I formed my first big investor relationship when I was 20 and in the second year of my undergraduate degree. I was running a business, figuring out who I am as an individual away from home, and trying to make sure I didn’t graduate with anything less than a 2:1. My business was my escape from all the stress and drama of living with people I barely knew. It was an experiment in entrepreneurship; a wild goose chase with no clear goals or vision in sight.
I can’t say I cared about it. It was probably more of a cash grab than anything else, and it was a massive ego boost. I felt so powerful. I won a couple of awards, got some press mentions, and had a large team backing me. It was after the Social Network movie came out, so I really thought I was going to be the next Mark Z. But the truth is, I needed a life-line.
I couldn’t sustain the growth I was experiencing and my team was growing listless as our ability to follow through on anything became stalled. I had no real idea what I was doing. I kept throwing things at the proverbial wall hoping something would work out. On the outside, I looked like a success. But I knew I was in quicksand and sinking fast. That’s when I got the call every entrepreneur waits for. It was a medium sized company, but they were gaining traction and I knew they had the money to spend. They were all over the papers a few months before.
Talks began and I had no idea what I was doing. So instead, I did what I always do when I see a gap in someone’s business. I begun working with them to fill that gap. I spent 6 months coaching the VP on how their business could better approach the university student market. I mapped out solutions based on what was working for my startup, I did the leg work on campuses that I had built solid relationships with, I had fun helping them build their business, on the verbal agreement that as soon as the summer holidays kicked off, I would base myself in their London office, we would sign the documents and I would have an investor for the social network startup I launched in my student dorm room. I could see the headlines. “The female Mark Z.”
Summer came. I travelled into London expecting something spectacular. I arrived at the train station and I made the phone call I was expected to make, but nothing happened as I expected it to. I waited at that station for 3 hours, in my nice “job interview” skirt suit and my black kitten heels. Why was I waiting so long? Well, the VP said they were moving offices, He couldn’t get away. I asked if I could have the new address. I offered to help them move boxes. I said, “I’m quite strong, I can carry a few boxes.” He discouraged the idea and we met at a Starbucks instead.
He turned up with a notepad and a pen. I offered to pay for the coffees. He accepted. We sat down, we talked for an hour about his business, about the ideas I had for how it could grow. He wrote it all down and in the final ten minutes of our conversation let me know that they were no longer interested in investing in my business. He ended the conversation by asking me to keep in touch if I had any more ideas for his business. That’s when I realised that I had been had. I had spent 6 months focused on his business and stalling my own. He had my ideas, my contacts and intimate knowledge of my business plans.
I was mortified. But I rallied. I threatened to sue if I found that they commercially profited from my ideas in any way, unless they were willing to cut me into the deal. They shut down the failing division instead, and Mr VP was suddenly unemployed. Disappointed and embarrassed, I quit entrepreneurship and focused on my degree. Writing this I remember exactly how I felt that day, waiting at Angel and Islington station for 3 hours, hopeful and then not. In the time afterwards, whenever I had a new idea I became fearful of the startup world and insecure in my ability to run the business well, having been so truly overwhelmed in the past.
My saving grace was joining an informal business club at my university. There, I got the support I needed in the form of a strong business network, I attended courses and seminars that taught me useful business practices and I learned how to control the pace of my business so that I would never experience that overwhelmed feeling ever again.
After undergrad, I did a Masters in Culture and Society then followed that up with some work experience and then another Masters that focused on International Development. I was looking for an idea. I was looking for something to dedicate my life to, a problem I could spend everyday determined to solve.
Despite the result of my relationship with Mr VP, I really did enjoy coaching him through the difficulties he was facing in his business. I made it my mission to gather, equip and empower individuals who share my passion for entrepreneurship with the skills they need to create healthy, scalable and sustainable businesses that not only make a profit but also create well-paying jobs on the continent. I rejoined the ranks of the entrepreneur, determined to learn from my mistakes and do what I could to save any fellow entrepreneurs from experiencing the same pitfalls. I followed that path and this is where it led.
I’m now an experienced business coach that educates entrepreneurs on the entire scope of the startup journey. From, “I think I have a business idea” to “I’m ready to get in bed with an investor”. I do everything I can to help my clients build healthy, scalable and sustainable businesses so that they can build great businesses and never feel the overwhelm that I experienced.
Though I may never thank Mr VP, I am thankful for the experience. I can confidently coach my clients through those experiences because I’ve been there and I survived.