Entrepreneurs sometimes look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about work-life balance and the importance of maintaining a rich personal life. But taking time away from the office isn’t just a luxury – it can be hard work. If you think running a business is tough, try bringing up a baby.
Raising children is one of the few things that is more rewarding than building a business, and for many people, including myself, the skills carry over from one to the other.
Whether you’re starting a business or having a baby, you have to do a huge amount of planning before the big day arrives – and no matter how much you prepare, something unexpected will happen. When my wife, Joan, was pregnant with our daughter Holly, I went to a work-related party thinking that all would be fine. I came home blazing drunk and fell into bed.
The next thing I knew, Joan was shaking and slapping me. She’d gone into labour six weeks early, and we needed to get her to the hospital. Once I gathered my wits and realised what the situation was, I was extremely awake and ready to go, right away!
That was just the first moment in what has been more than 30 years of surprises, which have included everything from the usual childhood tumbles and mishaps to the happy day two years ago when Holly told me that she was getting married.
These moments as a parent taught me to be ready to adapt to change – to think on my feet and stay level-headed, no matter what. Just recently I was helping our team at Virgin Active launch a new free tennis initiative, and a ride on the London Eye, the city’s landmark Ferris wheel, was a centrepiece of the festivities. Just as we were about to climb aboard, it broke down. Rather than calling off the launch, we quickly set up a mini-tennis court nearby and were soon having fun and getting our message across.
Manage your time
You’re also likely to pick up some time management skills in either situation. Joan and I were incredibly busy after Holly’s birth, and not just with baby raising: Virgin Records was expanding, and I was going through one of the most intense periods of my career.
At the time we were living on our houseboat in Little Venice, a neighbourhood in London, and my office was set up onboard – specifically, in a small room next to the bedroom, with a desk crammed between the bilge pump and the stairs. Joan and Holly remained wrapped up warm in the bedroom for most of the winter, and I went back and forth between the two rooms.
Acquire new skills
When time is tight, you have to be ready to pick up new skills on the fly. Just as you won’t really know how to change a diaper until you’ve bundled up your little one all fresh and dry, when you have a small team and big ambitions for your business, you need to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Back when Virgin was starting up, my job titles ranged from founder and chief marketer to treasurer and receptionist.
Get enough sleep
This brings me to another common trait that busy entrepreneurs and new parents share: sleep deprivation. I spoke with many promising Peruvian entrepreneurs when I was in Lima recently. One woman told me that she was worrying so much about getting her new business off the ground that she was struggling to sleep.
Overtired, she was forgetting to complete tasks and had found herself ignoring her fiancé because she was too busy writing Post-it note reminders and attaching them to her bedstead.
Trust your team
After commiserating about lack of sleep (I’d only had a few hours myself), I mentioned the importance of delegation. You have to show trust in your team, right from the start. I am always closely involved at first, then once a Virgin business is up and running, I keep tabs on everything from a distance, allowing the company’s CEO to do his job and build his team.
All the CEOs at Virgin make their own decisions, learn from their errors and celebrate their businesses’ successes. I offer advice and support, but try to avoid stifling them through micromanagement.
Learn to let go
I learned how to let go partly by helping Holly and my son, Sam, to grow up – I had to give them the freedom to make mistakes and learn lessons for themselves, so that they would find their own paths in life.
These days they’re thriving. Holly went off to school to study medicine for many long years before joining us to do sterling work with Virgin Unite, our nonprofit foundation (and I love having her around). Meanwhile, Sam has built his own production company, Sundog Pictures, where he is creating remarkable films that tackle important social issues. Joan and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
As a parent or an entrepreneur, you can never guess what will happen next, which is all part of the fun. In the classic comedy “Bringing Up Baby,” Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant get into all sorts of adventures while raising a leopard named Baby. When someone asks Grant: “What have you done?” He replies: “Just name anything and I’ve done it.”
Whether you’re starting a business or bringing up children (or leopards), anything you think can possibly happen, probably will, and many things you think are impossible will happen too. Welcome it all as a pleasure and privilege – even changing diapers!
Entrepreneurs! Do You Know What Your Customers Want?
Take off those rose-tinted spectacles and start looking at your business the way your customers do.
