How to make decisions as an entrepreneur

One of the best and yet most challenging things about starting a business is the freedom to create your own world from scratch. There are simply too many choices:

What kind of business? What should I name it? What kinds of products or services? Should I have employees? How will I fund it? Online or retail?

You can waste a lot of time trying to prioritise and make decisions even on the simplest things. So, how do you make decisions as an entrepreneur?

For example, for this company I had 260 logo designs to choose from. How would I decide which one?

Potential logo designs

Personally, the hardest decision for me so far was choosing which business to start in the first place. I’ve been writing down business ideas in my journals since 1998, and I’d already had three businesses earlier in my career.

When I decided to start The Refoundry, I had considered the circular economy industry for a while. However, it took months of intense, solid research to decide on the company and narrow it down to the products we currently have in the design for manufacturing (DFM) phase.

Now, even though I’ve already made that decision, I’m still tempted by other opportunities that come to me. The only thing that keeps me on track is the company’s mission – to help Mother Nature by making great products out of recycled product.

What about this other great idea to be made of recycled timber? NO!
How about this app that will go well with your first product line? NO!
We can make it cheaper if we use virgin plastic instead?
NO!

While it might not help my decision about a logo, notice how much easier it was to make strategic decisions once I settled on the mission for the company?

So, if you ever have so much entrepreneurial freedom that you’re struggling to make big decisions, try establishing one important rule like a mission statement. You’ll see how restricting your freedom of decision will suddenly make it much easier.

Why entrepreneurs work on weekends

It’s Sunday apparently. I only know because I get less emails on Sunday. Otherwise, Sundays often feel the same as any other day of the week to me. I’m sure that I’m not alone. In fact, I bet that most start-up entrepreneurs work on weekends.

The definition of a start-up is a newly established business. Cash flow is almost always tight when you start a business and especially if you want a paycheck from it anytime soon. However, if investors are involved, there’s also an expectation of fast and exponential growth.

Both of these motivators (a paycheck and investors’ expectations) make very much aware of time, and how I use it right now. And so, I work on weekends.

But I don’t do it begrudgingly.

Working weekends
Photo by Kaboom Pics

I still managed to go to a dinner party last night, as well as fit in a workout both days. I considered a morning hike yesterday with some friends, but decided to skip it because I’m still getting over an injury and frankly – it was really cold!

To be honest, without something like that to keep me occupied, I’ll be thinking about the business the whole time anyway. It’s not necessarily just my task list, but also the big goals that keep my brain occupied.

So many interesting things are happening in the plastic recycling and waste management space right now that I can barely keep up with the news.

Today in fact, I spent hours putting together a response to the ACT Government’s discussion paper regarding the phasing out of single-use plastics. You can read it here.

Initially, I wasn’t going to respond. However, after the urging of a contact and more thought, I realised that I do have something unique to add to the debate. In a weird way, it’s exciting to know that my own business can be apart of the solution even though this is why the social enterprise exists in the first place.

So, as I write this late on Sunday night, I’m energised and still thinking. If this is my start-up life, I’m pretty happy with it.

Making my career change official

While I legally started this business in April and was working on the idea before then, it was only today that I finally told most of my connections. Why did I wait so long? I guess – like other people, I was scared of failing in front of everyone.

I still am, but I rather live with failures than the regret of never trying.

I started to realise that I was missing out on opportunities by keeping my business a secret from my greater community. And I can also see other benefits in sharing my journey. For one, someone other than myself is holding me accountable now. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Here’s the video that I posted earlier today about changing careers and starting this company. It will hopefully give you some insight about why I would choose to take such risks at this stage of my career.

Melbourne – meeting manufacturers for the first time

I got into my car at 5am this morning to drive to the airport when I realised that I left $60 of perishable groceries in the back seat from the night before. Ugh! The first sign that I’m trying to do too much. At least the car didn’t stink yet.

My flight to Melbourne was to meet with a manufacturer (cancelled another meeting with Mfg #4), as well as a publisher regarding a side-hustle.

There were so many learnings from the mfg meeting that I will summarise in a blog post after I meet with the final company on Thursday in Brisbane. For the moment, let’s just say that it’s pretty incredible to see their capabilities in person. The video below shows millions of dollars in machines. Imagine starting this business from scratch!

After a morning of meetings, I raced back to Canberra to attend a networking event tonight for an accelerator program. I always meet so many interesting people when I goes to these, and this night was no exception. I have the business cards of an engineer and a private equity company to follow-up on tomorrow.

Another Day in the Life of an Entrepreneur!

Who holds an entrepreneur accountable?

Who knows if I worked today?

Who cares if I checked off tasks?

Who sees me advance my goals?

Who even bothers to ask?

_______________________

It’s the mission that drives me.

It pulls me from bed each day.

It works me late every night.

And without a cent of pay.

