Wow. Well, I did it. This morning at 6 a.m. I began my new life as the founder of a new start-up business.
To explain, my name is Ian Tomlin, and for the last two and a half years I’ve been working for Canon, according to Global RepTrak 100, the fourth most trusted brand in the world. Canon is a corporate — and a big one at that. I shared an office with over 400 people.
And today? Well, today I started my new life as CEO, tea-maker and sales guy of my new company, Newton Day. And it feels a bit weird. I’d describe the emotion something similar to standing on the edge of a roof, peering down at the road below. Those little specs are how far my first new customer feels right now.
Crazy you say? Maybe. It takes a very peculiar blend of arrogance, passion, and madness to start a business. If you didn’t have a little gutsy self-belief leaning towards narcissism, then I’m not sure anyone could do this. When I trudged out the door of the corporate office for my last time yesterday I could see a few expressions that summed up the ‘you must be crazy’ and ‘what an idiot’ moment perfectly. It wasn’t a big send-off. Good job really. If I turn up on the doorstep with cap-in-hand next week begging for my first crust of work, well, it would’ve been much more awkward.
So why do it? For most people that start their own company, there are push and pull drivers. For some, it starts with ‘the push.’ That was my case this time. Another re-org after just finishing the previous one and I’d had enough. Then there's the pull. The nudge I got from my employer was enough to re-motivate me to do what I’ve always thought I should be doing anyway (the pull). I guess the push factor was enough to overcome the anxiety and unknowingness of starting a business. Bluntly, it was enough encouragement to give me the guts to follow my life journey. When the safety net has finally been dragged from under your feet, the recognition that you’re JUST GOING TO HAVE TO find income another way that gives you that final push in the back. It’s what you need.
I confess, my pull inspiration came partly from watching the TEDTALK by Adam Leipzig giving advice on life course. If you ever find yourself unsure where you’re headed it’s the one to watch! I sat in bed one morning trying to answer the questions he posed in his presentation — ‘who was I? What did I love to do it for? Who do I do it for? What value do they get from what I do? — and I suddenly realized that ‘my thing’ is helping business leaders that have a passion for what they love to do to grow their businesses. And the superpower I bring them is the ability to attract new business customers to their door by helping to remove the barriers that make that whole thing fail. Today, businesses need to engage their customers in a conversation that prospective buyers are interested in learning about. Think of that classic situation when you’re at a dinner party and you meet three people. The first is a college professor that likes the sound of his own voice, the second is a holiday blogger that’s been to all of the places that you want to visit yourself with a great bubbly personality and passion for his subject, and the third is an accountant that has no obvious personality or will to live. Who would you PROBABLY want to talk to? The holiday blogger — yes? But maybe no. Because conversation is about listening more than talking. In the case of businesses, they KNOW about what THEY DO. What they tend to lack is knowledge or interest in what their customers do.
The art of human conversation might just be the biggest untapped competitive advantage any business has today.
It’s not my first rodeo. I am a bit of a serial entrepreneur. In 2000, I started my first business — NDMC Ltd — and it’s still going, which suggests I know something about how to do this gig. We even outlasted the 7-year and 10-year itches that kill most companies.
According to the awesome physicist Geoffrey West, the mathematical life expectancy for the majority of businesses is 10-years, with around 80% meeting their end.
I’m not sure having run a business before is any indication of your ability as a human being to do it again. Sure, it helps to know ‘what not to do’ in some case. But you do need some luck, a good business plan, and a profitable business model. In this day and age, you either need to be really customer intimate, have an amazing product or know how to deliver things better than anyone else. If you don’t have one of these three attributes to your business, IT WILL FAIL.
If you’re thinking about starting your own business, then don’t be surprised if you feel the same as I do. But all of these emotions are a good thing I think.
If you’re not scared a little, you’re naive to the challenge you’re about to face
If you’ve no self-confidence, don’t expect any customers to believe in you either.
And, if you’re not energized, you will fail.
Ian Tomlin is a marketing and management consultant with over 20-years experience in helping businesses to grow. He is (now) CEO of Newton Day. Find out more about Newton Day here.