What is Entrepreneurship?
Sometimes people take a chance. They jump ship and see where life takes them. Some of the most successful people in business did that. Look at Snapchat, Facebook, Apple – they were all set up by someone who took a chance, came up with an idea and ran with it.
Meet Sam, a Cambridge University graduate, who did just that.
Why did you choose to set up your own business after university?
“I did the usual graduate thing and had eight interviews to get a job in a big bank. I spent one day there and hated it. So I wanted to roll the dice and see if I could make my own destiny. Setting up my own business seemed the best way of doing that. I scrabbled around for a bit and then ended up meeting my first business partner in a bar in Moscow.”
Tell us about your companies.
“The first one was called IGO adventures and did extreme expedition races. I exited that in March 2016 and set up my current company Let’s Do This with a mate from Cambridge. They’re both in the endurance sports industry and I think it’s crucial you set something up around one of your passions. It isn’t a necessity (Zuckerberg doesn’t strike me as a particularly social bloke, although the tech fit is obvious) but it makes a huge difference.
You need real passion to get through the dark times and people buy and back passion, and it is pretty hard to fake that.”
What does your job involve?
“If we’re doing a funding round the most of my time is spent fundraising, which involves meeting lots of investors, selling your dream and the team’s ability to execute it.
Apart from that, it’s just a constant juggling act to try and keep various balls in the air. As well as leading the company with my business partner Alex, my specific role is Head of Sales.
Good sales is a lot less glamorous than people think; it’s about setting up a pipeline and brutally executing it – 5 deals this week, then 10, then 20 – ironing out the bottlenecks and improving your pitch.
As well as sales I have a fair amount to do with hiring, marketing, creating content, keeping investors up to date and making sure we’re on the right long-term strategy.
That said, there’s too much in a start-up to be good at everything. While you need to be willing to try anything, and it helps to have one ‘superpower’ (whether that be coding or fundraising), you won’t be good at it all. You’ll have to get people around you who compliment your skill set – so I’ve learnt being self-aware is essential.”
Is the job different that you expected?
“It’s been tough and hard work but I wouldn’t change it. As with anything, the guys who are awesome at it make it look so easy. I think there’s a good parallel with your degree – all your mates see are the photos on graduation day. They don’t see the sleepless nights smashing dangerous levels of Pro Plus in the library. If you’re going to do anything worthwhile it’s going to be really hard – start-ups are no different.
Truthfully, everything’s pretty extreme in a start-up – your highs are super high and your lows are really low. That pounding means the good bits are even more awesome though. One thing I wish I’d known was the need for a support network. The emotional side is always the worst and the very worst is letting someone go. Firing someone ten years older than you, who needs the job, especially if in part you’re the one who got the hire wrong, is horrible and it makes a huge difference if you have someone to ball your eyes out to.
Most of the chat about start-ups, like most of the chat about anything, is rubbish. It’s seriously hard work, emotionally savage and occasionally incredible. 90% of start-ups fail and you always know there’s a big chance that all your hard work and the faith of friends, families and investors, will come to nothing.”
What is the work-life balance like?
“Terrible. You have to really live it. I spend almost all my time on the company. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I’ve kind of turned my hobby into a business – whereas if I was still at the bank I’d be spending my weekends biking or running, now I bike and run but it’s normally work-related.
I also work with awesome people that I enjoy spending my life with. That’s the dream of building the team. We’ve been really fortunate in terms of our team and investors, so most of the people I meet are passionate about the things I’m passionate about.
That said, you often feel like people don’t really understand what you’re dealing with. Most people see you as constantly doing awesome stuff, surrounded by loads of cool people and generally living the dream but, of course, it’s never that simple.
There’s good and bad to this life, and burnout is a real thing, but yeah if you’re going to set up your own start-up don’t expect to have your evenings and weekends pristinely free. The start-up becomes your life.”
Describe a typical work day?
“7:30: I wake up and cook up a massive breakfast, then I cycle into work.
8:30: I start off the day with personal admin and emails, then have a core team meeting at 9:30.
10:30: I catch up with developers, then the day is either meetings or the occasional glorious office day. It is super varied.
19:30: I normally hit the gym or go for a run once I get out the office.
21:30: I like to have a big dinner (lunch is always a bit pathetic), then try to get a couple more hours work done. I make sure that I spend the evening with mates or my girlfriend at least twice a week.
23:30: Bed time. This start-up life can be tiring.”
Any tips for someone else entering this world?
“The biggest decision is who you go into business with. Nothing else matters as much so make sure you get that right. If you get a legend coming with a crap idea or a muppet coming with an awesome idea, then work with the legend and together you’ll get a great idea.
Try to retain perspective. In Kipling’s great ‘If’ poem there’s a couple of lines which read “if you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.” It’s something I return to a lot and helps keep you grounded when you’re high and hopeful when you’re low.
Keep hopeful. Again, cracking film ‘Shawshank Redemption’, has a central theme that hope is a good thing, maybe even the best of things. You’ll get hammered going into business whoever you are and keeping hopeful I think is super important.
Ask. It’s incredible how much time people are willing to give you, like super successful famous people, if you just ask them. Obviously, the flip side of that is when we all get there we need to remember to send the elevator back down and be kind to the little guys!”
So there you have it – being an entrepreneur is not an easy route but if you think that life couldn’t get better than following your passion with a little bit of luck, a lot of hard work and some majorly good pointers from Sam – then maybe one day you’ll be the new Mark Zuckerberg.
“There are only two types of people I massively respect (and this may be controversial): those who fully sell out, smash up the corporate rat race and make sure they’re seriously well compensated for that; and then those who decide to follow their passion and forget the money – even if eventually good money comes from their success, that’s not the point.” Sam, 2017
*This interview has been edited
Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.