Standing in the Way

When I first started my company six years ago, I was given an important piece of advice: “don’t build a company completely around yourself”.

At the time I dismissed this advice and carried on with the way I was doing things. I was young and relatively inexperienced, so it’s understandable that I naively believed I knew exactly what I was doing. Unfortunately, as with many things in my life, I had to learn the hard way.

In most cases (and definitely in my case), when you first start a business you aren’t really in demand. This means, you do what you can to get things moving and to get busy with the business. You look forward to the day that your inbox will be full of enquiries and your phone will be ringing off the hook.

When we first started PuriCassar AG, it revolved solely around trading and investments. The company has always been owned 50/50 between my business partner and me, but since I was the person making the trading decisions, everything was built around me. People would be doing research, analysis, following the markets and performing other company functions, but ultimately everything had to go via my desk. Everything relied on me.

Of course, if you just want to run a small one-person business, then having everything relying on you is fine. However, most people starting a business are hoping to scale, which is very hard to do by yourself.

With an investment company, scaling doesn’t necessarily require many more people since there isn’t much additional output; it’s just a case of bringing on more capital. On the other hand, running an education company (if you want to do it well) requires a significant amount of additional output – and that means more work!

Unfortunately, I had already shot myself in the foot early into the company’s existence, by not listening to the important piece of advice I mentioned previously. The company revolved around me and I needed to be involved in everything. This meant, as The Duomo Initiative (our education division) began to gain traction, I was being pulled in all directions. To paraphrase the revered philosopher Bilbo Baggins: I felt thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.

When you’re running a company, of course you can be involved in everything. And since it’s your own company, you will probably do things with more passion and more meticulously than anyone else would. However, to be a good entrepreneur you need to ask yourself: do I need to be involved in this. Ultimately, if you’re involved in everything, you will run yourself into the ground, restrict the amount of output the company can generate and limit the quality of each piece of work.

Instead, take proactive steps right at the start of the company. Not all start-ups have the working capital to hire new staff, but you can at least prepare for that stage. Deconstruct and productise what you are doing, try to think ahead about how tasks can be performed by teams or other individuals in future. Don’t let your company operations get to the stage where they inherently rely on your tacit knowledge, unique abilities or inimitable style.

If you are in the fortunate position to be able to afford staff, make use of them from the start. Of course, some things may take longer to explain to someone than if you just did it yourself, but that wouldn’t benefit you in the long-term. The time you spend now to teach someone else to complete a task for you, the more time you will save in the future, which will free-up your time to push the company forwards towards your vision.

It seems that many aspects of building a successful business follow the old ‘chicken and egg’ conundrum. But, if you believe in what you are doing, you need to believe that you will succeed over the long-term. Therefore, you need to already put the steps in place to facilitate the transitions you will go through, rather than standing in the way of progress and over-stretching yourself like Bilbo. Believe me… been there, done that!

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