Abby Page and Leah Pooley, founders of Flowerfox, have written this amazing update on their journey and how they have changed since starting the project a year ago. This is a must-read for any new founder!
As we reach 12 months after formally registering our company, my Co-founder Leah and I took time to reflect on some of the major changes in our thinking since we started our journey. Flowerfox may still be pre-launch but that doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been some serious hard work and learnings going on behind the scenes. We have both been on a very steep and eye opening personal development journey so we thought we’d share our latest lessons in case they are helpful for anyone else on the same path.
1. We are less attached to a single outcome
This has made it a lot easier to make decisions, and be resilient when things don’t go our way. We have adopted the belief that as long as we work hard and make the best decision we can at the time, we can’t control the outcome and therefore whatever is meant to be will be.
That may sound philosophical but it makes it so much easier to accept the ups and downs of startups because whatever happens, we know that things are exactly as they should be.
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We still get disappointed but we are able to get over these feelings much quicker and we lose less momentum each time.
This also applies to our timeline. Although we are really pushing for launch now and getting very close, there are a multitude of factors that have meant that things have happened much slower than we first planned. But there is a silver lining – a heap of opportunities have come to us that we may have missed if things had moved faster. We’ve also had the opportunity to learn more pre-launch which hopefully means we will make better decisions that increase our chances of success when we do go live.
2. You can’t control everything – but there is always a move you can make
There is so much that is outside of your control when working on a startup. You can’t control how fast suppliers work, the quality of their work, people that disappear on holiday, your competitors, things printed in the media.
It used to feel (on a daily basis) like ‘oh no, this thing just happened that we have no control over, and it’s just ruined everything’ and we would spend days stressing over it. We now work on a contingency planning approach and assume things will go wrong. This sounds extremely pessimistic but I assure you, it’s not, it’s the reality. Contingency plans mean that you don’t get derailed when things turn to shit.
This learning came after reading ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz (highly recommended for anyone in business). He talks about startups in relation to chess – regardless of what happens, there is always a move you can make. So we now think in scenarios – Plan A is the best option, but if that doesn’t work out, we know that there is always going to be a plan B or C. Sometimes we explicitly discuss these plans and sometimes it is enough just knowing that whatever situation we find ourselves in, there will always be a move we can make. There’s this great part in Ben’s book where he says ‘ nobody cares – just run your company’ and whenever something doesn’t go to plan, I always think about this. It’s valuable to take learnings from failures and reflect on what could have been done better next time but sometimes the most effective thing you can do is establish what next step you need to take, right then, to move the company forwards. When you’ve subconsciously got multiple ‘futures’ for your company in your head, it feels empowering because the future lies partially in your decision making not external forces.
3. We get less disappointed when people let us down
For the first year we put so much faith in people, and got really disappointed and took it personally when they let us down. We were so wide eyed and grateful for the help everyone was offering us and if someone offered to do something which might save us time and money, we would accept their offer without thinking twice. We would then place high expectations like working to our timelines and our standards even when they weren’t getting paid. This was a steep learning curve for both of us. We didn’t have the time/value/money equation worked out clearly in our heads so would often end up wasting weeks waiting for someone to deliver something they had promised and our whole business would be relying on this.
People have really good intentions but when it comes to actually delivering on what they’ve promised you realise that their other priorities (work, life, and everything else) are more important than your startup. It is just a fact of life. We now take a different approach. We rely heavily on people for advice, and 99% of the people who have given us advice have been amazing and we are forever grateful for their time. But when it comes to actually getting work done – we pay for it. It’s just so much easier and avoids awkward situations and damaged relationships. If someone does offer to help and is really keen to, we give them the opportunity but never make it a fundamental part of our strategy or required outputs. This puts less pressure on them, and also makes it much more exciting if they do deliver because it’s a bonus. It is so tempting when you’re working on a shoestring to try and do things for free – but more often than not in our experience, you end up paying in time and quality.
