I used to have a recurring dream. One of those ones that wakes you up at fear o’clock, completely disoriented, with your chest tight and brain humming.
In my dream, I was unable to walk forwards. Walking backwards was fine (if you didn’t mind not being able to see and bumping into everything). I could go backwards at quite a clip. But I couldn’t get my legs to work going forwards. They were rooted to the ground. Completely stuck. The only way I could get any forward momentum was if I grabbed hold of something with my hands and pulled myself along. Like the arm movements you do on a cross-trainer. I had to pull really, really hard. Even then it was slow, painful progress, with my leaden, uncooperative legs.
I haven’t had the dream in the past 6 months, and I’ve figured out why.
I’ve rejected the startup dogma that you have to move fast and break things, or always be “crushing it” or “killing it”.
I’m doing none of those things. I’m building a thoughtful, empathetic FinTech business from the ground up. It’s slow going. Glacially slow compared to some other startups. We’ve been working on it for 3 years and we’ve only just completed our beta release.
I used to feel embarrassed by our pace. I used to wind myself up: we need to go faster, we’re not doing enough, we’ll get overtaken, we’ll lose our opportunity, someone else will do it better and quicker than us. Anytime I saw a new personal finance startup in the press, my heart would lurch and I’d think: that’s it, we’re finished. Someone has beaten us to the punch.
I hated going to events where I’d bump into people who’d supported us from the beginning. I worried they’d think we were amateurs. I mean, we talked a great game, but where was our product?
I used to tell myself that I wasn’t suited to being an entrepreneur, because I wasn’t working 16 hours a day on my startup; wasn’t committed enough; wasn’t brave enough, or resilient enough.
Not any more.
I call bullshit on the ideology that has twisted sound principles of iterative building and early testing, into a hyper-aggressive narrative of speed and destruction at any cost.
That’s not me. I’m not a destroyer of things. I’m a creator. I want long-term, sustainable success. Not short-term fame and flame-out.
I’m not interested in vanity metrics. I don’t care about how many apps I launch, or how quickly. I don’t want our customers wasting years of their lives using our product just so I can sell ads. I want them to get tangible, real-world value. I want it to work. For them. Not for me.
I’m not going to build a talented team only to flog them in working conditions that make most of them quit (I’m an ex-lawyer: there’s only misery, not glory, in excessive-hours’ culture). I want a business that makes enough money to give its employees a great quality of life.
I’m going to keep bootstrapping my business until it’s genuinely viable, and that means not working on it full-time. That means carving out enough time and money from my consulting gigs to push Lifetise forwards. It’s not smooth progress. It’s fits and starts. I often feel frustrated. It’s compromise and constant readjustment of expectations. And yes, it is slower than I would ideally like.
But here’s why it’s important to allow yourself to take your time.
By having to do so much of the early work on our own, we have built up so much knowledge — knowledge about our customers, about what they need from us — and that is our competitive advantage. We may not be able to implement it all now, but we have it banked.
By having a limited budget and limited time, we have had to become much more focused. We have to be disciplined about what we’re building. We can’t afford too much feature-creep (although it still happens) and we’ve learned the hard way what it means to be lean.
By being slow, we have been able to learn from others’ missteps. The fact is that all startups are building based on assumptions. None of us know if we’re building the right thing. So it has been incredibly helpful to see what’s worked for other consumer FinTech startups and what has fallen flat. By being the tortoise, not the hare, we have benefited from other companies’ R&D.
So I’m not crushing it, or killing it, or breaking anything. Instead, I’m building and learning and creating, and that feels so much more sustainable and authentic for me.