By Mark Choueke on 19th March 2019
You founded a B2B tech startup.
It took every ounce of energy you had to make it a success.
Now, through no fault of your own, your business is about to be screwed then hung out to dry.
For founders, launching a business was more an instinct than a choice.
Founders who put themselves through this don’t do it for the sake of pride. It’s biological. They do it because they struggle to escape the need to create, reinvent or simply improve something.
At Rebeltech we call them rebels. Sam Conniff Allende, author of ‘Be More Pirate’ and headline speaker at an event we're hosting next week for B2B tech founders currently wondering what a post-Brexit growth strategy might look like, calls them pirates.
These are characters for whom the status quo - often constructed for and by the people who benefit most from existing rules - is unacceptable.
The founder’s approach to everything is the same - if something needs changing, make the change. You want a more diverse workplace in terms of gender, race or neurodivergence? Stop talking about it and force the issue. Build a company the way you believe it should be done.
Wish the rest of your organisation would listen to your ideas? Stop asking them to. Go out on your own and prove you’re right. You’ll be seen as a troublemaker by everyone while you’re breaking something existing, but lauded by all once you’ve replaced it with something better.
Founding a business, creating something new from scratch, might sound glamorous but it’s not. There are more shitty days than good ones. The learning curve is humbling and leaves bruises.
But part of the drug is that you can and must make a decision every day. Once, sitting in on an early Marketing Academy bootcamp soon after Sherilyn Shackell launched the non-profit organisation developing leadership capability, I remember a young marketer said something that’s remained lodged in my brain since: “Decision-making is like a muscle,” he said. “Use it or lose it. Flex it regularly or feel it wither and die.”
Those words came back to me years later, chatting to Anthony Rose, founder of SeedLegals who knows as much as anyone about what it takes to launch a successful startup. “As a founder you decide or die,” Rose said. “Not making a decision is not an option. At larger organisations there are people that happily go through full days, weeks and years without having to make decisions. At a startup if you don’t make a decision you’re dead.”
If you’ve founded a successful business, you know what Rose is talking about. The power to change things quickly is addictive.
And that’s just as well because the volume of ‘life and death’ decisions you face is about to come thick and fast.
Whatever your view on Brexit, it’s likely you’ll agree it’s now officially a shitshow. We’re no closer to knowing how an outcome will affect our enterprise customers or their appetite for the innovation we sell, the UK-based talent pool we rely on to grow our businesses or the effects any Brexit will have on tech investment in the coming years.
What we do know is that the unprecedented chaos raging in Westminster was something none of us voted for. It has the potential to wipe out some of our businesses in the next 18 months.
I recently received a text message from a civil servant I know well who’s responsible for ‘No Deal’ planning, that said: "We’re working on preventing priority stuff collapsing - medicine, aviation, electricity. But we can’t stop whole other sectors going to shit. Nothing we try is working. It's terrifying."
Our answer? It’s time to rediscover the instincts that drove you to form your business in the first place. The tangible discontent and itchy sense of urgency you felt that just wouldn’t quit.
Recall that you had no moral problem defying what existed and breaking a few rules because you knew you could serve up something better.
Get in touch with that inner rebel again. Dial up the piracy. Nurture any angry disregard you harbour for the howling lunacy our supposed political representatives spout daily.
They are navel-gazing us all into a shadow of the innovative UK economy we’ve helped build in recent decades.
And be constructively livid that as B2B tech businesses, you’re being shafted. Politely as you like, refuse to buckle.
Again, to our clients we’re recommending ‘bravery as a strategy’. That’s the bravery to make your own rules when necessary or, as Sam Conniff calls it, “good trouble”.
Brexit is going to end some of us. Don’t let it be you. You’ve worked too hard. Figure out what you stand for and what you’re prepared to do to continue growing then adopt a strategy of creative piracy in order to do it.