Trying to make sense of it all
Trying to make sense of it all
My experience of building Sanctus. My experience of building what I’d like to call a “real” business.
I wrote a lot in the early years about getting to profitability, making our first hires and in essence, really creating something new and forming a business whilst it is embryonic:
- Raising £95k without a pitch deck
- Getting to profitability
- Six figures in revenue without selling a thing
- £1m in revenue, all on gut feel
I was already well versed with, what startup-folk might call, the “seed” stage. I’d failed at it once, failed to get to “product-market fit” and then I’d worked on the other side of the table for about a year meeting hundreds of other startups at that stage and making investment decisions on them.
When it came to getting Sanctus to profitability and proving it’s value and getting it to that “fit” stage, truthfully it all felt very simple; create something, see if it provides value, see if people will pay, iterate, repeat.
George and I, then our early team did that bit really well. In 3.5 years Sanctus has grown like this.
- Just me
- 20k in the bank
- 2 Sanctus Coaches
- 5 customers
- Brand Sanctus made on PowerPoint
- Vision: world’s first mental health gym
- Full time team of 15
- 31 Sanctus Coaches
- 70 customers
- £1m in revenue this year (predicted)
- Lovely office in Shoreditch
- First ever company retreat
Now, the business is completely different. 3.5 years ago, it was nothing but an idea, an embryo, it was forming. Now, it’s still nascent, still young, yet it has legs of it’s own, it has an identity, a purpose and others that care for it like I do.
Things are different.
It feels weird saying that, yet it’s true, things are different.
Sanctus has outgrown me. It’s not just my baby any more and it’s bigger than me.
Before, Sanctus’ identity and my own were deeply intertwined. Much of what Sanctus did, in reality I did and Sanctus was an extension of me, my values and my creativity. Then, when George joined, the same again, this time from the both of us.
Yet now, as Sanctus has grown, the level of intertwining has lessened. We’re still deeply connected, yet I’ve loosened my grip and Sanctus has loosened it’s on me.
For a long time, my ego couldn’t take this. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t take not being the star of the show. I derived so much importance and status from being “the Founder” of Sanctus, I loved that pretty much everything was my idea and I loved that it was mine, all mine.
I also really missed “the old days”, “George, remember when it was just me and you mate?!” “It was easy back then wasn’t it!” “Ohhhh, the good old days, I want them back!” Sounds like I’m joking, yet I mean it, for a long time I missed “how it was” and couldn’t accept that Sanctus had changed, and so had I.
The growing has really hurt actually, it’s been hard. I’ve been constantly torn in a deep desire to want Sanctus to grow and a deep desire to cling on and not let it go. My identity has been challenged at every turn, realising I’m not the best person to do X or Y, realising that others know more than I do, realising that I’m not needed where I thought I was, yet I’m needed somewhere else that I’ve never been before.
I’ve mostly not had a clue what I’m doing. Sanctus is at a stage I have never been at before. I’ve never lead a team this size, I’ve never had this many customers, or this many coaches (I didn’t know what a Coach was before Sanctus) — I’ve never had this many people that rely on me and our team.
It’s completely unchartered territory. I’m captaining a ship that still needs work across waters that have never been travelled before. I’ve got a compass and a team, that’s it.
I’ve had to learn to trust. I thought I was a pretty chilled guy, turns out I’m not. Turns out I’m a bit of a control freak, or at least I was and am recovering. Also turns out that I’m completely obsessive when it comes to Sanctus. Any mistake I see or anything I see that I don’t determine to be on brand, it literally stabs at me in my stomach, it hurts and I get angry, really quite angry.
I’ve learned that having high standards is good, being obsessive even is good, yet there’s ways to go about it. One way is to look over people’s shoulders, to sign everything off and to be a dictator. The other is to let people make mistakes, see where things go, give feedback later, let people burn their fingers, solve problems with process and values, not micromanagement.
Option 2 is better for everyone.
A favourite recurring theme of mine has also been; “get someone else to do it who’s done it before” This isn’t so much about hiring people with experience, that’s great, it’s more a fantasy I have that I can hire someone to do it for me. Or that other people will do it for me. And by it, I mean growing a brand that changes the world.
I’ve tried many different approaches to this and so far none have worked. I’ve tried to “step back and let it play out” and I’ve let other people lead. Yet I’ve been avoiding the hard fact that growing a business is hard and there’s a lot of hard work. That doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice everything else in my life, it just means sometimes doing things I don’t always like doing and probably working long hours. It’s hard and that’s ok, it’s allowed to be hard and I believe if we want to do something incredible then it will be.
I avoided being a leader and doing the things that have never been done before. I avoided it and Sanctus didn’t grow how I wanted it to. I’ve realised I can’t avoid leadership and there’s no magic wand to swish where someone will come along and do it for me or I’ll wake up in the morning and it’s “finished”.
I avoided being accountable and responsible, I even avoided making decisions for a bit, scared that I might take the wrong turn, so I didn’t take any at all. It takes confidence to lead and a quietened ego, it’s taken me a while to grow in confidence and to silence my ego too.
This isn’t the smooth reflective blog post that I’d like to have written. This isn’t the 10 tips to growing your business that people might want. I can’t write that.
Writing this, it feels messy and as I’m fine to let people see the mess and the scramble of my thoughts, because this is it, this is what it’s like up here in my head and this is my experience of growing a business like this day in day out.
I see the posts on LinkedIn from the people that are telling the story of how they did it and I see the articles about companies that have raised huge funding rounds. I want all that too and I don’t have it and it all looks so perfect and yet to me it all looks so messy.
If i turn away from all that, silence all the noise and focus on me and my experience, then this is it, raw. It’s a mess, it’s new, it’s hard, it’s long and it’s an equal mix of absolutely exhilarating and completely daunting on a daily basis.
This is the only way I could write this blog post and I’m glad I’ve written it :)