Start ups: Hard work? Not so much

When you set up a business, everyone tells you that you’d better be prepared to work yourself into the ground.  That it’s all consuming.  You’ll barely have time to sleep, eat, or wash and you definitely won’t get to finish Breaking Bad.

Probably that’s true of successful start-ups.

Or bricks and mortar businesses where you need to worry about things like having a building, stock, overheads and staff. I can see how that could take up a bit of your time.  Thinking about where to position your desk in your office. Kettle or coffee machine? Whiteboard or wall planner?

And maybe it’s true if you’re one of those loathsome people who just froths with energy and productivity. Who wakes up with fully-formed world-beating ideas all wrapped up in a pretty SEO-optimised package. Those ones who are out the door at 5.15am in all weathers, clocking up their daily 10 miles, followed by a Gwynnie-approved wheatgrass shot and feeling totally ON IT. Smashing through deadlines. Raking in the money. Living the high life in Smugsville.

Weirdly, my experience so far has been nothing like this.

Eat, Sleep, Rinse, Repeat

I get a lot of sleep. Around 9 hours a night give or take. Proper coma sleep too.  Where I wake up suffocating and saliva-crusty in my pillow den and looking like I’ve slept in a Brian May wig.

I usually cook some scrambled eggs for brekkie. Sometimes with some kale (thanks for the tip, GP). Always with a side of peanut butter. I might watch a bit of Escape to the Country on Home+1 whilst I eat. I ‘m always a bit disappointed when the presenter is Nicki Chapman. She’s struggled to make her mark since the heady days of Pop Idol.

Unless there’s a good reason to do it earlier (i.e. I’ve got someone – non-family – coming round to the flat), I tend to schedule showering for the 3pm slot.  There’s usually a good amount of hot water available then and if I fancy switching to a bath, it verges on an early evening treat and I’ll use my Badedas and take a good book in with me.

Once a week we’ll do a Sainsbury’s run. It’s a 2 minute walk from the flat and we always buy the same stuff. But it’s a foray into the world and therefore a Significant Event. Sometimes, though, The Mack does the shopping alone. If he can sense that I need it too much and I’ll spend way too long, dallying in the bright lights and wide aisles.

In between all of this frenzied activity, I manage to cram in some work. But, you see, it’s nothing like the sort of work I used to do. It’s not time-pressured. There’s no-one chasing for anything. I maybe get a couple of emails a day. No phone calls. There’s no poring over documents. Or negotiation. There’s still the occasional conflict, but that’s what happens when you live and work together. Particularly when you’re both pig-headed, opinionated, entirely convinced of your superior intellect and unafraid to shout about it.

The work I do now is much less intense. Now that the site is up and running, it’s mainly fairly simple stuff: find some more local gigs, knitting groups and residents’ meetings to add to our listings. Create the weekly newsletter. Tweet all about it. Repeat.

All essential stuff, but not ground-breaking.

Very, very frightening me. Galileo.

This morning’s “May”.  Very, very frightening, me. Galileo.

Can’t find the goal

I think it’s a little different if you’re selling a product or service. I’ve been doing the rounds of local business networks and pretty much everyone there is selling something. Trades, services, beauty products. Even knitted Peruvian handicrafts. Then it’s more straightforward. A simple buy/sell transaction. Your goal as the seller is to sell your products or services. End of. Simple Simon.

When your business idea is a neighbourhood platform to encourage more local mingling, it’s a bit less obvious what your goal is. At first, your goal is getting people onto your site. Then your goal is getting them to register. Then your goal is getting them to use your site regularly. Then your goal is to get them to tell more people about your site, so they can all come and do the same. Then your goal is to make some money out of all of this.

In start-up lingo, this is called Pirate Metrics.  Why?  Because your goals are Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral and Revenue.  Or AARRR for short.  Geddit??  Such a good pun that they’ve even created a software tool to measure how well you’re doing it:

I guess you’re wondering how the piracy’s going with Be Neighbourly…

Well, we had some good early success with Acquisition and Activation. So then we left that bit to look after itself whilst we focused on Retention. Which we’ve done pretty well at with the newsletter. But we need more user-generated content. So we’ve designed some new features to make the site more useful for people. And then we’ll test the Retention again with these new features. At the same time as doing some more flyering to encourage more Acquisition and Activation, because that dropped right off when we stopped focusing on it.  All the while hoping that the new Retention strategy will spur people to make Referrals. And then (and only then) can we start to think about introducing some Revenue generators.

You’d think that little lot would have me whirling dervishly 24-7. So many AAs and RRRs, so little time. But it’s just not like that. I want to push the business on. Make changes quickly. Get stuff done. Skip along to version 3 of the site when it truly is a platform, connecting people with local groups and businesses. Making a difference, man. Building a better world. For the children.

Of course I do.  I’m just lacking a few fundamentals that would make that happen. Like money. Or a team of in-house developers. Or money. Or a PR agency. Or money.  Or an ingenious way to generate loads more traffic to the site.

Basically, we’re lacking money.

And without money, we have to do things slower than I would like. We’re using a great team of freelancers to make the changes to the site, but they’re already behind schedule and we’ll be lucky if we get the first lot of improvements in before Christmas.  We need the new features to help boost our user numbers, so we’re in a holding pattern. It’s frustrating. So much so, that I’m tempted to get a job whilst I wait.  It depends how I get on with finishing Breaking Bad…


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