Last week, during an informal networking session with a new connection, I realised that it would be a good idea to tell the story of how I became an entrepreneur.
I was working in London during 1994 and 1995 when someone first suggested I return to South Africa and start my own business. At the time, the sum total of my working experience was:
* Night courier for a pathology laboratory
* Various waitering jobs
* Chauffeur to some pro tennis players
* Runner in a post-production TV facility
* Sports coach and school hostel master
* About 3 freelance journalism articles.
And I thought: wonderful idea, let me go and do that. Which is seriously how my very first business, Blind Faith Promotions, was born. I was reporting live from London on Barney Simon’s late night show on 5FM. I had a profile. I knew lots of musicians… this was the logic. Of course I could return to South Africa and start an artist management and booking agency. I mean, what could go wrong?
As a band member, I had often been the guy to call the venues, to send in gig notifications to the newspapers and all that sort of thing. I had SOME experience.
In many ways, the entire venture was doomed to failure from the start. I learned many lessons from it. But after 3 years, I packed it in and returned to London. However, less than a year later I was back, had resurrected Blind Faith and was pushing forward. Within another 9 months, I relocated to Cape Town.
I did my best. And for a while it looked like it would all work, but the cumulative effect of my own bad habits, a lack of vision and the ability to work or think strategically meant that, soon enough, I was looking for a job.
BUT after 18 months of working for two different internet portals, I was back out there doing my own thing. This time I reincarnated as a bespoke PR company. My experience on the receiving end of PR as a journalist, I reasoned, meant I had an inside track that I could exploit.
However, having committed to the overheads of purchasing a house at a time when interest rates were at an all-time high meant that, after a scant 12 months I went scampering after full time employment again. The lessons are accruing slowly, and it appears I need to repeat more than one of them.
Nine months later and my maverick soul cannot take working for someone else, even a cool, independent publishing house. I packed it in and head off to the UK once more. Here I work as a freelancer in events and as a journalist.
10 months later though I am back in JHB with a new idea: Matching Corporate Social Investment funds with developmental publishing projects. The money I have saved in the UK floats me for 9 months… none of the ideas turn into working projects and I have to find work again… I freelance as a PR writer for a well-respected if small company. I find a job working for a bigger company. I fight with the director, resign, go back on my own. This time I think a bit harder and register DCPM… a company with a much tighter focus, a better fiscal policy and more work.
It goes well until I realise: if this is ever going to actually turn into real money, I am going to have to
* Hire more people
* Get corporate clients
* Increase my rates a lot
For many reasons that seemed good at the time, I was not keen to do any of that. It seemed like then I would spend way too much time running a business and not doing what I loved.
So, I went back to writing. I wrote and published 3 books (two of them myself) launched various training and educational initiatives, became a key note speaker, made a documentary film and got into writing TV voice-over scripts. Focussing on writing as my bread and butter really, really turned things around.
But again, after 4 years, I found myself aching for new ideas, new challenges. So I packed it all in, sold everything I owned, bought a one way ticket to London and went travelling.
Now I live in Amsterdam, where I have started another small company. My primary activity at this stage is teaching business English, but I will be launching many new and related things soon… as you might have seen elsewhere on this blog.
The secret? I don’t know what a goal post looks like. I also don’t really seem to worry that much about the normal measures of success (like piles of cash) I have learned a lot. And that’s where the Entrepreneurs Emotional Toolkit comes from… these experiences.
This is just a glossy overview. I have spared you the financial crises, existential angst and interpersonal horror of these twenty years. But again, you can see the fruits of it in this blog series.
The best part is, I don’t regret a thing.
I know I was a fool some times.
But I always learned something.