3 Things I Learnt in 2 Years as a Start-Up
2 years ago this day, after almost 20 successful years as bankers, Sally and I shed our inhibitions and set sail on an unknown voyage of entrepreneurship and discovery. We started a boutique business analytics / business engineering consulting practice, leveraging the knowledge we had accumulated as business analytics leaders in our former careers. The results have surprised us both … pleasantly. Within the 2 years, we had consulted for no less than 12 clients across 6 countries in Asia, ranging from Manufacturing to Retail to NGO to Banking.
People continuously asks us how we manage to achieve a fair degree of success in a mere 2 years. While the element of luck cannot be dismissed, I want to also share 3 salient points that have played a large part:
Trust your partner.
I could not have done this on my own. Sally’s personality is everything I’m not, and yet, at the core, we are similar. We share the same perspectives on business, on talent, on what success means. We both have little tolerance for fools and bad behaviour. We both have an eye for hiring and grooming talent … and for rapid firing. But more importantly, we complement and supplement each other’s competencies. My partner fills out my blind spots, and I return the favour. And even though we don’t always agree, we trust each other 200%. We will always have each other’s backs no matter what. And the assurance that we value our partnership before and above any client relationship.
Build your reputation, not your bank account.
At the onset, Sally and I agreed that we would not set any financial goals for the company. Not to say that we didn’t want to make money. As former bankers, we were all too familiar with managing P&L. But setting a financial goal at the birth of the company would have distracted us from the larger intent of why we had set up the company in the first place. We were passionate about using data and insights to re-engineer and improve business outcomes. And we wanted intellectual variety; we wanted to pursue consulting engagements outside of the financial services hemisphere. Not having a financial goal gave us tremendous freedom to pursue these objectives; it gave us the freedom to do the right thing … for the company. We’ve walked away from potential consulting engagements worth hundreds of thousands of dollars because they wouldn’t have contributed to the desired evolution of our company and its competencies.
Keep it small.
I’m proud to say that we’ve had a number of parties interested in co-investing or buying us out. But we have steadfastly refused. And we have refused to go with the tide of expansion. We firmly believe that if you want to do something well, it has to be intimate and personal. Having managed large teams before, it is such a relief to now manage 2 principal consultants and get involved in the intimate details of the work. In fact, I wouldn’t even use the word ‘managing’. Rather, Sally and I work side by side with our principals to problem-solve, research and analyse. It is deeply satisfying to be directly creating value with our time rather than managing bureaucracies and people issues. And our clients are clearly the beneficiaries of this intimate approach, and that has only served to strengthen our reputation.
Sally and I would like to thank our friends and families who have gifted us with their time, support and encouragement. And our 2 talented principals for their encourage to turn their backs on successful banking careers, and take that huge leap with us. And the 4 interns that have been crazy enough to spend their off-times with us! Here’s to another year!