Do you know what your customer’s need? Have you really looked at their problems and challenges and asked yourself how your product or solution helps solve them? Do you even know if your business addresses any one of the myriad pain points they face every day in their personal and professional lives? If your business talks to other businesses, are you speaking in the language they want to hear? If you don’t answer a definitive YES to every one of these questions, then you need to start paying attention…
Put in the effort
Research, research, research. Find out what people need through all the myriad of digital and physical research channels available to you. And when you engage with your customers in person, ask them questions and write those insights down. Listen.
Bad feedback is great feedback
If clients are unhappy, they talk to you. This is good news. Use this feedback to build solutions that change these issues into advantages. This is when you should consider building an open feedback loop or mechanism into your business to ensure that you are getting the best possible insights from your customers. I
It’s also a good idea to check their criticism against reality before you spend thousands on fixing a problem that doesn’t really exist. For example, if they complain about poor customer care, assess your process and see how many complaints you have. It may be that one customer happened to deal with that one unhappy employee.
Understand their business
Your client has their own clients who have their own clients, and so on, and so forth. Take the time to get to know their business and their market. Often entrepreneurs don’t get to know how their client’s businesses work and they miss a crucial trick. By spending time with them and listening to them you get to understand their pain points and their needs. This way you can be the one who helps to fix their problems properly.
Don’t stop innovating
Don’t fear the ability to change something to suit a client’s needs. Your products and services have to evolve constantly as your market and consumers are changing constantly. You need to add value, change features or adjust your services dependent on the business you are in. Pay attention and innovate.
Why Failing Is A Necessity Proven To Guarantee Success
We should always have this at the back of our minds whenever we have that nudge to give up on our dreams.
There comes a time, especially after a terrible defeat, when we feel like giving up or even quitting. The defeat clouds our minds and make us forget completely what victory feels like. We forget the successes and judge ourselves solely on the defeats. This feeling isn’t unique to a single individual as even the most successful businessmen, inventors, politicians, world leaders have experienced failures at different points in their lives.
We all love success stories. It’s a matter of fact that behind every success story is a large amount of failed attempts. The notion of overnight success is a myth. It took the Wright brothers between four and seven years of scientific experimentation and several failed attempts before their maiden flight covering a distance of 852 feet which lasted a mere 59 seconds was achieved.
History is replete with instances of individuals who were written off after a terrible fall from grace. These individuals, against all odds, didn’t give up.
Tiger Woods, for example, has for the most part of his adult life being in the public eyes. That’s why when he went to his very public divorce, tales of womanising, dabbling with prescription drugs. Also plagued by injuries, his golf was seriously failing and in danger of being a “has been,” analysts advised he should just retire. It was obvious Tiger had a different plan up his claws by winning his first PGA tournament in five years.
His recent resurgence in form is testament to the fact that no one has the stop button to our life or life’s dreams and ambition. No one but you. It’s only when we stop innovating and trying that we’ve failed. Having lost a business deal that had the chance to change our lives positively forever isn’t the end of the world. Hence we need to reinvent and innovate.
If achieving success was easy, the vast majority of people would be successful. We have to put in the work and our skill to be able to achieve success because the most worthwhile things don’t come easy.
Defeats, if seen from a positive perspective, bring out the best in us. Victories don’t. Victories swell our egos, fill us with the air of invisibility, and this is dangerous. Hence we need a large dose of failures and defeats to bring us down to earth, to make us learn and better appreciate success the moment we’re able to achieve it.
What then do we do when we experience a poor run of defeats that make us doubt our abilities. Being fixated on the defeats for one, isn’t the solution. It has the tendency of making us forget what it felt like to win and totally derail us from our set goals. This, in itself, is a problem as it may lead to a state of unhappiness.
The bad results we might have experienced isn’t an indication of our inabilities, it’s an opportunity for us to look at the venture from a different perspective and take necessary action to improve or try a different approach towards achieving our aim.
Defeats can be depressing when we have dependents who rely on us for guidance and in some cases sustenance. Dependents could be in the form of a spouse, children, wards, parents, even staff. The pressure can be enough reason for some to give up and settle for the safer option.
With the decision to settle comes the likelihood of regret which may be more depressing than the expectations of dependents. Fortune they say favours the brave and nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without the possibility of failure.
Why You Need Smart Legal Foundations For Your Start-up
The legal background to a start-up might not be the most exciting area for an entrepreneur, but it’s your foundation for growth. Are you aware of everything you need to have in place?
