Lessons from a startup. Celebrate and learn from our first year!

What a year it’s been, there have been high’s and lows, momentous firsts and crushing blows. This is my third business, and if FTSQ was a person, it’d be ‘the one’. This time I think I’ve finally got it right. As a friend said to me the other day “FTSQ is you, it’s you all over. You can tell this is more than just a business for you. It’s bigger than that.“ And they are right. I finally feel like I’m doing what I was destined to do:

  • I’m doing what I love, which is helping and supporting people. In particular, non-conformists, the square pegs in round holes that have always felt slightly out of place, and have often not been given a chance because the world has kept telling them, they need to conform. Well FTSQ to that.

  • I am so lucky, I get to work with clients I actually adore (mainly because “We don't work with dicks!”) and if you are a client reading this right now, I b****y love you lot. You have been there for me this year as I’ve transitioned from one business to another and you have all personally shown your kindness and empathy as I’ve been dealing with a few sh***y health issues (more on that a bit later)

  • I’ve kick started a movement, I intend FTSQ to be bigger than a mere business, I want to build a community where ALL non-conformists feel safe to be themselves. A place where they feel understood, supported and guided not only by the experience of myself and my team, but by those inside the community. Where we support, challenge and ultimate help each other to achieve the power we can achieve from our non-conformity

I am immensely proud of what we have managed to achieve in our first 12 months (see the list of things we’ve achieved in our first year below) and I want to say a massive thank you to the fabulous Oliver Lapsley, who has been by my side, keeping me sane and keeping me honest since day one. In fact, before I even signed the deal selling my shares in my last business, he was rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in. I couldn’t have done it without you mate.

I was determined when I started this business, to take all the learnings from my previous businesses and do things differently. Here are the three biggest things I’ve done differently this time around:

  1. HIRE EARLY: I offered Oliver a job even before we had a brand or a bank account. It might seem a bit risky, but I found exactly the right person to be FTSQ’s number one employee. He was ambitious, driven, learnt fast, contributed from his first day on the job, had a work ethic that I have rarely seen, and, despite being 18 years old he wasn’t scared to challenge my thinking. (By the way, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in 28 years in business.)

    THE LESSON: Don’t try and do everything by yourself for too long. I waited far too long in my last business, and as a result didn’t turnover half as much revenue as I have this time around. Don’t waste expensive time doing things you can get others to do for a fraction of what your time is worth out making a buck. As a business owner free yourself up to make more dosh. Hire early and hire based on shared beliefs and values.

  2. BE UTTERLY TRANSPARENT AND SHARE IT ALL WITH YOUR TEAM: What I am about to tell you is probably going to scare the s*** out of most of you. I decided from the outset, I was going to share everything with Oliver. We worked on the cashflow projections together. He was always fully aware of how much money there was (or wasn’t) in the bank account. He knew how much I had loaned the business, how much I was taking home and how much I wasn’t when cashflow was crappy (we are a startup after all). We created the FTSQ business plan and marketing plans together. Don’t get me wrong, I was the experienced one with the methodologies and experience, but I made the choice to get his take on pretty much everything, because I wanted to set this business up for the future, not tie it to the past. And what better way for me to do that, than for an 18 year old to teach this “Boss Lady” a thing or two.

    THE LESSON: Don’t hide things from the people that work for you. What better way to teach them and feel invested in your business’s future, than to know everything that’s going on and doing it right alongside you. It takes a huge amount of bravery to let go and be vulnerable, but as Brene Brown says “There is power in vulnerability” and if done right, by a strong leader who knows how to be transparent without transferring the ultimate burden and responsibility of running the business, then you will have totally loyal employees.

  3. TRUST YOUR PEOPLE: I’ve always hated the 9-5. As a non-conformist, I balk at rules, especially around time. And I have always been a great boss for trusting the people that work for me to be grown up’s about the hours they work. So, once again, I did something that will make the control freaks amongst you spin out. When Oliver started, he wasn’t given a start or finish time. There was no “You must start at 9am, on the dot, you will have an hour for lunch and you can not go home before 5pm” and there was no “You have to work in the office every day”. I left it up to him whether he wanted to work with me, or anywhere he wanted. You might think it’s nuts to give an 18 year old that much freedom, but my expectation of him was simple. “Act like an adult and I will treat you like an adult, but when I ask you to turn up, you turn up on time. And when I need you to deliver a task by a certain time, deliver it, on time. Or push back if my time frames are unrealistic. Apart from that, the days are yours to run as you see fit. But, if I ever see you taking advantage of this freedom, I will have you on 9-5 without flex as soon as you can blink.” And it worked, Oliver stepped up and it was never an issue.

    THE LESSON: It’s a very simple one, hire people with a strong work ethic and moral code and show them the respect and trust they deserve and the work they will do for you will far exceed your expectations and they will move heaven and earth to make sure what you have asked of them is done well and on time. I believe it’s time for the archaic timesheet system to be thrown out and for bosses to start showing their people trust. You’ll be surprised at how much people will step up and take responsibility for their contribution.

