I have always been entrepreneurial, from selling my grandparents summer house contents back to them when I was six to writing a property portfolio business plan in my last year at 6th form college. I entered a career as a teacher aged 22 and loved the people and the profession. Teaching allowed me to teach in New Zealand and Thailand (where MOHARA was born as a concept) for which I am so thankful for. After 8 years in education I just began to feel a little restless, I felt the career I had in front of me was a little too prescribed and I knew it had a ceiling. I wanted to build a legacy, I wanted to build something from the ground up and say “we did that”. I knew I wanted to continue in technology, my degree was in Computing and Education, I knew I wanted to continue working with people, so I thought building technology products would be worth a shot. I guess the overarching motivating factor was ambition, ambition to create, build, collaborate and create a legacy.
I absolutely got buy-in from my Mum and Dad, we discussed it at length and Dad, in particular, had a strong influence on the type of business we founded. Emotionally it was a real rollercoaster, I recall many a long email or video call with friends about the idea, hearing all of their thoughts. I am not risk-averse in any way really, I love a challenge and definitely favour optimism as a default. However, the concept of giving up a steady paycheck and moving to a world where you only get paid if you can find the work, you have employees straight out of the box, a limited financial runway and it will only work if you are good enough, took some adjusting to.
Absolutely… well kind of! Before starting in August 2011, I signed up with a few supply teaching companies haha. Confidence in my own abilities right there! We had enough money to operate for 3 months thanks to the money I had saved teaching abroad and I knew that Patty and the guys in Bangkok would be in high demand if it didn’t work out. Also, I knew I could re-enter teaching should things not work out, so I thought there was little downside to just going for it.
I think the number of hats you have to wear at the beginning and the huge gaps I had in my knowledge. I had to learn and I had to learn at a frightening pace. Coming from a teaching career, I had never hired, I had never written a contract, I had never produced cash flow forecasts, I had never set up a business development pipeline, I had never priced work or had to write a brand and marketing plan. I knew tech and people. I had to learn the rest.
Creativity. You can go your own way and build whatever you want. I love this. Freedom to create. There is tremendous satisfaction to be had along the way, from your first deal, seeing your ideas become a reality to the people who join the organisation from all walks of life with their own stories. The career is not without its downsides. The stress can be immense, you have to work very hard, you have to have the emotional strength, grit and perseverance. You may have to sacrifice a lot along the way and be willing to do it if needs be.
Following a particularly tough stretch, both personally and professionally in early 2020, my Dad sat me down recognising my struggles and offered this advice: “It’s not about the goal, it’s about the journey. Love the process and the journey and you’ll get where you are going”. I think it holds true for anyone looking to start a business.
I was at business school and had originally thought to go into banking. But I kept going to interviews and the feedback was like ‘it seems you know how to do the job, but it doesn’t seem you want the job’. And they were right. That led to me starting my marketplace start-up (along with a classmate) back in 2011. I guess the motivation was to be doing something for myself, and not just following a treadmill of something I hated, just for the money.
I probably should have got buy-in from the girlfriend I had at the time (we split up fairly soon afterwards). I think it places an enormous emotional toll, because of the volatility. I was in an environment and atmosphere at business school where anything felt possible, and it was only the reality of plugging away at something, and being very lonely whilst doing it that I could have thought about first. When I joined Rich at MOHARA it was a relief because I wouldn’t want to do something on my own.
I tried to de-risk in some ways, and I think that was actually a mistake. I always had a second job, as the part-time CFO at Quick Release. So I always had a little money coming in. That kept me — and therefore the idea — going for longer. I didn’t de-risk where I should have done — much more validation of the idea, much more challenge on my ability to actually build the business, or bringing in a business partner.
Not really taken me by surprise — it’s just hard work!
The best thing is when your team has achieved something special, and they’re all inspired by what you’ve all done together, and you think ‘I brought them here’. That feeling is amazing. That feeling that you’re in some way responsible for creating something that wasn’t there before, and that people value, is really special, and I am not sure you can get that in almost any other way. Why wouldn’t I recommend it? Because you’re never sure how much money you’re going to have, and the spaces between the peaks and the troughs are never very long. It’s a rollercoaster!
What I always tell people is to think strongly about the ‘build-sell-finance’. Every business in the world needs to make something that they can sell to customers, and fund it whilst they are getting going or growing. So how are you really going to do that build/sell/finance? Who have you around you who can help do it? And if you don’t know how you’ll do it, be prepared for a long and potentially painful journey…
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