One of the best parts of what we do is helping start-ups — the right legal foundations can mean the difference between a start-up that’s geared for scale, and one that needs to retroactively put agreements, checks and balances in place. If you’re aiming for growth, you want to get these foundations right from the get-go.
When Benji Coetzee launched EmptyTrips, a hot up-and-coming start-up 16 months ago, Legal Legends was on the ground floor with her. Although your start-up trajectory may not be identical to that of EmptyTrips, many of the foundational principles canvassed in this article will apply at some point in the lifecycle of your business. They highlight what you should be thinking of from the word go.
Laying the right legal foundation
By the time we were introduced to EmptyTrips, they had already registered their entity as a company and had started to prepare for their first beta public launch in April 2017. When our dealings with the start-up began, the business had already enjoyed a quick and accelerated cycle.
As with all start-ups, the founders had a clear vision and objectives. Unlike too many start-ups however, Benji understood how important the right legal foundations would be, particularly as the business matured and required different support structures.
The following three actions are a good example of the legal foundations all businesses should consider, particularly if growth is a part of the founder’s vision:
1. Why you need trademark protection
Given that EmptyTrips is a digital solution, with limited physical assets, protecting intellectual property as ‘soft’ assets was critical to its differentiation and valuation given the recognition of brand value over time.
At first, we set out to ensure that EmptyTrips’ marketing materials and properties, such as company name, slogan, and product names were protected sufficiently from use by others. This was done by filing for various trademark registrations.
A trademark is a sign or symbol that is unique to your business, and which distinguishes it from other businesses. The most common forms of trademarks are business names, product names, logos and slogans.
By registering a trademark you are granted exclusivity over the use of the name, slogan or logo, and may prevent others from using similar names, slogans or logos in their business in the future.
When it came to EmptyTrips, they had already filed a trademark for their business name, so we focused on protecting the names of the different service offerings on the business’s platform as the solution evolved and pivoted. These included Trip Exchange; Freight Open Exchange; SureFox and RailFox. As the business grows and product lines are added, we will continue to update this list.
2. The importance of website legal documents
EmptyTrips is predominately an online marketplace solution to enterprises. It is a digital transport brokering agency that has been developed to source, match and market available transport capacity (empty space on trucks, trains, vessels and so on) to commercial freight with on-demand supporting financial products (insurance etc).
Each company’s Terms of Service will be unique to that business, market and customers, but privacy policies are universally required by law.
3. The legal frame work around outside investment
Like many high-growth starts-ups, Benji and her team reached a point where outside investment was needed. This is an area where your legal partner is key. Apart from attending to various due diligence meetings and ensuring proper governance controls, we were tasked with ensuring that the contracts for external investment were prepared in a manner that sufficiently protected the interests of EmptyTrips and its founding members.
It’s common during a seed or series A round of funding for an investor to present the start-up with a term sheet detailing the nature or basis of the intention and extent of their investment, as well as all the terms relating to the governance of the company that they would like to put in place.
In this case, the institutional investor presented EmptyTrips with a term sheet that detailed the monetary investment that the investor would provide over a number of years, the monthly draw-downs of the investment that EmptyTrips would be entitled to, the number of shares that the investor would be issued for their investment, as well as the manner in which the governance of the company would be changed in order to protect their investment.
Often, and this applied to EmptyTrips, the terms contained in the term sheet require a new shareholders’ agreement and/or memorandum of incorporation in order to protect the interests of the minority shareholder (the investor).
A shareholders’ agreement governs the relationship between the shareholders of the company and their ability to administer the company.
A memorandum of incorporation governs the relationship between directors, shareholders, prescribed officers and the company. A standard memorandum of incorporation is issued when a company is registered, but it will often need to be amended at a later stage if, for example, measures to protect the minority shareholders are introduced.
A memorandum of incorporation can regulate the same aspects as a shareholders’ agreement, however, the main difference is that it is a public document available for inspection by anyone, whilst a shareholders’ agreement is a private document.
In addition, if there is any conflict between a shareholders’ agreement and a memorandum of incorporation, the shareholders’ agreement will not apply and will be voided to the extent of its inconsistency. This often means, as was the case with EmptyTrips, that certain aspects of the shareholders’ agreement that provided for protection of the investor required a redraft of the memorandum of incorporation so that the two documents were aligned.
A shareholders’ agreement might not be enforceable until a memorandum of incorporation has been aligned with it.
Read next: 5 Lessons From The Legal Legends On Pivoting
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