If you’re going to start a business, don’t play it safe

1 Aug 2017

We speak to entrepreneurial go-getters across London’s retail, wellness, sports and advertising industries about having the right mindset when starting a business.

We’re often taught to keep our options open in the game of life, to think ahead and make sure you have a plan B for when things might go wrong. When it comes to starting your own business however, suddenly the odds are stacked against you, the stakes are high and the rules of the game change.

We’re living in a time where entrepreneurship is on the rise. More and more young people in particular are starting their own businesses– but still, nine in ten new businesses fail. For those who feel compelled to take the leap and start a business, the risk factor can be paralysing. So in how far does your mindset help or hinder your chances for success?

When you get an idea and can’t get it out of your head, making a contingency plan may seem like a sensible option. In reality, jumping in the deep end to pursue your passion may be the only truly sensible approach. The danger with creating safety nets is that we tend to fall into them– or at least this is the impression you get when speaking to the people who have turned their ideas into a successful business or their passion projects into livelihoods.

Fnatic's Redchurch Street HQ

“I sold my car so that I could bring this esports team to a tournament in Dallas,” says Sam Mathews, who founded professional video gaming, or esports, company Fnatic in 2004. At the time, Sam was into esports long before it had erupted into the fast-growing industry it is today. Seeing an opportunity to do things better, he jumped in. “I had 5,000 pounds to lose if they didn’t place in the top three, but I was confident they would. They ended up getting first place, meaning I got my money back and then some. You don’t make an investment you’re unprepared to lose.”

Today, Sam is the Founder and Managing Director of Fnatic, one of the world’s most successful organizations in esports worldwide, although 13 years ago he had no idea what would become of his passion project. Since then, Fnatic teams have gone to win thousands of tournaments and his 75 person company operates from a 5,000 ft. headquarters on Redchurch street with its own esports concept store called Bunkr to boot.

“When you’re building a business, thinking about what else you could be doing can make you more likely to fail, because you allow the possibility of failure to enter your mind. There’s only a plan A– and when that stops working you create a plan B or C. It’s about putting your heart and soul into making that one thing a success. It’s that hustle that’s needed to get you from zero to hero,” he says.

Recent studies back this up, pointing toward the unexpected downside to being prepared for failure. Merely having a plan B in mind can be seductive enough to deter your efforts away from making your plan A successful. Subconsciously you’re more likely to end up accepting defeat and rejection rather than facing them head on.

Pip Black and Joan Murphy

When Pip Black and Joan Murphy, first came up with their idea for a fitness space in 2009, they took this risk to sign a lease for an unused space in the archway in East London’s, Shoreditch. “Joan and I were in our early 20's and had nothing to lose, which I think shone through in our business approach. Looking back, our strategy was pretty high risk, considering the upfront costs, but there was no plan B,” Pip tells us.

Today, their company Frame is known as London’s original on-trend wellness brand with five locations across town. Though Pip and Joan had the youth and naivete to dive straight in without prior experience, it was their dedication to their idea that drove their success: “we were both so confident in our business plan and the market of young women who we knew would benefit from fitness, we would have pushed ahead no matter what,” says Pip.

That’s not to say an entrepreneur shouldn’t leave room for flexibility and change– there’s a world of a difference between preparing for failure and taking an agile approach to business. You can build, test and tweak your way through without abandoning a relentless energy to make your idea work.

Over times, it’s not about finding an idea to pursue, but rather following the natural progression of your passion and building the life you want.

“When you start something, really all your energy needs to go to one place. If you do what you’re truly passionate about, you contaminate others with that passion,” says Kwame Ferreira, founder and CEO of Impossible Labs, an innovation agency committed to social change, which he runs together with his partner, actress and activist Lily Cole. Coming from a background working in consultancies, Kwame decided to start building out his own creative organization with the people and family members he valued working with. “For me, building Impossible was the most inevitable way to surround myself with the creative power I needed.”

Lily Cole

The rise of technology and the global gig economy have made it easier than ever before to employ yourself or develop a side hustle. These new ways of working aren’t averse to risk and instability either, and perhaps breed a new class of entrepreneurship.

“Starting OK COOL was a logical progression that came from freelancing in social media,” Liz Stone tells us about her 18-month-old boutique social media agency. “I felt I had to make it work because I had greater ambitions for my clients than I could handle alone. Once I got started, there was no looking back. Failing to get off the ground was never an option– even if it meant late nights, early mornings and sacrificing weekends. The one thing I learned early on is that there is no silver bullet to success. Only hard, honest work.”

Not everyone has the luxury to drop everything to start a business. There are ways to plan ahead until you are confident you’re able to go all-in. “I’d begun to get restless in the advertising industry, where I’d worked for 7 years as an account director. Emboldened by the belief that there was a better way to work, I began to explore options for my escape,” Ben Broad the champagne on wheels business Bubble Bros tells us.

Bubble Bros

“Having offered my partner Rosie support with her leather goods business TINCT since its launch, I broached the possibility of getting more involved. I asked for a 6 month sabbatical to trial this new chapter, which much to my surprise was granted.

This safety net was an important part of the journey, and a few months into it, the idea for Bubble Bros was conceived and took shape without much forward planning. I’ve dipped my toes back into advertising with some clients to realize that I really needed to cut ties entirely to focus on these two businesses. I’m happier now in my working life than ever.”

Whatever the circumstance, it seems those cheesy affirmations we all know from Pinterest boards and office walls do ring true– it’s when you swallow the fear of failure, get out of your comfort zone and jump into the deep end with no option but to swim that we tend to get the most creative and do our best work.

Words by : Lisa Roolant