three years and counting..
The third anniversary of Preparation Capital just passed without me really noticing. What was I doing to mark the occasion? With a wry smile I admit I was presenting to a potential client of one of the businesses I am involved with, helping them out with a sales presence on the ground in London (it was to be fair a pretty cool meeting).
Three years ago, fresh out of Private Equity, I was convinced that by now I’d have a broad and diverse portfolio of companies I would be involved with (10 from memory!), a few exits under the belt and success beyond measure. I still saw the world through somewhat unrealistic eyes.
The reality is I’ve learned a few truths.
1) Wow does everything really take longer than you think. Passion drives you but the rest of the World goes sssllllooowww
2) When you say you’re involved in start-ups you really do have to be involved, and to care, and to step outside your comfort zone, and to be enthusiastic, and to go above and beyond, and to keep going when you’re frazzled… and… and… and….. It’s bloody hard work and I take my hat off to all you entrepreneurs out there. My vision of a broad portfolio has been tempered by the reality of what proactive involvement means. It means do a small number of things, give it your all and do them well.
3) Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. Not only are you pushing yourself hard on all fronts but it doubles down because society doesn’t like risk. A very real recent experience is that when you’re an entrepreneur ‘Computer says No’ and keeps saying ‘No’. Despite the fact that you’re probably doing something that you care more deeply about than any previous vocation you might have had. My first piece of advice to wannabe entrepreneurs now is ‘sort your shit before you become an entrepreneur’ – look forward 3-5 years predict change and maybe fast track some personal decisions (e.g. mortgage). Where you need to deal with the real world as the real world won’t like you.
4) It sucks you in. I recently noted that I have tweeted on behalf of SynchTank (see @SynchTank) over 100 times in the time I have tweeted 2-3 times for Preparation Capital. Why? Because I care (shucks). Seriously though the success of other peoples businesses matters to me as much as that of my own.
5) It really IS rewarding. The cynic in me describes performance so far as ‘nothing has gone bust yet’. The truth, all the companies have done multiple fundraises, are growing and developing well but damn it hasn’t been easy.
6) Involvement doesn’t just mean being an investor. It means pain, caring, lost sleep, arguments, passion, excitement, frustration, frustration, frustration and then reward and fun.
I could go on. But getting to my point I really do now see the difference between being an investor and investing yourself. there is involvement and then there is involvement.
Some may think I am daft for spreading myself thin across a narrow portfolio of companies. Personally I look back on the advice that a colleague gave me years back. When you think you’re riding a winner keep on riding it and give it your all. The funny thing with that is is that you can only measure success at the end of your race. Three years ago I thought I’d have finished a few of those races by now but now I realise that the races are longer and more intense. I won’t see the first finish line (at least voluntarily!) for a few years yet. But bring it on. I’m loving it. Now I just need to find some time to keep blogging and tweeting for my own company!