So many people talk about good ideas, good ideas are great – but only if you’re willing to execute them. As we celebrate Elixirr’s 10 year anniversary I look back at the lessons I’ve learned along the way…
1. Fail fast: It’s okay to make mistakes (as long as you learn from them)
Anyone who has started their own business will have experienced some kind of set-back – from hygiene factors like being unable to purchase the right domain name, to large scale, like struggling to secure the right level of funding. Whether it’s over-forecasting, hiring the wrong people, wasting budget or failing to mitigate risk, the odds are against you when navigating your new business in its’s early years. Over the last 10 years we have faced issues that have dented profit, growth and most importantly knocked our morale. But not for long… time spent dwelling is time wasted. Fail fast, learn from it and move on.
2. Surround yourself with people you can trust.
When navigating through our first couple of years, collecting funding and the like, I didn’t exactly have people queuing outside the door to help. But the people who were there are reaping the benefits now – and that’s a reward for sticking through the tough times. And to counter that, when you are successful people are very quick to get in contact, eager for a piece of the pie. It’s the people who are willing to work hard, put skin in the game and have a genuine passion about what you’re doing who are who you need by your side. People who are loyal will stick around – even through the tough times.
3. There is no such thing as work/life balance!
Work never really stops (if you want to build your own business)… The concept of a structured ‘work/life’ balance almost seems to be expected in today’s society – especially in a typical ‘9-5’ role, but I think it should it be seen as a privilege – take Siya Kolisi during his interview having won the 2019 Rugby World Cup – “Growing up, I never dreamed of a day like this at all. When I was a kid all I was thinking about was getting my next meal.” The South African team spent half of the year training away from their families in the lead up to the event.
Whether it’s achieving that kind of greatness, or starting your own business and making it a success it will require an unprecedented amount of your time – and you should be ready to embrace that! Want to be a successful entrepreneur? Ditch the idealism of a ‘work life’ balance, and be ready to blend the two.
4. Run your business like a manager would run a successful sports team.
Make the right sacrifices, give people a fair shot, trust your instincts and always think about the whole team – not just an individual member. Have belief. It’s no secret that I’m a die-hard Liverpool fan. I find football to be a fascinating sport – but really this concept applies to any team based sport. So many factors come together at once – one of the most fundamental being belief. A manager’s belief in the fans, and team – a team’s belief in their manager, and fans supporting them through thick and thin.
This year’s Champions League Semi Final, Liverpool vs Barcelona was for me, (and I suspect even for the biggest critic) a truly magical display of seamless teamwork. Against all odds Liverpool beat one of the toughest teams in the world, needing a total of 4 goals to win, and with odds reaching 66/1 before the match. Their manager, Jürgen Klopp reflected later, “I said to the boys before the game, ‘I don’t think it’s possible, but because it’s you we have a chance…” Always believe in your business and in your team.
5. Get the basics right first – the ‘frills’ can come later.
When forming a company, people can be so keen to tackle the glamorous stuff first – in reality that should come long after the hard work. Proof of concept, positioning, forming the right team, legalities – the truly fundamental stuff should come before VIP launches, flashy videos, business cards and Christmas parties…
Some of these basics stick, we’ve religiously had our weekly Partner meeting every single week since forming (albeit with more chairs around the table today!) – this for us is crucial for keeping in touch with the business fundamentals. There’s a reason 66% of businesses fail in their first 10 years! Nail the basics first.
6. Building a strong brand takes time (and even a few attempts!) but is so necessary…
We started building the foundation from day 1, but it’s taken 5 years for our brand to really ‘stick’ – half of the existence of the company! You can’t build a strong brand overnight, but it’s so worth it when you do. You may offer the greatest product or service in the world, but your brand is your unique identity. It’s also vital to remember that your brand is always evolving, just like your business. As a Founder it is vital that you are not only involved in its identity (and the evolution of it), but that you are actually at the centre of it – driving its direction. This creates true authenticity – connecting what your business does and how it’s presented to the world.
There’s a reason 66% of businesses fail in their first 10 years! Nail the basics first.
7. Celebrate the good moments – but stay grounded.
We recently experienced a record year of growth, and were delighted. For 2 minutes. The next conversation was on to next month’s revenue, hiring, budget and future forecasting. The market moves too quickly for you to savour your success – take your foot off the gas for too long and you could miss the next big opportunity, or fail to see a vulnerability. One year we saw phenomenal growth, 74% increase YOY, in just a year we doubled our turnover – but lost our core values. We over hired, dropped our standards and suffered – the following year saw an 8% drop. The market is unforgiving – always stay 2 steps ahead.
8. There’s only one real similarity in the people who succeed…
I think the only common denominator in the most successful people I’ve worked with (regardless of academia and experience) is a certain ‘grit’… a desire to succeed that often comes from past failure or mishaps. The road to success (particularly as an entrepreneur) is never easy. I have met countless successful people – and they come from all walks of life. People who are most effective? Those who have something to prove. Something I like to phrase as ‘underconfident, over achievers’ without a sense of entitlement, but with a relentless desire to succeed. When I came to the UK, leaving my native South Africa I had a grand total of £600 in the bank, but what I lacked in capital I made up for in ambition and belief. Make. shit. happen.
9. Never stop looking for the next opportunity, and maintain relationships.
You can be oversubscribed with clients or orders, with capacity being pushed to its absolute limit. But you should always be one step ahead – and always looking for the next opportunity (you never know when you’re going to need it!) Obviously good management is crucial in these scenarios – the issue of quality control, over hiring and over-worked teams is a red flag. But during these times you must keep your head above water and maintain your vision for the future of the company. The same rule applies even in the early stages of your career – it might be going swimmingly, and you feel untouchable. But you never underestimate the value of your network, and continue to nurture it. You never know what’s around the corner…Never underestimate the value of your network, and continue to nurture it. You never know what’s around the corner…
10. Create an authentic culture.
Culture is your company’s DNA. As a founder you don’t necessarily create the culture singlehandedly, but I absolutely believe that you form the context that influences it. The values you set from day one set the tone, “Our newest recruit will one day lead our firm…” it’s literally written on our wall – and really epitomises the high performance and entrepreneurial spirit of the culture that we’ve created. The quality of our people is sacrosanct. Let the core values of the business you’ve built shine through and stay true to them.
What a difference 10 years makes. I started with the vision to build the best consultancy in the world. Watch this space…