Now that we’ve looked at the lesson’s I’ve applied in FTSQ’s first year of trading, I’d like to turn to the highs and lows.

Let’s start with the ‘lows’:

My health has been beyond s**t, until now I’ve only told a few people, but in June this year I was finally diagnosed (after months arguing with the NHS that I didn’t just have allergies), with a pretty brutal issue. I have what’s called a Spontaneous CFS Leak (I literally have a hole in my skull and a tear in the dura, the sack that holds my brain and cranial fluid is leaking out of my brain into my nose), and it’s taken months of CT and MRI scans, Specialist ENT and Neurologist appointments and we still don’t have a surgical date booked.

As a result it’s utterly screwed the business and the plans we had this year. The impact on my personal and business finances has been huge, and unfortunately I had to let Oliver go from his permanent salaried contract. Luckily I had a few mates that had work for him and because he’s awesome and loyal and a dear friend, he’s sticking around doing website, data and creative stuff here and there when I just can’t do it. I have had to take weeks off at a time because I’ve been so ill. As you can imagine, all of the plans I had for our first year have been scuppered and there is barely any momentum in the business at present. Luckily for me, we have superbly loyal clients who are sticking by us while this all sorts out. (Thank you all, you know who you are and I count myself very lucky that you have my back.)

THE LESSON: Make sure you have the best possible medical insurance and key person insurance in place money can buy. I didn’t have either and it’s been an utter disaster. I know better and should have sorted it. I am kicking myself for “not getting around to it.”

But, considering all of that, there has been much to celebrate, here are the ‘highs’:

  1. August 2018, was our first month of trading:
    - Oliver joined the team and hit the ground running
    - Although we had legacy clients, we won our first new client Whippet and we are still together
    - Launch of our brand new leadership development program and it’s gone down a treat

  2. October 2018

    - Our sexy new branding was revealed, thanks to the amazing Kohlben Vodden and the team at StoryScience who has created an amazing brand proposition and visual identity that we love

    - After a lot of hard work from Oliver and a whole lot of writing from me, we launched onto the internet with a new website and a whole lot of social media profiles
    - Now that we had a website, it was time for my first blog to be written “It’s time for the non-conformists to stand up”

    - Our special coffee cups, designed by Oliver arrived (you can see them in the image above)

  3. November 2018

    - We took our first stand at The Business Show at Excel Center where we met several of our strategic partners and a new client Wicked Waists (listen to Chris’s podcast interview here)

  4. January 2019 – We sent out our first newsletter and it went down a treat

  5. February 2019

    - We hosted our first FTSQ round table event at Riding House Cafe (huge supporters of ours). It was a fab morning putting the world to rights, re: all the things non-conformist business owners find challenging

    - Oliver writes his first ever blog post and everyone loved it, we had so much feedback on it, it was great “Old brain, young brain, pointy stick” is still one of the funniest blog post titles ever

    - The winners of our first ever picture competition are announced (launched at The Business Show and online afterwards) and it was the wonderful Chris and Fi from Wicked Waists that had the winning submission.

  6. March 2019

    – We always knew if we completed a business audit, that FTSQ might not always have all of the answers, so we launched The FTSQ Collective strategic partners that offer services, advice and support in areas that are not FTSQ’s expertise (we love you guys and your support has been unfathomable this year, thank you)

  7. April 2019

    - We hosted our first Webinar, but very quickly I realised it wasn’t a great format for me, so we stopped (lesson learnt, work out what’s not working and stop doing it, the end).

    – We set up The FTSQ Community group page on Facebook, which exists to support non-conformist business owners (and other non-conformist friends). Just type in ‘The FTSQ Community’ into Facebook and ask to join if you want to become a member.

    - We launch our podcast series “Celebrating Non-conformists” and suddenly we were on Spotify, iTunes etc.

So, it’s been a hell of a year, it’s not how I thought it would end up, but one thing I have learnt in this past year, is that you need to be prepared to 'pivot’ and do it at speed. That’s what any new startup must do to survive. And with the first 12 months being about survival, I fully intend, once my head no longer has a hole in it, for FTSQ to not only flourish, but begin its next phase of leaving its mark on the world. It is the non-conformists who ultimately change the world for the better, and if FTSQ can help them do that, then I am going to do all I can to support them in their endeavours.

Thanks for sticking with us this year and I look forward to continuing to work with some of you, inspire and educate some of you and create a community for you where you feel welcome and supported. Here’s to year two. Bring it on.

*I’d like to say a special thanks to all of our client’s this year, thanks for sticking by us while we launched and then during a bit of a tumultuous year. Without you, FTSQ would just be an idea I cooked up during a bout of insomnia Grist | The Pull Agency | Whippet | FrankContent | Transitions UK | Wicked Waists | Odelay Films | Bernie J Mitchell | Adam Recruitment | DotLabel | ifour | Kallaway | Club826 | S.Patel | Susannah Fields Photography