Are you still having fun?
I was talking to the CEO of Aluan, a company that Silkstone Partners invested in, and I asked “are you happy? is it still fun?”. She replied that of course it is, because the company she is building is doing really important work in the sustainable development of Aceh in Indonesia.
This is a really important question for CEOs and entrepreneurs. The assumption of course is that you love it because you are building your own company and you are the boss so you can do what you want! (side note: this isn’t true, but it’s a topic for another post!). But much of the time you aren’t having fun. There are plenty of articles out there about what a rollercoaster it is to start a company and I want to focus on one thing:
Our philosophy at Silkstone is to invest in women founded and lead companies with strong missions. We believe this is the key to long term growth with sustainability at its core. Aluan has a really strong purpose driven mission.
Companies without strong purpose driven missions will find it harder to stay positive. When your mission is strong, and you are doing the right thing you know it. And your people know it, and that gives you that extra boost you need during the hard times (and there will be many!).
My experience building Tigerspike was that it was really really fun, especially so in the beginning or when we were starting new offices and breaking into new markets. We did some really great work with the UN and some other great customers who really helped people, but our company was certainly not as purpose driven as Aluan is. And that did make a difference in the end.
What happened at Tigerspike was in 2013 we took on the wrong investor. Someone who didn’t really understand our business, and was overly profit focussed. We ended up selling for what I think was 25% — 30% below market value because in the end it wasn’t fun any more, and it was time for new (more purpose driven) adventures.
In the end it was my wife Lydia who asked me the question “are you still having fun?”, and the answer was no. So we took the offer.
Your partner will know if you aren’t having fun or if you are overly stressed. You may not. So ask them regularly.
So how do you make sure things stay fun? in order of importance I would say:
- Purpose. Make the right start in the first place: build a company that will do something good. Have a purpose driven mission. Be proud when you explain to your mum what you do. This is the most important thing. It isn’t about money.
- If the admin of a growing business is starting to annoy you then hire a general manager or COO to help you. Some people like the kind of work you hate. If you need to sell more don’t hire a sales guy. Hire someone to do whatever you are doing that is stopping you from selling.
- In general companies that are doing well have happy employees. We saw this at Tigerspike too. When an office was doing well and busy people were happy. When it wasn’t, people weren’t, no matter how many motivational BBQs you had. So focus on sales. SALES SALES SALES.
- Don’t take investment if you can avoid it. If you do, make sure you get it from good people. Ideally a rich supportive angel. My gut told me not to take on our second investor. Trust your gut.
- And don’t take yourself too seriously.