4. We’ve stopped thinking there is a right and wrong answer for everything
We used to think that every single decision was life or death of our startup. We would waste a lot of time debating decisions, over-researching and arguing because we were so worried that if we made a wrong decision everything would fall down around us. I think this comes from the belief that there is a right and wrong way to do everything, but this is not the case.
The majority of decisions are situational and unique to your business. There are so many questions founders ask – how should I split equity in my company, should I get a tech co founder, should I take on investment, which markets should we launch in, when is the right time to quit my job – and so on. The same questions come up over and over again at events and in conversations. Yes – these are hard questions but they are hard because there is no defined answer. The right decision for one company will be entirely different to another. There are fundamental principles that underpin these kinds of decisions and speaking to advisors and peers will help you to consider the right factors. But for the most part, no one has a crystal ball and no one actually knows what the right decision is. A good way to look at it as a ‘choose your own adventure’ book.
Now that we know this, we are so much more relaxed in our decision making. We try not to have a pre-determined outcome in mind. We both gather the information we need to help us make the decision then discuss the factors we need to consider and then come to a conclusion collaboratively. In a previous post I mentioned that we used to come in on extremes and have to negotiate each other towards a middle position. We seem to have this sussed now because each of us is less attached to our in initial thinking and being right and we just want to make the best decision for the company.
We’ve also developed a no blame culture. Some of our decisions are made together and some individually. If someone makes the wrong call, even if the consequences are pretty disastrous, we back each other and it is never a question of fault. As long as the intention was right, mistakes are part and parcel of doing something like this. Besides, so many things go wrong that you lose track of who’s ‘fault’ it is so it t simply stops mattering. It makes risk taking much easier when you know you know your Co-founder will back whatever decision you make even if it isn’t the right one.
5. We’ve realised that the struggle is the journey and it is worth enjoying it
This has been a fundamental mind shift for me. I really don’t know what I was thinking when I first started working on Flowerfox, but I’m pretty sure I believed that it would be a bit of hard work for a period of time setting the company up and then once that was done, it would be smooth sailing. That we would just run the company, no worries.
I used to think this when I was employed too. I would get really frustrated at all the obstacles I perceived were in my way that I perceived were making it harder to do my job. And then you just kind of realise – overcoming these obstacles IS my job.
Every single day there are new challenges, ups and downs, new experiences, unknowns – it’s a never ending journey. No two days are the same and most of the time you wake up in the morning and don’t know what’s going to happen….and this is still pre-launch! But navigating through all of these challenges is the job of a founder, and every now and then you have a day when everything starts to go right and it makes up for all the negatives.
Effective leaders learn not to take every decision and outcome personally. We’ve stopped personalising every problem because most of the time it has nothing to do with your ability as a Founder. Plus cut yourself some slack…you’ve never started a business before!
When you see that the company still progresses despite all of the setbacks you start to realise that it’s the founder’s mindset and ability to manage through the uncertainty that is one of the true competitive advantages of a startup team.
6. We waste very little time and energy being pissed off about anything
In the beginning we wasted a lot of energy being annoyed about things, and doing a fair amount of complaining when things didn’t go to plan. These days we rarely bitch or rant about for longer than a couple of minutes and instead skip straight to the solution. Now we laugh a lot more, shrug off setbacks and have become way more resilient and better at managing stress. And let’s face it, there’s enough stress in startup land already! Juggling multiple jobs, long hours, remote working, budget constraints, and putting all of your time, money and energy into something that might not succeed. You have to motivate yourself day in day out, which is harder than it seems.
We simply made the decision that above anything else, we need to enjoy the journey because if we stop , we will lose the passion and drive that’s required to make a startup successful.
We both agree that we have become better people in the past year. We are much more confident, we trust our intuition and we are happier because we’re in control of our own destiny. We are excited as we move towards all of the challenges of launch and we no longer fear failure. Some parting wise words – “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts” Winston Churchill. Because if you don’t keep believing that what you are doing is worthwhile – no one else will either!