Usually when I meet someone new, they say I look like David Mitchell. It’s the eyes mainly.
This doesn’t bother me.
What bothers me slightly is that they used to say I looked like a thin version of David Mitchell. Luckily for my self-esteem, Mr Mitchell has toned up quite a bit over the past five years. That said, my self-inflicted work hours coupled with my lack of regard for my own well-being has probably helped us meet in the middle.
So then: recognition. It’s an interesting one. I’ll tell you an anecdote, so you can track my train of thought and how I got to thinking about this.
Two weeks ago, I was out and about, and I was recognised for the very first time by someone other than my mum or girlfriend.
I was out for dinner with a friend I see about once a month, who had at that point disappeared to the toilet. Having lost my iPhone that week (presumed pinched), I sat there looking despondently into space, wondering what on earth people did before they could check their emails after the five-second social requirement for verbal communication was over.
A guy approached me and apologised for asking an out of the blue question, before asking my name.
“Bertie”, I replied.
“Bertie Stephens”? He responded. “Of Flubit”?
I said yes. Well, it would have been odd not to.
Honestly, it was pretty awesome. He told me he knew of me from the YouTube videos I’d uploaded and from my column in the Kernel – so he’s probably reading this. So, if he is, hi! Bet you didn’t expect this to be the focus of a column, did you?
In fact, I’m hoping you are reading, because I need to apologise to you.
You suggested that you thought things were going well with my start-up. You told me you were impressed with the service it offers and how simple it all seems. You then went on to tell me about your idea for an ecommerce start-up and plans to go out to Silicon Valley.
To all of these I stood (well, sat, I think) smiling, agreeing, nodding and offering positive support. Socially, this was the correct thing to have done, I assume. But it didn’t help, did it? And for that – I’m sorry.
What I should have explained to you is how you’ll hit problems with fraud in e-commerce, like we had that week. We had to stall payments to suppliers and delay orders.
That kind of advice that would have been useful, rather than some wonderful gushing flood of optimism that you could have got from reading a tech blog.
This time last year, with the previous model we ran at my start-up, we had hardly any sales. It wasn’t great. Now, after changing how we operate, we have quite a bit to boast about. It’s quite a contrast.
We’re not receiving the level of orders that Fab.com does – yet – or boasting the growth Pinterest does – yet – but we’ve made remarkable leaps forward.
But to me, and me alone, the situation has not changed. Because, just as it should be, I’m only looking forward. I now see the challenges of needing increased margin and revenue per order (rather than just needing an increase in orders). I also see how I have to raise the next round of investment.
You get the picture.
You assume when you look at others you either admire, follow, or have a vague interest in, that they would readily acknowledge their success – but I’m beginning to realise that when you’re in the moment, you don’t see anything other than the next challenge.
It’s probably a good thing. The last thing your investor or business partner would want is for you to take a holiday in celebration of gaining your thousandth customer. (I mean, who cares, really.)
I can assume that the person I was having dinner with probably doesn’t see it either. But to me, he is very successful. He built an IT company from scratch, has invested his money wisely into various assets and has an growing client base. But my guess is, he’s probably too worried about a client whose server has fallen over to see it.
Saying that, he just called me as I was writing this. Weird. I asked him if he thought he was successful. He thought about it for a bit. The answer, when it came, was “not yet”.
Another ex-colleague of mine has started his own agency. We catch up intermittently, but they’re producing their first bits of work for their new clients. It’s amazing that he went out on a limb, started his own company, produced work and took home a paycheck.
I have no idea how the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Bill Gateses of the world would see it. Maybe we should ask them. But what we’re talking about here is you.
We have a thing called “flubilosophy” at my company. One of the rules is: “Check out that behind”. In short, take a moment to really appreciate where you’re at, however unsteady the “ahead” feels.
For me? I’ve run a successful media company, I’ve raised money and started a tech venture, and I’ve built an awesome team around me. Little triumphs in the grand scheme of things.
So I should take them and run with them, because they’re all things that should be appreciated. And it’s very easy not to. But, like the friends I’ve just mentioned, I don’t think I’m successful, because there are just far too many things ahead that are still waiting to be accomplished.
So, while success might not happen for you, it’s probably happening to you. You just don’t recognise it.
Maybe that’s the best way. After all, if you get complacent, you’re screwed.
But, from time to time, do take three minutes for a little celebration. You deserve it.