Startup Diaries Week #7: The Hardest Days of My Life
March 1, 2016
On Sunday last week, I jumped in an Uber with 2 great friends to head to Heathrow airport.
It was a sunny, beautiful day and spirits were high.
Over the next 12 hours, myself and a team of the Ignite team founders (plus Martyn, Tristan and Flossie from Ignite proper) made our way to Denver, Colorado.
The purpose? To spend one week in the United States talking to tech startups, founders and mentors about our ideas and learning, learning, learning about what makes them successful.
What a stunning opportunity!
Arriving in Denver, we decided to head out for a beer and some fine American grub to bed us in to the new timezone.
That didn’t work, not at all.
In fact, the next morning I remember getting up with a smile on my face, at 4am, thinking that I had a chance to head down to reception (where they had free Green Tea, aka “win”) and catch up on a little work.
I had a little titter to myself as, rounding the corner of reception, I saw 6 of my fellow jet laggers working away.
Quietly, I plugged in and started working alongside them.
You know, it’s little moments like that that forge friendships.
That shared adjustment, the fun bit of banter we all had about not being able to keep our head on a pillow and those valuable “getting to know you” conversations are just priceless.
In fact, it is that by-product that makes a focussed, mandatory trip to somewhere like the States, with “strangers” so valuable.
Sure, we learned a heck of a lot and we got to meet some fantastic U.S. founders, mentors and businesses but I must say, I don’t believe that that is the main reason for the trip being a part of the accelerator – I truly believe the Ignite team knows that the bonding that takes place on these excursions is unquantifiable, and it’s that which will generate quality businesses for years to come.
Well played, team. I’ve made a lot of lifelong friends here, of that I’m sure.
The week ran deceptively fast: from kicking Monday off in Denver with a way-too hard 6am run in the –2C “heat”, from visiting the amazing SendGrid team, to a whiskey fuelled house party overlooking Denver city’s skyline to Tuesday in Boulder, Colorado – a place that I could happily call home thanks to its unique mix of mountains, Smallville-style community and a thriving tech scene that somehow takes you by surprise.
On Wednesday morning, after a flying visit and some quality learning in Colorado, we made our way to New York City. The city that, thanks to jet lag, never sleeps.
Challenges this week
Have you ever heard / seen your Dad cry?
It’s like Kryptonite to anyone; it’s enough to bring you down no matter who you are or how “well” you cope with things.
On Thursday morning, less than 12 hours after arriving in New York City and 5 hours before our first mentoring sessions of the day, I received a phone call from my tearful Dad, giving me the news that my Grandfather, Reuben, had been given 24 hours to live.
Once I’d gotten over the initial shock and had spent some time crying myself, I made the decision to fly straight home to be with him.
At this point, I’d spoken to the Ignite team who assured me I wasn’t missing anything more important than family – a no brainer, but something I needed to hear. The fear of letting Adam, my co-founder, down by not making the most of the U.S. trip was a serious and extremely sizeable concern for me.
And although of course he was supportive and understanding, without the Ignite team telling me that I would’ve still been extremely worried about letting people down.
And so, by 7:30am, I’d booked myself on a same-day flight back to Manchester, UK, broken the news to the rest of the amazingly supportive cohort who had traveled to the U.S. with me and set myself up for what I thought was going to be a hard morning of mentoring at Rise, in New York City.
But you know, I’m learning as I get older that we’re a resilient species. We’re able to do what’s needed of us, when it is needed.
Heading into that last day of mentoring, I was a mixed bag of emotions, ranging from fear to disappointment, all bolstered by this deep, deep upset for the man who gave me the chance to start my first business; for the Barnsley miner who had encouraged me to see the world and told me constantly “Bugger them, do what you want to do.”.
I’m struggling writing that, I’ll be honest – so let me tell you this for now, instead: the mentoring session in NYC on Thursday morning was great.
We received some super insights, some superb ideas and direction from mentors in the U.S. who simply “got it” across the board.
What was really useful was that several of the mentors, in fact over 50% of them, had used a service similar to the one we’re creating in the U.S. and would pay for it here in the UK too.
That was fantastic to hear and I was able to ask simple yet penetrative questions of that process to inform how we should put our MVP together and of course, which assumptions we needed to test first.
In fact, to allow this, on Monday we’re taking our first job. Exactly two weeks after having the idea.
Real Life: How the Co-Founders Are Doing
My grandfather passed away on Saturday morning at 5:20am GMT. He was strong enough to hold on until I got there and I’m eternally thankful for having had the chance to spend 5 hours with him on Friday afternoon, completely alone.
And, although he was unconscious for the most part, he woke up for the first time in 36 hours during that time and saw that I’d made it there to him.
For that, I’m so grateful and of him, I’m so proud.
The weekend has been a haze of being around family, supporting them through this difficult time and being supported through it myself, all at the same time.
So honestly, I have no idea how I’m doing.
All I do know is that I feel like I shouldn’t be doing the “normal stuff”.
My brain doesn’t turn off, it’s an affliction I have. It’s why I read comics before bed – just to change the channel.
This weekend, my brain has been on. A lot.
I’ve needed to let it work overtime just to allow the memories I wanted to bring back to the surface, to do just that.
The combination of that and some weirdly sporadic jet-lag means that I’ve also been in “super work brain mode” (that’s a thing, Google it) and it has been that work mode, that I’ve been struggling with.
What right does the world have to go on as if nothing has happened? How can I spend time even thinking about work at a time like this?
But you know, I’ve realised that the truth is simple: life goes on and I’ve managed to reconcile that within myself by remembering that the man who walked a 12 mile round-trip to work with his wife all those years ago, in 3 foot snow, wouldn’t want me to be any different.
And so, I’ve been putting together a lot of ideas for Ignite – my Evernote has had a workout this weekend, that’s for sure.
I’m up, and I’m down, then I’m up again – and I think now that time just needs to do its job.
Lessons learned this week
- Rely on people. You can trust them.
- Don’t take time for granted.
- Gaining business feedback from other cultures is so vital – mentorship in the U.S. looks very different from here in the UK. There’s just more willingness to listen to the wildest ideas and challenge them in a positive way. A sweeping generalisation on both sides of the pond, forgive me that, but that was my feeling.
- Plane food has gotten better.
- If you stop working for a while, the World doesn’t notice. So don’t worry, take that time.
On Monday, we serve our first customer with the new business. At less than two weeks old, I’m curious to learn from that and hey, I’ll tell you all about it next week.
Don’t forget, the more you expect from yourself, the more you WILL excel!