Don’t push back the problem

Ideas are worth nothing if they stay in your head. Listen, I get it. You’re busy with work, university or family. You don’t want to fail in front of your friends. Maybe your idea or product isn’t fully-formed enough to launch – or you just don’t know where to start.

We all know the stats – and they’re scary. Nine out of ten start-ups fail. But think about it another way. If you spend years reading, watching and researching before you start work on your idea, how many years will it take for you to get to the idea that actually works – or worse still, what if the market has moved on and you miss a real opportunity?

Mike Tyson once famously said, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”. But say you did get punched in the face – and what if once that initial sting wore off you were still standing there – ready to go another round. But this time you are more prepared, more resilient, and with a better plan this time.

Take one of my first business ventures; a chain of smoothie bars started for £3000 across the north of England in the early 0’s called Fruit Boost. We had great drinks. Fantastic staff. A slick operation that generated strong margins. We also won a Shell LiveWire award. But ultimately, after 4 years of physical, emotional and financial investment – it went under. The truth is we brought onboard some investors, opened poor sites and didn’t really have the margin and customer volumes to make the business survive and thrive..

This broke me – in every sense of the word. But once the dust had settled and I was able to look back and reflect on the events, I realised I was now so much richer in terms of learning, perspective, and even greater motivation to make my mark. 

Yes, timing matters. But starting matters more. One of the lessons I learnt early-on is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Embrace imperfection. The challenge before you may seem insurmountable. But a goal without a plan is just a wish. So break it down into manageable chunks. Set yourself deadlines and hold yourself accountable to them. Join a community and feel supported and inspired. And don’t be afraid to send that email or LinkedIn message and ask that question.

Traditional start-up advisors (and the opposite of how we do things at Exceptional Start) love to repeat the mantra “fail fast, fail often”. But what they forget to tell you is that under this boldness, most people, you and them, are irrational creatures still hardwired for the prehistoric era living in fear of making bad decisions. Accept that you will make mistakes – lots of them.

The trajectory to success is never, ever a beautiful hockey stick curve. It is full of the tallest peaks and the deepest crevasses. But within those deep, dark moments, I learnt what works and what doesn’t work. I learnt what effort it really takes to establish a proper business. And I learnt just what I’m truly capable of. I’m still somewhere on that journey now…and I’ll let you into a secret. It never ends. It’s an infinite game. Because when you find something you really love, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the process.

This is the reason I began Exceptional Start. I’ve been around the block a few times now and learnt a lot. I’ve built an incredible network of fellow founders who have hundreds of years of business expertise between them. And between us we’ve had some good fortune and success along the way. Now we want to give back and share this with the next generation of entrepreneurs – and in doing so we get to continue our journey of learning and growing – both as business leaders but also as people.

Don’t waste five years planning, procrastinating and perfecting your idea. If you want to build a business then go build a business – and let the real journey and learning begin.

So get out there and talk to your customer. Pitch your idea. Get rejected. Take your medicine. Pivot. And go again. This is entrepreneurship.

Nick Wood

Exceptional Start Founder. Failure. Exiter. Learner. Giver. Liver. 

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