DILO 10/7/19

I’m scheduled to meet with manufacturers on Monday in Melbourne. It will be exciting to see their factories for the first time, as well as to meet the individuals that I’ve spoken to so many times on the phone already.

While there, I’ve also managed to set up a meeting with someone regarding my side-hustle idea. She’s a long-term expert in the industry, and I want to validate the potential demand. Plus, I can see some partnering opportunities where we might be able to help each other out.

Her feedback will give me a view as to whether or not it would be worth the time and effort to get this new thing off the ground while I’m waiting for my recycled plastic products to be made (which looks like November now at this rate).

Recovery Day

After 5 or less hours of sleep most every night last week, I admit that it’s caught up with me. I’m exhausted and needed to take a couple of naps today. That’s what I get for attending a conference all day and then trying to do a full workload in the evenings.

I’m fine with that though. The good thing about being an entrepreneur is the flexible work schedule where I don’t have to work 9-5, Monday to Friday like most people.

Instead, I usually work more hours per week, but get to schedule it when it best suits my energy levels and other things I want to do. For example, I rarely do face to face meetings in the morning.

I actually started this work habit in the final two years of my last job. By spending my mornings focussed on my strategic work rather than everything my team needed me for, I was finally able to reduce my night and weekend hours because I wasn’t getting interrupted so much.

Now days, I also tend to start later than most people and end my workday about midnight unless I have something scheduled at night. In between, I’ll usually get a workout in too.

This routine doesn’t change much regardless of what day of the week it is or if it’s a holiday. In only changes if I’m travelling. That’s probably what made me so tired today since last week I needed to catch 6am flights for meetings and start my days much earlier for the conference.

I know my schedule is a luxury for most. I don’t have kids. I only have a bossy, 18 year old cat that wakes me up several times a night to put her on the bed and then again around 7am to feed her.

My schedule will have to change when my products are available for sale, and I need to be available for customer service etc. during the normal work day. For now, I’m glad I can experiment with my work hours to know that I’m giving myself the most productive and healthy schedule that works for me.

The scary part about being Employee #1

I’m used to running fairly large organisations. Since, I’m not an expert in anything, it actually works out pretty well for my generalist skill set. Instead, my job is usually to figure out everyone else’s strengths, and then to get the best out of them to meet our company’s or organisation’s goals.

So now that I am a staff of one, it’s pretty scary. There are no redundancies in skills. There’s no one else to get my work done if I take the day off. There’s no one holding me accountable for schedule or progress. And other than friends and family I confide in or the market research I do, there’s no one to even tell me that I’m heading in the wrong direction.

Currently, I’m the inventor, the website designer, the market researcher, the procurement officer, the social media strategist, the IT support desk, the brand manager, the manufacturer liaison, the bank, the logistics officer, the head communicator and the coffee runner amongst all other things.

It’s a pretty heavy burden being Employee #1 when I’m used to sharing the load.

Right now, I notice it most when I don’t have any contractors doing work in the background. It doesn’t matter if they are designing logos, preparing manufacturing quotes or fixing issues with my website. Whenever, I’m the only one working, I get nervous (and fewer emails).

Of course, it costs money to hire others to do work. Therefore, I only do this for activities where I clearly don’t have the skills to do it myself. So far, taking this approach still means that I’m usually waiting on others to complete something before I can either make a decision or progress the company forward. Yet, in a weird way, I feel better knowing that I can work on something else in the meantime.

So while I’ll continue to march forward mostly alone right now, I hope to have a team working with me next year. For I know that this business will be far better off if I’m spending my time as a manager than trying to do everything myself. I just need to start bringing in income before I can do that.

Go/No Go Decision #2

This week is the second of my Go/No Go decision milestones. I’m expecting the manufacturer quotes back this week. While they’re still estimates, the most important numbers are the unit prices. Can I make the products for a reasonable price here in Australia and out of recycled plastic?

If the answer is no, I have to pivot – either by 1) changing the business model or 2) the products. I’m set on making products out of Australian recycled plastic. So, really #2 is the only option. However, if that occurs, it could take me months of market research again to decided what that product should be and then to design it.

That delay would also force me back into the job market – trying to do this business as a side hustle while working full-time in my usual 50-60 hour a week type jobs. I don’t want to do that because I know the business momentum will suffer from my lack of energy and attention.

Right now, I’m trying not to think about this too much. It could still work out after all.

Milestone: Request for Quotes sent to Manufacturers

I sent the design and tender documents to the three manufacturers today. Since I didn’t have any industry experience, that was actually a huge milestone for me and the business. I should be celebrating.

Instead, my monkey brain wants to think about the potential worst case scenarios: the manufacturers not wanting to work with me or the quotes coming in way too high to have a business case.

In a weird way, I welcomed the distraction of having to figure out widgets and custom theme issues with one of my new websites today. IT help desks are starting to become my best friends!