12 lessons I’ve learnt from 12 months at a start-up

Back then we weren’t European Travel Innovator of the Year. The idea of showing OTA prices on a hotel website seemed ludicrous to many and our talented team was less than a quarter of the size it is today. A very close friend of mine always ponders “think about what happened one year ago and what could happen one year from now”. If you’d asked me that a year ago I could never have predicted what would have happened.

So here goes. 12 lessons from the last 12 months:

1. Learn to hustle

All those Medium posts and stories you lead about having to hustle seem so abstract until you find yourself running around a trade show finding the right people to talk to and the right conversations to have. It seemed much easier back in agency land – people wanted to talk to you because you had a brand name behind you. All that changes…and fast. The lows suck (sorry, who are you?), but the highs are phenomenal when you’ve had a meeting that could just change the business.

2. Your experience only takes you half way

There’s a quote from Maya Angelou I love. “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been, told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive”. Yes, all well and good.

But I found I had been conditioned to succeed. Starting up is about failing fast, learning and moving on. That takes some time to get used to and so whilst you might be the sum total – I had to divide that by two.

3. Forgiveness is much better than permission

Try as I might to instil this upon my nephews and nieces (sorry sis if you’re reading this) – if you want to move fast, you’re going to upset people. It’s usually in a good way. I’ve learnt that through my writing this year – asking people to forgive me has been much more rewarding than stopping myself by asking for their permission in the first place. Otherwise it would never have gotten done. It’s a used Facebook adage but it works: move fast and break things.

4. Slack

I. Love. Slack. I don’t know how or why I sent so many e-mails. And if you haven’t met Slackbot, you should. He’s like the sarcastic friend you wish you never had.

5. You never know how much you know

Sometimes I surprise myself by how much I’ve learnt without realising. A year in many large organisations would be a drop in the ocean, but a year at a start-up makes me a coveted ‘veteran’. It lets me use phrases such as ‘in my day’ in the most ironic manner possible.

6. Breathe

We do yoga every Thursday and the physical and psychological difference it makes is remarkable. Take time to breathe when you’re moving a million miles an hour.

7. And breathe some more

Lots of Silicon Valley stalwarts swear by meditation. The funny thing is, so did my forefathers and their forefathers over in India. Meditation is more vital today than ever. Phones are always buzzing, screens are forever flashing. Take 10 minutes every day and just restore focus.

8. You’ll experience rewards from the simplest things

Up until last year I’d done umpteen press sell-ins and revelled in the coverage it generated. That coverage got compiled into a spreadsheet and presentation and that was it. Job done. When I generated my first piece of coverage at Triptease,the phone rang with a new customer at the end of the line. That may sound so basic, but that reward of an output having a business impact was a good reminder of the value of PR at a time when so many people continue to question it.

9. And you’ll experience frustrations from the simplest things

Printing. The bane of my life. Gone are the days of calling a 3-man strong IT team to looking at toner and paper. If you’re ever considering the leap to a start-up, be ready for a fight with a good old DeskJet (yes, they still exist). (And yes: I still can’t work out how to print wirelessly).

10. Beware: buzzwords

‘Inbound marketing’ seems to be one floating around start-ups. It’s using PR, content and events to have qualified leads get in touch with you. It’s funny that in three years at a PR agency I had never heard people talk of themselves as ‘inbound marketers’ but apparently that’s now a thing.

11. Culture is everything

Back from my very first job at IncrediBull (the best value: be cheeky) through to today – I’ve never underestimated the importance of culture. It’s the thing that keeps you going and the thing that keeps you sane when someone new walks in and you have no idea who they are but you know you’re both working towards the same thing.

12. Up your efficiency

Funny I’m writing a 12th thing here (12 months = 12 things…gettit?) but really I could have stopped at 11. The *lean* start-up isn’t just a book, it’s a great habit and way of thinking to get yourself into. Ask yourself – all the time – how are you continually innovating and cutting what you don’t need to do?

There you have it. A veritable advent calendar of things I’ve learnt. Along the way I’ve written some articles, launched a podcast and continue to be amazed by the pace at which technology is moving.

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