Start-up Confidential: The acid test of start-up ambition

I, We, Us – our secret start-up on why you have to believe in the power of ‘We’ from the outset and use it for maximum effect

When founder of bed company Dreams Mike Clare started his first company he would routinely answer the phone pretending to be an employee, before pausing and handing over to the ‘Boss’ (himself). Ex-Dragons’ Den star James Caan did the same in his shoebox office after starting a recruitment company.

So it would surprise you to learn our secret start-up has employed a similar tactic in recent months. But it’s not all about convincing others, as our mystery new business owner explains.

You can read previous Start-up Confidential columns, such as the myth of the entrepreneur and why you don’t poach clients from an ex-boss right here. And we’ll have lots more on topics new business owners can’t discuss publicly coming soon.

“One of the great things about starting a business is that everyone wants to talk to you about it. The extent to which friends, family, acquaintances and pretty much everyone you meet shows an interest and is rooting for you is just fantastic.

It’s something I was completely unprepared for, as much as I was for the moment when not so long ago one of my friends who was enquiring about my business over a beer stopped me in my tracks by asking why I kept talking about “we” when at the time I was the sole director and employee of the business.

“Is it the royal we? Or are you going a bit mad working all those hours on your own,” he asked. It’s a fair enough question. Why, from the early days of start-up had I talked about “we”, not “I”, to friends and clients alike? Was I going mad? Not quite.

For a start, because of the way I had planned things, once I started up, I was never really on my own. OK, I didn’t employ anyone directly, but right from day one I had a team of people – trusted freelancers and associates – who had agreed to help out with bulges of client work and let me concentrate on doing the things which would grow the business (and have some time off – a guilty pleasure but a necessity with a young family).

I couldn’t have launched the business without that invisible team in place. What’s more, now I reflect on it, the whole business of “we” and “us” was an important statement of intent.

Sure, I was starting out small, on the kitchen table with a laptop, a phone and a wish list of clients but my business was never going to be about me. The goal from the start was to build something of value and you can’t do that without a building a team of like-minded talented people.

As I had never considered the business as being of the “one-man-band” variety I just didn’t talk about it in that way. Then of course, there are the clients and prospects. Here I’ll admit it to be at pains to let them believe the business wasn’t just about me. This was about commercial reality: after all not many people will risk an important contract on one person.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being an “I”, staying small and doing things yourself. But what I realise now is the “I” / “We” issue is really an acid test of ambition. Thinking “we” from the outset set the tone for how I planned for and then launched my business. Since I launched, it continues to set the tone for the conversations I had with clients and prospects.

Usefully for my friends, it also gives them something to take the piss out of. That is, of course, until I hire that first person into my team, something which can’t happen soon enough.”

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