Creating a business

Shapes and Sounds — Kandinsky. This sums up what starting a business really feels like to me,

Creating a business

A creative process

When I hear other people talk about business or about entrepreneurship, I often don’t relate.

I hear people talking about their business as if it’s an object, as if it is a commodity, as if it’s just another thing they’re building, like a toy, a car, a project or a “side hustle”.

This narrative feels distant — like it’s science, rather than art. Which as I’ll come onto, really isn’t how it feels to me at all.

For example, conversations around people, culture and team. I hear conversations where entrepreneurs or leaders talk about their team like they really are just human resources and I feel uncomfortable. Or when someone talks about their sales funnel or pipeline, like it’s a machine and the customers are just fuel going in one end and coming out of the other. It feels wrong to me.

In general, a lot of the conversation around startups and entrepreneurship feel inhumane to me, they feel impersonal, they feel transactional. It’s “just business”. Maybe I’m too much of an idealist, probably, but it feels wrong.

Along the way I’ve journaled and expressed drawings that have represented the journey for me. This was an attempt to represent the many different crossed paths that lead to starting Sanctus.

For nearly 3 years now I’ve been building Sanctus and my experience of building a business feels very different to what I see on LinkedIn, in pitch decks or in polished medium blog posts.

Sanctus has always felt so personal and given the field we’re in that’s not surprising. At times, yes, it’s been too much so, but it’s always felt like an extension of me. I’ve referred to it as my baby and whilst I’m not a parent I’ve felt the lurch in my stomach when Sanctus has played too close to a busy road.

I’ve felt this deep connection to my work and I really mean i’ve felt it. In my heart, my gut and of course in the thoughts running through my head all day and night.

I’ve felt love, longing, connection and I’ve felt anger, obsession and jealousy too.

I halt or hesitate when I hear others describe their companies like they might describe their new car, it’s not even close to being like that for me.

To me, creating something new is a deeply vulnerable and exposing process. In Sanctus, I have invested much of my own beliefs, my own values, my own ideas as well as my own problems, issues and insecurities.

Building Sanctus hasn’t been like building a car. We may have begun to talk about processes, funnels and structures — we have built some of those parts that may exist in a machine. Yet it’s felt different, it’s not felt rigorously planned or forced or reverse engineered. It’s felt organic.

Not really sure, but it captures something about the intricacy and detail of creating a business for me. Don’t really like this one.

Rather than a car, it’s felt much more alive. Like something that has naturally evolved or unfolded — like a plant, a flower or a butterfly with a life of it’s own.

It’s felt real, like the kind of real that you can smell and touch and feel the life within. Every time we grow, even that doesn’t feel planned, it feels like we’ve created this thing that has a life of it’s own and it’ll grow whether we like it or not.

The process of creation in the last 3 years has felt so much more like art, like life than science or engineering to me.

The best analogy I can come up with is that we’re not building a car or a machine, we’re painting a masterpiece.

Every new team member is a new artist with a new type of brush. Each brushstroke brings a new idea, a new process, a new initiative.

There are blemishes and mistakes that we still can’t rub off, yet it’s all part of the beauty, its all part of the masterpiece.

I drew the first lines. I did the first sketches, some in pencil and some in permanent marker. I was the first to take the leap, to show my work to the world and put myself on the page. Some of those first drawings, wow they are awful, ugly, shocking and I’ve watched now as others have rubbed them away, or corrected them or drawn over them.

Some parts of the piece I thought looked great, I was so tied to them and I didn’t want anyone to draw over them. Yet for the good of the whole I’ve had to learn (and am still learning) to let others work with what I started, let them mould it, let them sculpt it and let them create their own art as part of our masterpiece.

Something about art on art on art. Letting other people in on the canvas.

At times, my connection to our work has held us back, it’s meant that I’ve not let others grow and flourish — I’ve not let people in on the canvas. It’s also affected my life, with me not being able to put the paintbrush down or let myself fully experience other areas of my life.

At other times, it’s meant that we’ve maintained impeccable standards, only settling for the very best work that paints the picture of mental health that we want the world to see.

You get the picture, literally. Building a business has felt incredibly personal and deeply moving within me, hence why I can’t stand most of the narrative that surrounds “startups”. Those who raise funding rounds categorised by the alphabet and package themselves like a box to be acquired by a bigger wholesaler. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it’s not felt like that to me and I can’t be the only one.

Not sure.

Businesses are art just as much as music is or painting, the masterpieces look different, they’re often bigger and other people and money are part of the performance, but they are inherently creative. Yet I feel like we have this societal view of business as if they’re monstrous vehicles of destructive industry.

Businesses are not just a vehicle to make money, they are so much more than that. They are communities, vehicles for change, organisations for social impact and collectives to experiment and endorse innovative culture, attitudes and behaviours.

Business does not have to be cold and ruthless, it doesn’t have to be “just” business. Businesses at their finest are causes and missions with values and standards to live by and the money making mechanic exists to serve a higher more meaningful purpose.

For that reason, I believe building one is a deeply creative process for everyone involved. It’s the pursuit of something else, something bigger, something more masterful and special than any one person alone can be.

This feels like a real outpouring of love for business and the process of creating them, and it really is. I really believe this is how it should be, how it always should be and how it really is at the biggest and best companies in the world. I don’t know if that is true, but my heart longs for it to be true either today or one day.

Businesses do not have to be machines, that’s one version of them. They can be bursting with life, in fact they are all already bursting with life.

For me, creating one hasn’t been engineering and arithmetic, it’s been love and art.

I believe it can be this way for all of us, whether we start a business or we are part of one. It doesn’t have to be cold and machine-like. Business really can be alive

James x