Danger is your middle name
A friend is setting up a new brand, their own venture after years of employment. It’s at that stage of notebook sketches of names, logos and so on.
I love seeing people doing this. It’s such a great time. You can feel the tingle of infinite possibilities. It’s your chance to right all the wrongs inflicted on you as a salaryperson.
And create something built on truths that nobody wanted to hear in those horrible meetings you’ll never have to attend ever again.
Sure there’s also terrible danger, but that’s part of the appeal, because Danger is your middle name. Not like the compliant drones back in your old office, who will never take a step that endangers the hourglass trickle of money into their superannuation account.
The grim spectre of ever being like them drives you on.
There’s nonstop tension and overwork, and it’s great. The slightest win feels like a glorious fist-pumping victory.
Back to a magical time
Last month I had to visit an inner-city warehouse where my old ad agency used to be. The smell of it – the old floorboards infused with lanolin from its wool storage days – took me straight back to that magical time.
Stalking around hipster suburbs looking for commercial space I could afford. Peering into big-brand agencies for design tips on what furniture they had. Arranging the row of cool cactii in giant pots in the meeting area just like the pictures I’d pored over in Wallpaper magazine.
It was intoxicating stuff, because I could do whatever the fuck I wanted. Constrained only by my modest budget, so the chairs were Herman Miller-ish rather than the real deal.
Your first tangible evidence your business exists
Oh my God the feeling of opening that first box of business cards, your first tangible evidence that the brand you created is real. Printed properly, not like the nasty-ass shiny thin ones you had in your old job, where procurement ruled the roost.
Does anyone still have business cards? I have a box of them from about six years ago. Occasionally I take two or three of them on a nice round trip to a heavy meeting or a cocktail event, thinking I should be more businesslike. I hand out none of them, and bring them back to a small business card graveyard on a corner of the kitchen bench.
Anyway, there will be no procurement department in your future. Unless you felt really vengeful and hired a Chief Procurement Officer, then asked them to take a 10% pay cut each year just to give them a taste of their own medicine.
Do not do that, entertaining though it would be. You don’t have to do all the mad stuff you think up, sometimes just knowing that you could is satisfaction enough.
High on dreams and anything is possible
In the same way huge bands look back and realise their early, five-in-a-van years were the most exhilarating, try to take a moment every so often to appreciate that period of being high on dreams and anything is possible.
It fuels you for whatever craziness lies ahead: the good and bad surprises that keep your working life more interesting than the others.
Later on you’ll achieve more clarity. What works and what doesn’t. Who you want to work with and what sort of work you do.
But enjoy those early starry-eyed conversations with the people around you, when literally anything is possible. The excitement energises them to offer all the various forms of support that you’ll need on the journey.
It’s interesting to consider what’s driving you on. It’s different for everyone. I realise now, for me, a lot of it is a pig-headed need to be proved right about things that annoy me. It’s not always an attractive trait but it works for me.
Be more Che, comrade
That launchpad period is the time to clarify your manifesto, Che Guevara-style. The idea of all this is to create a brand, something that delivers your values without you having to be there. Otherwise you may as well stay in your job. A brand that stands for something will generate profits for you far into the future, whether you keep it or sell it.
A ten-point manifesto that I wrote on a plane on the way to start our first business is still as current today as it was then, and it’s made us a lot of money and fun new friends.
Fifteen years down the track, it’s got us to a new and fulfilling point: business grandparenthood. You won’t find that concept in the management textbooks, so you can just read it in next week’s blog.
And if you’re just starting on that road, consider what’s cooler. Impoverished revolutionaries running round the jungle with bandannas on, fighting complacent fat pigs to make the world a better place? Or to be those rich, complacent fat pigs? Viva revolućion comrades, revel in your glorious struggle.
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