Forget the bullshit, run away from people that talk in acronyms
Shoreditch, London, 1999. Hoxton Square was a popular place; popular as the battleground for the shootings between the Turkish and Jamaican gangs fighting for the control of the Hackney area. Hackney was considered at that time poorer than most third world countries.
Shoreditch, London, 2014. Hoxton Square is full of light, restaurants, creative agencies, residential lofts and art galleries fighting for space. The Lux Center, the bright creative hub in the middle of the old sordid square of East London that started it all, has been closed for years, since they couldn’t afford the increasing rent. Hipsters are also running away further up the neighborhood since the place has become as mainstream as a Starbucks coffee, the cool look of hipsters has been replaced by young geeks with skateboard, t-shirts and dark circles under their eyes, the crew that populates the buzzing Silicon Roundabout, London’s own Silicon Valley.
I went to London to work in Hoxton Square. I lived not far from there, in the heart of Hackney, where the parked cars burned for no particular reason and I saw rats fighting with pigeons for food as yet another street gang conflict. Few months after I arrived, I jumped into the up and coming Internet industry, just weeks after the crash of the first Internet bubble in the year 2000. Working for Yahoo’s global design team was like going back to university. Without noticing we were part of the gang that built the Internet as we now know it. No mystery in the fact that most of us ended running our own startup.
An entrepreneur is someone that realized that he or she has become unemployable. Based on my observations, setting up your own business, developing your own idea, creating your own team is the only decent solution for someone who cannot stand responding to someone else’s desires anymore. We get a job, we accumulate knowledge, solve multitude of problems, create plenty of stuff, gain experience, manage people and grow gray hair just to come to the conclusion that what we are doing with all our love and passion is sometimes ignored, lost inside the hidden holes of the organization, stole by some aggressive executive, or what is worst: what we have done works, creates value, is appreciated, is admired and makes money… for others.
If you are in trouble, you better create your own problems with absolute freedom
So, you are a mess full of ideas, what do you do? You meet your friend, the talented developer, the bright designer, the smart marketer in a coffee shop and write in a napkin the name of your fancy new company, the new Google, the ultimate Facebook, the idea that will disrupt the TV industry. All of a sudden you have your own startup. That very night you dream of fame and greatness.
The only condition to set up a startup in London is that you have to be rich. Money and time rarely go together, you either have one or the other. I was lucky, my team was moved to the States and it was there where I could save some money and buy some time, six months to be exact.
“Money and time rarely go together, you either have one or the other”Alberto Barreiro
I met my best mate for coffee, got a business partner and transformed my lovely, quiet and cozy flat in a sweaty office. After some crazy Alfa launches the first million from a venture capital firm were in the bank. We were pretty good and very convincing.
Five years later, 35 wonderful international talents in the paycheck, great product reviews, conferences, tens of thousands of users, a handful of corporate clients and yet another 4 million funding, you may end, like me, back in the market desperately searching for a job to pay the rent, the London rent.
That’s what people call “gaining experience”
It’s not always that sad. Sometimes it works, rarely but it does. It worked for the ones you see in the media; those that make it look so easy. If they made it, you will too. I met some of them; the neighbor next door sold his online review business to Amazon for 10 million pounds and bought a blue Ferrari. The foxes of the neighborhood that spent the night in the garage of the building liked to sleep, among all the cars parked there, on top of the new blue Ferrari; foxes are very classy animals.
The truth is that I believe that you don’t start a business to make it work; you do it because there’s nothing else you can possibly do. Less than two years later, there I was again, in yet another startup. This time as part of the founding team. My enthusiasm didn’t last long but it felt good in the meantime.
Marcus, Anne, Serena, Silvia, Fernando, Sasha, all the people I care the most for in London are right now running their own startups. Marcus my old business partner created Hatch, just to meet Anne to set up UB together.
Serena, the most unemployable person I know, surprised me recently with her amazing new project, something I cannot reveal yet but sounds and will be big, very big. Silvia runs a social fashion site and kindly helps other people to create their own businesses. Fernando cofounded Moni, which was recently mentioned on the Financial Times as a startup to watch; reading the article gave me a big shot of serotonin. And Sasha, well, he doesn’t need a company, he is a startup in himself. They are the entrepreneurial class, a bunch of crazy, free, creative, opinionated, curious, ambitious, hard working and very, very, very talented types. People that I will never, ever hire for my own company even if I have the chance. People nobody can afford.
“I believe that you don’t start a business to make it work; you do it because there’s nothing else you can possibly do”Alberto Barreiro
So, are you in London? Feeling like you want to cut your wrists while working in some dark basement probably for some idiots less smarter than you are? Do you have an idea so amazing it needs to see the light? Do you feel the itch, the anxiety? There are places you can visit, people you can meet, fancy startup hubs, co-working spaces, government funding, talent shows for investors and all that stuff. I’ve been there. But if I was younger and I had to do it again I’d rather get ready to suffer first.
Try to get a job as a freelancer, they are very well paid and will buy you time. Make talented friends. Don’t go to startup events, the real entrepreneurs don’t have time for that, instead take a friend and your laptops to a nice coffee place and start drafting ideas, you may even meet the cute waitress or the handsome hipster waiter. Don’t talk business; business is a mean for your amazing idea to come to life, not an end. Forget the bullshit, run away from people that talk in acronyms.
Create, build, share and have fun. Launch, test and fail, launch again and again and again and forget about finding an investment; if it’s worth it, money will come. Invest in coffee instead, enjoy sleepless nights doing what you have to do, make something beautiful, purposeful, valuable and meaningful, it’s your duty, you are unemployable, this is, at the end, the ONLY thing you can do.