Hannah Leach has recently launched Cabpal, a cab-sharing venture that matches, connects and books cabs for people travelling between London airports and London – ‘a safe, inexpensive, door-to-door service for international students flying into the city’. This week, as Generate’s guest blogger talks about her last few months embarking on her new venture…
‘Why cabs?’, ‘Do you even have a background in tech or travel?’ ‘That doesn’t sound like your type of thing’. These are the sorts of questions and comments I get when I tell people that I’ve recently launched a cab-sharing venture, Cabpal. I have no experience in travel, very little in tech, and one could argue that my slightly chameleon-esque background in politics, international development and fin-tech hasn’t quite prepared me for the job at hand…
However, often the best ideas are those that are borne of a personal frustration and last October, I found myself at Luton Airport at 11.45pm, very frustrated at the thought of the lengthy and costly journey into London that lay ahead of me. That proved to be the seed, the trigger, the ‘why not’ moment, and the next day, fueled by a weird and wonderful butterfly-induced feeling of excitement, I started putting pen to paper. Five months later, I quit my job, and now, ten months later, Cabpal has launched and the service is up and running.
Yes, it’s been a learning curve to match that of the final Kilimanjaro ascent. No, I’m not ‘going to be a millionaire next year’, as my friends like to joke. Yes, it’s been hard maintaining the inner conviction that I’m doing the right thing. Yes, I feel dread when I see a similar venture pop up on my news feed. But, importantly, it’s also one of the most exhilarating feelings, building one’s own product and crafting a service from the ground up, which people can actually use. It’s an adventure (destination currently unknown), of which you are at the helm. Sleepless nights are met with mornings dancing and ninja kicking around the kitchen (really, that happens) and everyday anxieties are balanced out by the little victories and successes. I find myself frequently using the phrase ‘exciting and daunting in equal measure’, and I have even scrawled ‘Fake it ‘til you make it’ on the whiteboard in my office (i.e. my kitchen) – cliché, I know.
Along the way, there have been things that have helped me ‘stick with it’ or that I wish I’d known before starting out – a few of which I’m going to share with you:
- Whilst it’s often argued you need a co-founder, it’s ok to do it alone, but make sure you’re prepared for the long days spent by oneself, days where the most interaction you will have is talking to BT about your phone bill.
- Find yourself a mentor (or two) – someone both who knows you as a person, your motivations, your skills, and sees the value in the idea that you’re building. This person isn’t always easy to find.
- Set yourself weekly and monthly targets and if you are a sole founder and working alone, share these targets with your mentor, and ask them to keep you accountable.
- Buy a whiteboard – write goals and targets on it and put it where you work
- Celebrate the little achievements, however small. It can often feel like you’re making no progress, but try and take stock of what you’ve done – look back over the last few months/ few weeks, note down the interactions or developments that have made you feel positive about the venture, whether it be a two minute conversation with a customer or the development of a new feature. These are easy to forget when you feel like you’re drowning in anxiety/ rejection/ your ever-growing to-do list
- Be persistent – don’t take no for an answer. I recently sent a prospective partner a fourth email (having received no response from the previous three) and he replied suggesting a meeting
- Find a friend in the space that you’re working in (tech or otherwise), who understands what it feels like, with whom you can let your guard down every now and again. We all know ‘faking it’ is important in the right contexts, but you need a person with whom you can abandon this and just be your warts-and-all self.
- Build or tap into a community of support – ideally a group of entrepreneurs with whom you can demo, brainstorm, trouble-shoot etc.
- Don’t just network willy-nilly – it is of course dependent upon your venture – there is the temptation to attend endless startup events, but in the early days, I have found it much more useful identifying and targeting key people to have conversations with about specific elements of the business.
- Ask for a second layer of skin for Christmas, as you will frequently encounter people who doubt you and your idea – only last week I got told ‘your next idea will be better’ – what next idea? I have and am focused only on this one for now. This was his way of politely saying I should leave it and move on.
- Get out of one’s office/ flat and ‘hustle’ – I have often hidden behind my laptop, thinking that I can answer questions/ queries with online research and by talking to friends and family, but the best insights, those that truly validate your ideas, come from talking to strangers, people entirely unfamiliar with you/ your product. These conversations will give you confidence and spur you on.
- Balance positivity and self-publicity with pragmatism and realism – sometimes the London tech scene can be seen as being full of people shouting about their latest venture. Yes, be positive about your idea, but don’t get swallowed up in the hype…