sometimes inflate the value of what we offer. While our contribution is both crucial and has unquestionable value, it’s only one part of the puzzle a founder has to navigate. While the process of branding offers clarity of thought and a distinct expression to confidently build connection and desire around a business idea, it’s not a panacea for the multiple challenges a founder has to navigate. It’s just one phase of building a brand – it’s a long-term project and is why we become part of the journey and have lasting collaborative partnerships with many of our clients.
If you’re an ambitious founder in the thick of it, listen to Lost in Founderland here for a wide-ranging conversation that spans the stress of the unknown, how to validate ideas, coping mechanisms, the pressure of expectation, and knowing when to say no.