So you’re thinking of starting a business? You know what you want to do; you’ve perhaps decided where you’ll do it; you might even have a fair idea of why (somewhere on the continuum from making a squillion bucks to saving the world).
But do you know when? When is the right time to start a business?
There are, of course, those who turn their early teenage brainwaves into start-ups, businesses for which Silicon Valley is keen to pay them millions before they’re old enough to legally buy themselves a celebratory Champagne. That, sadly, was not my experience.
No, for me the process was both methodical and lengthy. The “what” was — in general terms — decided early. After starting work in a restaurant at age 18, I realised my ideal business would be in hospitality. Just in hospitality; nothing so specific as the cafe and bagelry business I now run.
You couldn’t call it a brainwave, but I was bright enough to recognise that I’d need experience and capital. And so I set about gaining both. The experience came from working — working hard — in a variety of hospitality businesses, here in New Zealand and in Australia. And while I was gaining experience I was also gaining knowledge: how to, and perhaps also how not to, run a business.
As for the capital, I was fortunate to have a loving and supportive mother, who by guaranteeing a bank loan enabled me to invest in a property at age 25. The plan was to leverage any capital gain to start my first business. To service the mortgage I was happy to work even harder.
But I hadn’t planned on the 2008 global financial crisis. And — on a slightly more personal level — my partner (now my wife) and I hadn’t planned our first child! While the GFC profoundly affected the property market, my daughter’s birth in effect converted my investment property into a family home.
If the launch of my business was delayed, I at least had time to gain more experience, rising through the ranks of a small New Zealand company that was then bought by a multinational. But by the time I’d hit 31, I was starting to wonder whether my time was running out.
It was up to me, and me alone, to stop planning and start acting. To commit the time, energy and capital required. To sell our home and move my growing family (my second daughter was on the way) into my father’s home. To leave my job, and abandon my safety net.
Despite the obstacles, the decision was easy. I’d known for more than a decade that a hospo business was what I wanted, and I now knew in my gut that I was as prepared as I’d ever be. My supportive mother, who by now was suffering terminal cancer, again came to the fore. She taught me an important lesson about not living, or dying with regrets. If I didn’t try, I’d never know whether I could have succeeded.
So, you ask (again), when is the right time to start a business? There’s no simple answer, and there’s certainly no single answer. But, if you’re sure of what, where and why, and you’ve gained the knowledge, experience and capital to justify taking the bold final step, it comes down in the end to trusting your gut.
And perhaps your mother.