That time Jeff and I started a business #2651

On Friday, while at a business conference, I learned some very valuable lessons from Janine Allis (yes, THE Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice and Survivor contestant) and business mentor, Aaron Sansoni:

  1. Prepare to fail in business
  2. Fail fast and as cheap as possible
  3. I am a serial entrepreneur
  4. Who said you have to have one business that you work in for your entire life and that’s that? Who said that?
  5. M.A.I.A – Massive And Immediate Action

I’ll go into these learnings a little later.

I’ve learned that Jeff and I are serial entrepreneurs. We love business. We love starting businesses, growing them. But we don’t love the eventual day to day grind. I don’t love working on the nitty gritty of business. To me, working in a business is no different from working in an office job or in a factory like my parents did. You rock up, put in your 8-12 hours, get bogged down by the BULLSHIT, go home exhausted and angry and frustrated and anxious and stressed, then you go back and do it all over again the next day, 5-7 days a week until you retire and die.

That’s not why we started our businesses.

Let’s go back a little. Back in ’95-97, Jeff and I had a little business called Rosebud Creations. We made wedding bomboniere using glass jars and dried flowers. We started venturing into freeze dried rose petals as alternatives to confetti and rice, and in wedding invitations. The next step, according to Jeff, was DIY designer invitations. It was a pretty good business, growing fast. We decided to bail on the business in 1997, just before signing a lease on a shop in Brunswick. We were 27, two years into marriage, and ready to settle. I panicked. Was that all I was going to get out of life? We would be trapped in a long lease, and all I wanted was to go and live life! So we ditched the lease and went travelling through the Middle East, Europe and back to Jeff’s hometown in the States for six months.

Until (literally) today, ditching that business has felt like a failure. Like we gave up. But (literally) today I’m seeing it for what it was – we were young and free spirited. We didn’t want to be locked into a business at that time. We had a world to visit!

Part of me wishes we had stuck it out – we would have made a motza. But I would not change our experiences for a single minute.

Over the years since, we’ve dabbled in many things, mostly just working in corporate (a record shop, journalism, rave DJ…). Then eight years ago we started Yoyo’s Pet Supplies (now called Lucky Pet) – Jeff opened up an eBay shop selling pretty much only KONG dog toys and we bought natural Australian dog treats that we got locally and repackaged and sold at markets. Jeff still worked his corporate job and I had just quit mine. It was a tidy little side project. Skip forward to today, and we have around 12 staff, a warehouse, and a business that we’re ramping up to change the world!

But I’m BORED.

I spend my days doing admin. As freeing as it is to work on your own business in bed, in PJs, or from a cafe, or a poolside in Bali, I didn’t start a business to still be doing admin all day after eight years. I may as well go back to a desk job and get paid more to do what I do (and stab myself in the eyes with toothpicks along the way).

Jeff and I have a tonne of ideas – some that will fail (like the jewellery business I started and ended within a few months last year – my learning? Just because I love jewellery doesn’t mean I have to sell jewellery), and some will be successful (watch this space). But if we are too bogged down by the details of each one, we’ll never find the time or head space to try any of them.

So back to the learnings from Friday.

1. Prepare to fail in business

Man, it sucks to fail. But when I look back at my failures now, they feel more like learnings – Rosebud Creations taught me to love beautiful things, that people WANT good products, there’s a market for our ideas and people are not always looking for the cheapest option. It also taught me to listen to when it’s time to walk away to do other things. What Jeff and I did when we got back from our big trip in ’97 is the sort of stuff that made us who we are. No regrets.

2. Fail fast and fail cheap

I’ve lost a couple of grand from Statement X, my jewellery business, and lost a few hundred hours setting it up, trying it out. My heart wasn’t in it. That was pretty cheap for a business, and it ended pretty fast. I didn’t waste too much time before realising that I started it for the wrong reasons (because I love jewellery). In Lucky Pet, we’ve made decisions to stock products that haven’t sold well. Luckily we didn’t blow thousands of dollars to try them out.

3. I am a serial entrepreneur

Janine Allis has her fingers in many pies. Boost Juice, Salsas, Kikki K and tonnes more. She founded Boost and then moved on to touching a tonne of other brands. That’s the aim. Start a number of businesses, build them up, hire the best people to run them.

4. Who said you have to have one business that you work in for your entire life and that’s that? Who said that?

Starting and ending life in one business sounds like the “job for life” that most of our parents drilled into us. I didn’t stick to the “job for life” so why the hell should I stick to one business for life at the detriment of all the other ideas?

You know, I don’t love conferences. You sit on a chair for a day or three and listen to people spruik their wares. But Janine Allis had nothing to sell. She was there to talk about her journey from single mother in Boronia, to serial entrepreneur and fucking wicked Survivor Contestant. And I cried. It took so much fortitude not to weep out loud, but I had tears and my jaw shook when she played a version of this clip – a clip I’ve seen many times because I am a Survivor die-hard.

5. M.A.I.A. – Massive And Immediate Action – Business Mentor Aaron Sansoni’s catch-call!

When Aaron had a chance to say a quick word to Richard Branson a few years ago, he asked, “with so many companies, how do you make decisions?” Richard’s response? “Quickly”.

The core of making decisions quickly, and making them MASSIVE is that you just make them. The more you think about whether you should or shouldn’t, the more you won’t, and you may find yourself in five years from now in the exact same place you are right now. I’m 50. I don’t have time for that shit. I’d rather start and fail than not start at all. It’s a numbers game. The more you start, the more you fail, the more you succeed too! If you don’t start something RIGHT NOW, you’ll be where you are RIGHT NOW. And that’s ok if that’s what you want. But that’s not what this learning is about. Play hard. See what you’re capable of. Fail and laugh it off (I mean, try not to invest $10, 000 that you don’t have in something stupid – see Learning #2). You might even succeed. But without M.A.I.A. you may not know until it’s too late.

Jeff and I make decisions all day every day. We don’t ponder them for very long. Start a new business – yep, set up the url, website live in a day. Close the shop – yep, ramp down and close in a month. Sign up to Aaron Sansoni’s 3-day seminar – done in 30 seconds.

Were every one of these decisions right? Will every one of these decisions bring success? I don’t fucking know. But if we don’t try, we’ll still never know.

Why do we go into business? If you want to cruise through life, then don’t start a business. If you don’t want stress, or to work 100 hours a week, then don’t do it. Those are the things that happen when you start a business. Working A LOT is not a problem when you love what you do – because it means you’re challenged and meeting incredible people who are operating at the highest levels. Do I want to train with an ex-Navy Seal for Survivor? Or do I want to fly to Hong Kong for a 1 day meeting like me friend is about to? No fucking way. But do I want to learn from people who are doing these things? YES. Yes I do. These are the people I want to spend my time with, to learn from, and not just about business, about everything, because they’re playing big.

So… which life do you want to lead? Where do you want to be in a year from now? In five?

I’m starting to figure it out.

I’m ready.