When I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey, I had no idea what I was letting myself in to. I was categorically unprepared for the amount of people I would lose along the way and the sacrifices I needed to make, which most people were not willing to make.
The glamorous life portrait of entrepreneurs is far from the truth. Well, at least for the first few years.
I was completely inexperienced, with no idea what I was doing, when I raised our first round of funding to start my first tech company.
I had an investor who believed in me as a person and to this day I am convinced it was more an investment into me as a person, rather than the tech I presented.
The first 3 years was extremely tough. Relying on funding for every decision we made, with the reality of our funding runway running out, is one of the most stressful experiences of my life.
During the first year I was very involved in the start up space in Cape Town, going to every single entrepreneurial event or startup bootcamp I could get hold of. I was on stages talking about raising funds and giving advice to fellow entrepreneurs.
I quickly came to realise that these events and talks did nothing for my business. It didn’t bring in revenue and it certainly didn’t increase profits. It took me away from our innovation room and quite frankly hurt the business.
The start up world is full of fluff, people with a lot of bark but no bite. You are surrounded by entrepreneurs who apparently achieved greatness and can’t stop talking about it.
Contrary to my initial opinion on fund raising, it is no exceptional achievement to raise funds.
Fund raising is the easy part – the beginning of a very long and hard journey.
If raising funds is your great achievement, then you have no idea what is yet to come. With the raising of funds, comes an enormous responsibility to your investors to build a successful business in what is some of the most difficult economic times of our lives.
This paradigm shift made it clear: there is a huge mountain ahead of me. The question is, what is waiting on the other side?
What is that significant goal, the one thing that will bring purpose to my life.
After spending months with my friend and mentor Daniel Strauss, who firstly made me believe in myself, secondly proved to me that anything was possible, and thirdly taught me the true meaning of aspiration, I eventually set my real goal. This goal was big. Really big. So big, it could no longer be justified by the mountain metaphor – I am chasing a moon landing. A moon landing that will see my company listed on the stock exchange.
The trip to the atmosphere.
The moment this vision became real, I went back to the drawing board and reshuffled our group of companies. I changed the structure of the group and the shareholding, I brought in new shareholders and got rid of some. We started 4 new companies in the group of which we raised funds for two of them. The year that followed was even worse. It was a true roller coaster ride, with very highs and very lows. Extreme fast growth that almost saw the end of us – the best dream and worst nightmare at the same time.
It was 18 months that tested me as an entrepreneur and saw my evolution from a startup entrepreneur to a true business man. A business man that knows how to negotiate, how to respect & work with people & how to make big decisions. This period taught me how to be collected and have the most difficult conversations without being emotional.
It took a lot of time and soul searching to eventually reach a point where I could operate and make decisions above my emotions. I believe this is a turning point in every entrepreneur’s roadmap, sadly most never make the turn.
What specifically stands out about this period is our growth and what we made with it. We broke even in February 2016 ( in just under 3 years ) and have grown by 600% since then. Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of enriching themselves through the growth of their companies out of pure eagerness, greed & impatience.
Thanks to my mentorship, I remained humble, kept our growth out of the media and ploughed all our growth back into the group, which is why we have 4 sustainable businesses in the group with two new startups on the rise.
With an award winning team & board of directors that I trust with my life, we are in a position where we are covering our expenses with half our revenue and developing new tech products with the other half. We have 3 new tech products that will hit the markets early in 2018. Our group is now profitable and we have breached the atmosphere into unchartered territory.
Since lifting off the earth, I haven’t spoken much about the activities behind our walls. I have sadly learnt that people are censorious, thinking I am crazy for even considering a moon landing. I have lost many relationships due to this, which has lead to a critical lesson in my life – keep my playbook closed at all times, wave, smile and continue innovating in private.
Not all people are open to my way of thinking which was a hard lesson to learn. This article is the first time in a very long time that I have publicly spoken about what we are really doing.
The moon landing
Everything is now in place for 2018 to see the growth of our in-house products, continued high quality design and development services to clients, and an increase in profits. Profits will determine the distance to the moon and pure drive, commitment and a little bit of luck will determine the timing, the size and the impact of our moon landing.
Carl Wallace | CEO of the DIGITAL HQ Group
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