Starting your own business is like being on television - everything looks beautiful and glamorous on the outside but in reality, it's quite ugly, messy, and hugely stressful on the inside.
I've had the privilege of experiencing how television is made for years. Now I'm the main character in learning how business is made. I'm just about to approach my one-year anniversary as a first-time entrepreneur, having started a leadership development platform called Radiate. It's been chaotic, stressful, messy and yes, hugely refreshing.
It's also been bizarre.
I thought after decades of working at big companies, I knew a lot about myself and what makes people tick. Boy was I wrong. Below are 5 of the strangest things I've discovered since starting my own company:
1. Being busier gives you more time. Yes you read that right. When I first began last year, I worried how I was going to juggle two jobs, kids, and my sanity. The ironic thing is in some respects, I've found this all to be easier. Now don't get me wrong, the work is very very hard. However, juggling my schedule is easier because I'm being forced to be more disciplined. I used to waste a lot of time. I don't waste any time now and find instead, I have more of it. I schedule everything out, even my time to "relax" which may sound restrictive except when you think that without that disciplined approach, you don't set boundaries. Before, I used to let work bleed into my personal life; I was always "on" because I didn't set limits and that led to, what else, burnout.
2. ...but doing nothing in the morning makes you more productive. Again, in my quest for efficiency, I took the advice of a CEO friend who said he stopped checking his phone and emails from the moment he woke up. Instead, he would read the paper or meditate or exercise before he got into the office. Only then would he check his emails. I loved that advice and quickly found myself doing the same thing. I've stopped checking my phone for the first hour of my day - instead I read the paper with a hot cup of tea or coffee. This quiet time before you hit the office clears your head and makes you so much more energetic when you get to the office to tackle your inbox.
3. The word "free" is one of the most powerful words in the English language. In the last year, we ran a few experiments with our Radiate viewers and listeners. Every once in a while, we'd open the registration on our site and tell everyone that our website was "free" to anyone. Now, our registration is completely free anyway - all we ask is for people to register a username and password. However, on certain days, we eliminated the need to register and made all our content freely accessible. What happened? People began to register like crazy! It didn't make sense to us. We have a few theories as to why this happened but suffice to say, the word "free" is a potent action word.
4. People are very illogical. I don't profess to know human psychology or be a psychologist but sometimes I wish I hired one. When you are on the other side of business "selling" something to someone - whether it's a piece of content or a product or a service - you have to get into the mind of the other person. And what you often find is their motivations make very little logical sense. Why does one headline get people to click versus another? Why does a website button placed here versus there work better? Why do people pay more when you give them less choice? None of the answers make sense and yet they make perfect sense - people are dynamic, fickle and emotional beings. This is why business - and life - can be so interesting.
5. No matter how many times people have started companies, your experience is still unique. I remember at the very beginning when Radiate was just a nugget of an idea, I was told by one of my investors to put together a financial model. I thought how easy this would be - surely there are so many financial models out there of other media education sites. Well...yes and no. Yes, there are dozens of these sites but no, there isn't any one just like ours. And because of that, I had to build everything from scratch. Instead of this taking weeks, this took months and painful hours of meetings with very diligent and thorough MBA students. Even when we had looked under every rock for info, I still was unsure we covered everything. It drove home the point that every single business is a unique value proposition to the world. There's nothing like it before and nothing like it after. And that's precisely why I love what I'm doing - one year on, it's exactly as fun, stressful, strange as I imagined it would be. Now I can't wait until Year 2.
And for a little peek inside my journey, watch my dear friend and finance entrepreneur Gary Garrabrant counsel me on being fearful.