Way back last century I thought it would be a great idea to leave my safe, secure and (relatively) well-paid corporate job to start my own business.
I had worked for big corporations, who had big budgets, planning processes, accounts departments and IT help desks… in startup land you have none of these things, and there is no one to ask about anything. Last century we did not have Google as a “question/answer tool,” or YouTube with “how-to videos,” or all the cloud applications now available for startups for everything from designing logos to accounting software — and there was no social media either.
A lot of people wonder what it was really like to “chuck it all in” and start your own business. For me, it meant working from the front room of my home on a second-hand turquoise iMac. What did I decide to achieve in the early stages of my business? The answer… “Oh everything!”
Let’s start with coming up with a name, working out the business model and understanding how big the market might be. I also had to discover whether anyone else thought it was a good idea, and if they would actually part with their hard-earned cash to use it!
I often am asked if I had my time again what would I do differently in founding RedBalloon. The reality is that there are many painful lessons (especially in the first 90 days) that just have to be learned. You can learn a lot from reading, or from other people and mentors, but there is nothing like learning from your own mistakes — no matter how costly.
If I was to start a new business, where would I start? I know there are many people who have made it their New Year’s resolution to start their own show. So as the “old wise one” who has done it several times before, what would I do if I was just about to throw in my corporate job and go it alone?
I started my business to make sure that I was able to feed and educate my children, and work from home at the same time so I could be with them. Being profitable and making money are clearly two important goals for any business, but quite frankly you can often make more money working for someone else. If money is the major motivator, then I would seriously question if that is enough of a reason to start your own show. And in those early years I would have been much better off staying an employee.
Money was definitely not something that was around in my first 90 days. In fact, it took two months and four days just to make the first RedBalloon experience voucher sale. No cash coming in… just a deep belief in what I was doing.
Above all else, if I was starting my time over again with a new business, it would have to be something I am deeply passionate about. I would need to clearly see how it makes a difference to others and how it improves the world we live in. I would definitely look for something that is unique or innovative. I would not open a “me too” business that does not have a clear differentiators, which is what I said to most of the businesses that pitched to me during the filming of Shark Tank Australia.
I have always been very clear on why I do what I do everyday; I know the value I’m adding and I know our story. I didn’t realise when I named RedBalloon after the 1956 Oscar Award-winning children’s film The Red Balloon (pictured) how important that would be, and how richly it would resonate with the sheer delight of children’s adventures. I did have the wish that one day when people saw any red balloon they would smile and remember their first RedBalloon experience. This has kept me very focused on the purpose of why I went into business for close to a decade and a half.
If you have passion, a clear purpose and are persistent, it is far easier to engage people in what you are up to (a good dose of positivity will serve you well too). I will never forget the singled-mindedness of the first 90 days (my friends definitely got sick and tired of me talking about it), but also the need to learn so much so quickly and to be my own help desk.
If you have time, it is worth watching Oscar-winning movie The Red Balloon below. I’m sure it has inspired many more than just me to follow my dreams and stay true to myself. And in the first 90 days of any startup, constant inspiration will make the time fly.
This article first appeared as part of my LinkedIn Influencer collection