10 Lessons I Learnt From Starting My Own Business

Stationery Hawk LogoQuitting a cushy well paid job at American Tech giant Oracle to start a new venture in an industry I had no knowledge of might, to most people, be considered risky if not a little bonkers.

And you’d be dead right.

I wasn’t entirely alone on this mission to build a business empire in the Summer of 2010. My trusty ex-colleague, housemate and long-term friend Chris, whose idea sparked this folly crusade was with me all the way.

Mission Objective: Provide a low cost stationery and utility broker, fighting for the ‘little guy’ for the best rates on their ink cartridges, pens, papers and all things stationery related.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

STATIONERY HAWK (cue hysterical screeching from office managers nationwide).

Our backgrounds were both in Sales and although Chris was a natural, I had to evolve from my introverted self to suddenly become comfortable selling. We were a perfect blend of youth, boundless energy and enthusiasm. The HAWK would start small capturing clients in Dublin before swooping to the U.K. and beyond, championing the cause for smaller stationers who were losing out to the giants in the industry like Viking, Reads and Easons.

A modern day Robin Hood in an office setting.

Questions we should have asked ourselves which illustrates how unprepared we were:

  1. Research.
    Q – Is there a market for your product? Are other people doing what you do already?
    A – Not sure. But my buddy seems to think it’s a good idea. I trust him and I love the idea of being my own Boss. “Tonight Matthew, I’ll be a Managing Director….”
  2. Long Hours.
    Q – Are you willing to commit 12-15 hours per day to get your business off the ground?
    A – We work in tandem. We’ll prospect in the afternoon through cold-calling. We already have a website which should be enough to generate interest. Start small and all that.
  3. Graft
    Q – Are you willing to do the ugly work like knocking on doors, cold-calling, face to face engaging with customers, suppliers and making the right connections?
    A – Sure. I have a linkedin account and use that. Also we downloaded a contact database that we’ll email later. We also printed up business cards so we can share it with people when we’re out networking in the bars and clubs celebrating our entrepreneurial lifestyle.
  4. Reduced Leisure Time
    Q – Can you sacrifice many of your weekends and evenings to the pursuit of achieving your goal?
    A – Steady on! The idea is to work less! But we’ll get the ball rolling and be selective about who we target. Work hard and play hard so we want to let our hair down on the weekends of course.
  5. Loneliness
    Q – Are you willing to cut yourself from a support structure that you’ve been heavily dependent on with other roles and manage every stage of the sales process within your limited budget?
    A – No bother! I’m with my best mate and we can bounce off each other. We’ve even set up a temporary office in the upstairs bedroom to mimic a sales floor. We’ve got some motivational posters pinned up to keep us focused.
  6. Finances
    Q – Do you have enough savings to support you and the various tools you’ll need to help build your business?
    A – Sure. We have enough for a couple of months depending on how often we go out and get pissed. But sure we can always rely on the Dole.
  7. Knowledge
    Q – Do you have a grasp of the industry or have in employ someone who has the knowledge or contacts to help establish and grow your business?
    A – We’ve both sold before so that’s no problem. Selling is selling, whether it’s stationery or telephones.
  8. Plan
    Q – What is your projected revenue growth for Year 1? How many companies do you expect to have on your books in Q1/Q2…?
    A – Slow down there! Take it as it comes. We’ll focus on getting that first company in and then grow it from there.
  9. Marketing
    Q – How are you marketing your brand and what channels are you using to promote the business?
    A – My ex girlfriend built a really cool logo for us free of charge. I spent the best part of a week editing the colours and style of that before uploading onto our website. Business cards are being created as we speak – very snazzy!
  10. Mentor
    Q – Do you have any mentors or people you ask for sage advice?
    A – I mentioned it to my brother who is a Sales Director for a big American company. He’s too stubborn to listen to what we want to do and keeps picking holes in our business plan so I’ve stopped listening to him. Some people can be so negative.

funny entrepreneurStationery Hawk starved to death after a famine that lasted 3 months. We couldn’t feed the bird enough to survive. One small morsel in the entire time, practically a bug.

The value of that solitary sale to us? Wouldn’t cover the cost of a pint.

It was probably only two weeks into our venture when I woke one morning and realised we were pissing against the wind. That was a tough pill to swallow but we soldiered on regardless.

Sometimes you learn more from your mistakes than you do from your successes. I still harbor ambitions to start my own business but know how damn difficult it is. Not impossible. But REALLY difficult. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything and it was an expensive lesson to learn.

So anyone considering a utility or stationery broker as a sound business idea should take note. Don’t let your enthusiasm outpace your logic!

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