A Small Matter Of Business

Now that the weather’s picked up, I’ve started back into the “walking to work” routine again. More painful than it should be, owing to Wednesday’s Double-Football-Game quads hangover, but pretty pleasant otherwise. Looked for three sights, three sounds and three smells, as per John’s exercises from last year. The views from Blackfriars and Waterloo Bridges are two of my favourite of Central London, so one in the morning and one in the evening is the perfect way to frame eight hours sloped in chair.

I’ve been thinking about business and the entrepreneurial spirit the last couple of days. It came about from trying to figure out how to pitch myself as a writer, and realising it’s very much like the small businesses I’ve been involved with throughout my life. I don’t really think I’ve acknowledged before quite how much my family influenced views on working.

On the paternal side of my family, they’ve been businessmen since way back when. They had a coffee farm in Kenya and since coming to England in the 60s, they’ve been as diverse as accounting, pharmacy (the mainstay), motel management, and a bakery in Rotherhide. My own adventures have been relatively narrow, and not quite as successful, but always a great experience. I was running my first company of sorts, aged 13/14. (not including the 50p I would get for picking dirt up off the floor of the pharmacies when I was 5) Basically, I made websites for my Dad’s mates, and a few others. It was potentially lucrative and looking back, if I had any brains I would’ve stuck with it and be living in a mansion on the Moors by now. But I quickly realised my heart wasn’t in it and I just quite liked reading and movies, really. I distinctly remember a woman, who I think was a friend of a friend, coming to have a meeting with me in our living room. Serious faced and nodding, I heard her pitch about a website that would sell Millennium Dome memorabilia. It sounded like a fucking awful idea, and I knew it. I suppose I was distracted by my intense online game of Red Alert 2 that I was having against Sam on the upstairs computer during the meeting, occasionally making my excuses to nip upstairs and sort out my mini empire. Finally, I agreed to build her website, but only once she had a proper think about the market she was trying to aim at. She never did get that site made. I still have a Millennium Dome phone card she gave me, which is as delightfully dated as the idea of the Dome as a tourist spot.

The next real venture was Fat Panda in Sixth Form, as part of Young Enterprise. That was a truly an experience fraught with drama and peril, and will all be channeled into Starting Up, but I learned so much from it about working with others and quite how much of your time something you care about can suck up.

Finally, there was Flaming Monkey, my video production company, that was the fulfilling of a dream. Specifically, I always wanted to own a company called “Flaming Monkey Films”. I loved, loved working on this – such a wide variety of clients – and I operated basically as a sole trader which meant I had to really get my act together. However! It became clear that in order to make it a really good company and make that step up, I’d have to really invest time and money in it. Frankly, I didn’t care enough about it to do that on my own. That’s when I knew I had to either get a proper job or pursue writing and…well…here I am now.

I reckon a lot of my friends would be happier setting up their own business, despite the lure of various grad schemes. Some I know intend to do just that, and are basically eeking out some experience in massive firms to get a sense of legitimacy, as well as keeping an eye out for what does and doesn’t work. If you know that, you can find a niche, and if you find that, you’ve got the makings of a business.

So…basically, I’ve always been far, far more interested in working in smaller firms – they have, in my experience, always been friendly and dynamic in a way that behemouths can’t be. Though finacially it’s always a pain, you truly are all in it together, working hard to make your stake worth it and nobody can be a passenger without being found out. I reckon I’d love to set up a company with a mate one day – just as long we’re already in the habit of insulting each other regularly….

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