Consider swapping a Master’s for a Start-Up

When telling my Entrepreneurial journey, or my experience of it so far, I always compare my first two companies like doing a Master’s because I learnt so much and they cost me as much. I’m absolutely not advising you not to do a Master’s but do consider other options out there where you could learn as much but in a way that suits your learning style – I like learning in a practical way by putting theory straight into practice.

My first company, My Health Cards, was founded in my third year at Stirling University. I had been promoting Entrepreneurship as a path for students to consider upon Graduation in my job as Intern for the Scottish Institute for Enterprise – even at 20 I was super passionate about giving people the tools to help them build their own future and not rely on the minimal jobs available after graduation – and this gave me the motivation, inspiration and tools to consider taking that leap of faith.

At My Health Cards we wanted to produce health cards for people with different allergies and intolerances in order for them to get safe food when out and about. I went to one of the NACUE enterprise conferences and pitched my idea to someone I met whilst networking – he became my business partner. To cut a long story short we tried ways to make the business happen that some would say were out of the box but we didn’t know differently because we hadn’t, at this time, experienced many no’s – we had relatively little fear. We emailed CEO’s of Supermarkets and got responses, we reached out to national newspapers and got published and we bootstrapped the business because that’s all we knew what to do. However, we also made mistakes and our biggest deal fell through because we hadn’t got it in writing (lesson learnt!) I then got tempted by an old colleagues business that he was selling and essentially jumped shipped. Do I regret it now? Absolutely not but I did move away from something I was passionate about because I wasn’t persistent enough and thought that Entrepreneurial glory happened overnight – it doesn’t and you need to be in it for the long haul.

I bought my old colleagues business, called Adspad, and sold my shares in My Health Cards. Adspad produced paper tablemats that were displayed in university catering outlets – we sold advertising space on them to local companies and used them as a bridge between students and the local community. I got so excited about this opportunity that I didn’t really look into the business properly before I bought it and soon realised that I had made some decisions not based on fact but on emotion. I didn’t explore the numbers properly, because I thought I was rubbish at numbers, and took the business plan as gospel. Pretty quickly I realised that the business model was flawed and I had to look at new products that would better suit the market and bring on staff to help with some of the initial growing pains – costing the business money. I grew Adspad from one to three products displayed in seven universities and colleges across Scotland (I bought it with one university contract) but I made too many mistakes and eventually gave up (again, I probably should have been more persistent) – although I failed fast and cheap I learnt a ridiculous amount which has helped me to where I am today. Adspad was closed and I moved to the big smoke to brush up on my commercial skills, after learning the hard way, at companies like Innocent Drinks and Peppersmith. In life you are going to make mistakes but instead of staying down pick yourself up and make sure you bloody learn from them because otherwise you have missed an opportunity.

Starting a business or working for a start-up is hard but you won’t gain accelerated personal growth like it anywhere else. I have started my own businesses and worked for a number of start-ups and the transferable skills I have gained has allowed me to now enable a number of Entrepreneurs in a range of different industries in my role at Entrepreneurial Spark.

Life’s too short to stay at the same place doing the same 9-5 job everyday. Times have changed and you have the opportunity to make a difference – you can choose where you want to go and start putting goals in place to get there (see my blog on visioning). Remember, it’s only you that can change your life so make sure you #GoDo.

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