Diary of an entrepreneur: Introducing Lana Elie

In her first column for Startups.co.uk, Floom's Lana Elie shares an honest account of how she overcame years of self-doubt to pursue her business idea

Lana Elie is the founder of Floom. Launched in February 2016 and pipped as one of our top 20 start-ups to watch this year, Floom is an online marketplace where London-based florists can upload their creations for customers to buy. Having previously worked on global campaigns for brands including Nike, Burberry and Gucci, female entrepreneur Elie left her high-powered job to turn her idea for Floom into a reality. Startups’ newest blogger, every month Elie will share fresh, honest insights from her entrepreneurial journey…

When I was first asked to write this column, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share all the things I wished someone had told me in the beginning; things that I’ve learnt along the way (several of them from making some pretty epic mistakes), but in a concise, actionable way.

So I quickly scribbled down a handful of thoughts that I thought would interest people: Writing a business plan from scratch/links with good examples/the must-have pages/finding investors/doing your projections/templates/etc. You get it.

Then I realised that if you wanted to know about any of those things, you could do what I did: Google it. There are a lot of great blogs, assets and advice out there already… but is there anything really honest?

So, instead, I’ve decided to start from the beginning of my journey (maybe even a bit too early) with a diary of the why’s and why not’s, ins and outs, and even the good and the bad of launching and running a start-up.

If you’re reading this at all, it’s likely you’ve come across similar articles about ‘the journey of building a business’ elsewhere – but I hope my ‘diary’ can offer a unique perspective from a first-time entrepreneur, a sole-founder, someone with no financial background, and no university degree.

I’d always considered myself a pretty hard worker, and I’d always found jobs I enjoyed and could learn from. I liked school as a kid and I liked working as an adult, but I always felt like I was working very hard for something that wasn’t mine.

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I know this isn’t unique to me, and I’m sure many of you have felt the same.

From self-loathing to self-starter

Before I started Floom I used to go through these self-loathing moments every year or so. I’d spend weekends in bed designing IKEA closets I knew I was never going to buy that would perfectly fit my small London bedroom, surrounded by takeaway food and wallowing in self-pity. I didn’t want to see anyone and I’d barely leave my room for the weekend.

The truth was I just felt unsuccessful, even in my early twenties when I’d already started making a name for myself in my own quiet way within the intensely competitive creative industries in London.

Maybe it had something to do with never going to university – instead of seeing this as a positive and something that gave me an unexpected edge, I always dreaded that question: “So where did you go?” Everyone I admired who’d built something for themselves – the first line of their bio always seemed to mention Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge…

July 2015 and I’m 28, feeling much the same. I’m in a well-paid job with a good title at a great company, yet still the same longing remained. Many of the other entrepreneurs I’ve met along the way give the impression that they had no choice in becoming one – that it’s simply who they are.

I think, looking back, there’s some truth in that. I knew that many people would look at my situation and think I’d be mad to give it up, yet I’d reached the point where I couldn’t bear the weekends of ‘what-ifs’ and ‘if-onlys’ any longer. I couldn’t ignore my idea any longer.

It was an idea I’d first had four years earlier but had always talked myself out of for endless reasons along the way. For instance, I would tell myself that not enough people cared about products and good branding so it would never work. Or perhaps it was because I wasn’t in the right circles to raise investment, or the main competitor was TOO big, or I didn’t want to give up my comfortable wage.

Plus those lingering doubts about my (lack of) qualifications continued to needle. I read blogs and blogs about preparing a business model but always felt out of my league with acronyms that meant nothing to me. ‘What’s your CPA/CAC/LTV?’ More like WTF?!

Time and time again I convinced myself I wasn’t smart enough, well educated enough, connected enough.

The moment I decided to take the leap

Everything changed when, one week in August, I sat and wrote my business idea down. I asked myself these questions:

  • How would it work?
  • Why would people use it?
  • How big was the market?
  • Who dominated it?
  • What were their weaknesses?
  • How would I do it better?

I ended up with over 60 pages of research, questions, answers.

I talked about it out loud, to friends, colleagues, even random people I found on LinkedIn. I could not find enough people to talk about it to. I got so enveloped in the idea that I could not imagine doing anything but this going forward.

Not only did it make so much sense, but mostly I did not believe that there was anyone who could do it as well as I would.

Even as a sole-founder, with no finance background, and no university degree.

And so it began, and I Googled… ‘what does CPA stand for?’

Two months later I closed my first seed round, and Floom was born. I hope you check back next month to see how I managed that, and everything that’s followed since…


(will not be published)