I started my first business straight out of high school – although I don’t know if I would really call it a ‘business’. I look back on it now and hang my head in shame at the things I did and didn’t do.
It was a service business, which made the most sense – I could take something I could already do and share it with others for a price. I had done well at school and I enjoyed working with people so I started my own tutoring company. It was just me, and the bulk of the customers I got were referrals from my old school – I think the teachers felt bad for me and passed my details on out of sympathy. But it worked. I got enough clients to make a few hundred dollars a week and get me through college.
Fast forward 12 years later and I still own that same tutoring company, now with more than 400+ tutors and a full time admin team of 5. Sometimes I tell my team about how I used to run operations and they think I am joking. The whole process was a complete learn as you go journey (which is a nice way of saying I had no idea what I was doing!). At one point I realised I couldn’t remember customer names or find tutor’s details in my inbox, so I decided to get a CRM tool. At one point I realised our payment system of billing every 2 weeks was a huge burden on cashflow, so we built our own payment system. At one point we realised that not knowing when a tutor’s next session would be was dangerous, so we built our own booking system. 12 years ago, I would never have envisaged the business looking like it does now. In fact, I never saw it as more than something to do to get me through college. But once I had finished University and taken a graduate position at a major investment bank, I realised that all I really wanted to do was run my own thing.
Over the last 12 years there have been so many highs and lows, and if you are running a business you will understand this. I think one of the funniest things is that the small victories, the highs, are often so small and insignificant to anyone else that we neglect to celebrate them. Inversely, the lows, although perhaps insignificant in many ways can seem so consuming at the time that you feel you will never get out of it.
This isn’t a ‘5 ways to have more highs than lows’ or another buzzfeed style post – there is plenty of that available online. This is just a blog for all the business owners out there to say I know what you are going through.
Entrepreneurship can seem so insanely isolating at times – there have been some days that I haven’t spoken to a single person for 8 hours and forgotten what it actually felt like to socialise when I welcomed my wife home in the evening. There have been many weekends that I have worked through on my own, resolving system problems and preparing marketing campaigns. It can seem like no one else gets it. Your friends work their 9-5 jobs and then log off – often commenting that you are so lucky to hardly ever have to work. They don’t see the late nights or stress induced breakdowns wondering if you will make payroll. If you run a business you know that it is a 24/7 job that never quits.
I don’t know if this ever changes. I often wonder if Mark Zuckerberg still has these problems – and he probably does, albeit I doubt they are cash flow problems. But even he has to answer to share holders and has his own problems that keep him awake at night. I guess it is part of what running a business is all about.
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