FOR THE LOVE OF BUSINESS – Start-up success


You don’t have what it takes”. That was the title of the first business talk I ever attended and alluded to the fact that 80% of people would like to start their own business one day, and yet it is only 2% of small businesses that ever grow to see themselves grow big enough to become a success.

And to that effect, they were probably right. These days you often hear individuals describe themselves as entrepreneurs, or business (wo)men, and yet when followed up with the question of what it is they actually do, you’re often met with the answer of “I have an idea, to start my own business” or  an incoherent waffle about five or six projects they’re working on. None of which makes them an entrepreneur.

Just wanting to start your own business isn’t enough. You have to have a driving reason. You can’t just want to become rich and imagine that it’s going to happen overnight. No successful entrepreneur has ever done it for the money.

What then, passion? Whilst passion is a strong motivator, a reason to do good in the world, it often doesn’t bring the success that you expect, because believing in a product and service wholeheartedly can often lead to a kind of blindness, following your own cause, uncompromisingly. And while admirable, it very often leads to more stress than most can handle and negatively impacts other areas of people’s lives.

Dan Thomson pouring cocktails at his old UK establishment, BYOC

Everyone dreams of the easy, fun business that they’re passionate about and makes loads of money for them and their family through a passive income, yet nobody I have met or even heard of has one of those. Even some of the wealthiest people I’ve been lucky enough to meet, with personal wealth into the billions, still work over eighty hours per week. And here’s the real kicker… not because they have to, but because they couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything else. Not out of love for their work or their business, but because of a work ethic that stems from the love of working.

I get asked regularly what made me want to start my own business and I honestly couldn’t tell them. I used to say it was because I couldn’t work for anyone else, but that would be untrue; I think a sense of accountability is useful not matter who you are, or what business you run. Most successful founders and CEOs are accountable to a board of directors. So what might have started as arrogance, and thinking I was better than the people I worked for in a London cocktail bar at the time, turned out to be a sense of wanting something to grow. Not for my own personal gain though. If I had wanted to earn a lot of money and have all the free time in the world I can think of 5 jobs I’ve been offered in my life that any sensible person would kill for.

Behind the bar at Supernatural

Ironically it was love that got me into my current business, Supernatural. My girlfriend at the time could see an emerging market for health and wellness and due to my background operating bars in London, she saw a unique opportunity to apply those skills to health food and in particular, juice bars. 5 years later you can find us at our latest location in the World Trade Center.

So why do it at all? Honestly, most of my life is spent being so analytical and logical (probably not to my benefit), that starting my own businesses seems the wrong thing to do. I’ve started a dozen businesses and most of them have failed. Some from very early on, some took years of maturation before having to call it a day. Knowing this, and the 98% chance of failure, no matter how hard you work or how much you care about your product/service, goes against any logical thought you could have on the matter. What started as not wanting to work for anyone has become wanting to work for my employees to make them proud and to see something grow and become something really special. Making money keeps my board of directors happy too.

Dan Thomson

Nobody teaches entrepreneurship. Nobody could. You have to become the salesman, the manager, the trainer, the accountant, and the lawyer. You just have to jump in and learn as you go and you will learn faster than anyone could ever teach you. Nobody tells you about the hours of your life this will take up, the loved ones that will suffer. Even on the most luxurious holidays it is virtually impossible to switch off. So what appears to be bliss to the outside world and to aspiring entrepreneurship is actually endless work.

The end game for most businesses, and again, the main reason people start a business (for the wrong reason) is the fast growth and quick sale at a huge profit. For the most successful individuals however it is usually that the work-life balance has shifted too far in the wrong direction, or that they know something about the company that you don’t. For some it is about an attempt at retirement, but what would I do with retirement? I can barely take an hour’s break without feeling itchy to do something.

I’m not successful by any scale, I cherish my own freedom and enjoy what I do and the benefit it brings others. I can’t see that changing, and I couldn’t see myself stopping for anything. There is no chasing Friday, or holding on for Christmas or even retirement. Those are all great opportunities to enjoy what I do even more.

So do you have what it takes? Probably not, at least to turn the business into an international success. But should you try anyway? Absolutely! Starting a business can be the most rewarding experience in the world, even if it fails, no matter how big it gets. Win or lose you learn a lot and nobody can take that experience away from you. What else would you do?