What defines entrepreneurs

After almost a year and a half of absence (and fans screaming and shouting for my return of course !! J) I decided to revive my blog, the URL now changed to my name and the full one no less (seeing as I have such an easy and memorable name!)

I don’t know where to start in my effort to summarise the last 18 months or so. So much has happened. My last post was December 2008 which was one the toughest of tough times my company – PeoplePerHour.com – has gone through, and therefore one of mine. Which may be why my blogging fell in the back burner – or no burner at all as it may be.

December 2008 was when we were doing our – anticipated and in fact planned at the outset – second seed round. What we hadn’t anticipated of course was that a mere few months prior to that the biggest financial disaster of our generation would occur – the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the ripple effect it sent throughout the entire financial system and economy at large. Not the best time for fund-raising, to say the least.

Despite our business fundamentals being strong and largely unaffected by the state of the financial markets, this totally hampered our fundraising efforts. We were staring at a long dark abyss with no hope in sight.

Yet somehow miraculously, with a lot of persistence, perseverance and an element of luck, against all odds we managed to get through that period and survive. This was party thanks to a fellow entrepreneur who – although a mere acquaintance at the time – in true entrepreneurial spirit went out of his way to help us, despite all those much closer to us at the time turning their back on us. Fabrice Grinda is now a dear friend, a shareholder, and an inspiration to me personally for the trust, faith and entrepreneurial spirit he showed at the time. I’d like to extend a special thanks to him.

And then our luck changed. In May 2009, just when we got our head above water, the BBC decided to run a story on us on the 6 o’clock news – prime time TV. It was almost unreal. A few months after nearly running out of cash we now somehow struck gold, with the biggest piece of exposure one can wish for.

The business underwent a step change following that, ascending to a totally new level. Then a few months later Bloomberg TV wanted to run a piece on us, and following that we were on CNN in November. More recently we were on ABC News in the US. Following our press launch there earlier this year.

Still, there is no denying that 2009 was tough, largely due to the economic climate, but I guess these successes meant we fared better than most and no doubt we could have had much worse luck to say the least. But we never gave up.

Anyone running an internet business talks and dreams about the ‘tipping point’ – that magical, unpredictable, long-awaited moment when a site gains critical mass and growth hits the ‘hockey-stick’ inflexion point. I think we reached that point sometime in late 2009, less than 12 months after our near-death experience. Our next funding round in January 2010 was ironically over-subscribed, at double the valuation of the year before, and for the first time we took some VC money from Index Ventures.

Growth since then has continued unabated, but equally we put in more hard work, more commitment and upped our pace. There is no room for complacency in the start-up world – I learnt that a long time ago, the hard way.

Most people think that what defines a start-up are the key milestones and successes they reach. I think what defines us are our low points and the actions we pursue when they hit us. When things are rosy everyone’s a star entrepreneur, a great friend, the perfect spouse or lover… and we are slowly and cunningly disillusioned in thinking we are invincible. Most entrepreneurs quit when things get tough and the odds mount against them. Or they panic and make careless nonsensical decisions defying common sense and their basic business fundamentals, ultimately undermining their faith in their future. And that’s where their future ends.

When I look back at the last 18 months it’s certainly not those upbeat moments I recall, like being on TV, in national newspapers or international periodicals like Newsweek; or reaching that long awaited ‘tipping point’. Rather I look back at those impossible two months when we had no idea whether we’d survive or fail, when every day was an uncertainty, when everyone around us was turning their back to us despite having met our targets and milestones. I reflect on the moment when we were on the ground, and the thing I’m proud of the most is finding the strength to pick ourselves up and carry on. Not for one minute did we contemplate quitting.

Those are moments that define us as people and as entrepreneurs, and make no mistake – they are the moments that define who your real partners, colleagues and friends are. With the benefit of hindsight, I say to all those entrepreneurs out there starting off to cherish those moments when they inevitably set upon you, for they will be your moments of truth.

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