Anyone can do business
At the risk of sounding obvious and perhaps a little condescending - it couldn't be more true. Anyone can do business, and anyone can start a business. It still blows my mind that Vic and I pay ourselves. That the money coming into my bank account each month comes from a business we started together. I can say with confidence that creating my own pay check has been one of the most empowering feelings I’ve ever experienced.
So why did I never dream about starting a business before it actually happened? The idea genuinely never crossed my mind.
On the one hand I wish I’d thought about the big picture – starting a business – sooner. On the other hand, I know why I didn’t. As someone who always had low self-esteem and imposter syndrome, I didn’t value my skills as a business asset. I focused way too much on the things I couldn’t do, as opposed to everything I am good at. Nothing I was capable of was worth entrepreneurship … or so I thought.
I always imagined that to be an entrepreneur, you would have to be good with money and spreadsheets.
Neither of which are strengths of mine. I’m very lucky to be in business with someone who is brilliant at everything I struggle with, which makes life a hell of a lot easier. But, even with my incredible business partner, it still took me a long time to get here.
While not exactly on the topic of business, a while ago I found myself in a state of constant ‘self-improvement’. I was that slightly annoying person who was always reading a self-help book, or listening to the Oprah Super Soul podcasts. I had consciously decided that I didn’t want to be in a relationship until I had worked through X Y and Z. I thought of myself as temporarily broken, and found myself on a mission to change that so I could *finally* be worthy of a loving relationship.
It took a while to soften this stance and realise that even if, one day, I find myself in a relationship spanning 20 years, I still want to be working on myself. I always want to be learning and growing as a human. It took so long to acknowledge that I’m never going to be perfect, or in an ‘optimal emotional state’ to be in love with someone. And just as my heart was ready to be in a relationship before I realised it, my skills were developed enough to start a business long before I recognised that. I just needed to get my head around it all.
To me, entrepreneurship makes me think of a 50-year old man in a navy suit with weirdly shiny shoes. Someone who arguably, from the outside, looks like they have their s**t together. Which I certainly do not. Out of curiosity, I recently googled what the official definition of entrepreneurship is… ‘someone who starts a business and takes risks’. Although I have started a business, I don’t feel like I’ve taken exorbitant risks. Maybe that’s why I still don’t feel worthy of the entrepreneur label, or maybe it needs to be re-defined.
I hear lots of successful people (cue Steven Bartlett), talking about the idea that entrepreneurs are ‘born, not made’ and whilst I find this idea all too pretentious, I do wonder what conversations I missed out on. Why are some people more business minded than others? Were they raised on business chats around the dinner table? Were they reading business books instead of nursery rhymes?
I certainly wasn’t. I’ve always loved, and been truly happy in, my jobs - working on some of the biggest radio and TV shows in the world, alongside the most amazingly creative and inspiring people. I’ve always thought that was the reason I never craved the idea of being my own boss - but maybe it was something a little deeper.
COVID really shook things up for me. I was on a break from work, living my best ‘eat pray love’ lifestyle in Mexico, when my parents convinced me to fly home because New Zealand was closing the borders. The first major lockdown in New Zealand certainly wasn’t the time to be looking for a new job, so I started dabbling in freelance videography, photography, creative writing - whatever I could really. Now, for the past two and half years, I’ve been working full time in a company that I co-founded. Even though I’ve worked incredibly hard, had the dreams and made them a reality - strangely, I still feel really uncomfortable adopting the 'entrepreneur' label. I’ve been trying to unpack why this is. At first I thought - surely it’s just imposter syndrome rearing its annoying head? But now I wonder if it’s mainly due to the lack of female entrepreneur representation.
I looked up stats on female CEO’s and found that in the NZX50 (the top 50 companies in New Zealand), there are more CEOs named ‘Peter’ than there are women. In the S&P 500 (the top 500 companies in the United States) only 6% of companies are led by women. And in the ASX200 (the top 200 companies in Australia) of the 200 CEOs, there are only 14 females. WILD.
I’m clinging to the hope that there is a more feminine approach to business - and that we can and will be gloriously successful - by going about things differently.
All kinds of famous entrepreneurs bang on about how they sacrificed everything to get to where they are. They refer to ‘the dark years’ in a way that glorifies having zero work/life balance. They make out like the only way to succeed is to be completely encompassed by your business. I’m no stranger to hard work, but I’m also not here to run a business with that mentality.
The number of male founders and CEOs, compared to women in the same roles, is absurd. Are women still grossly under-represented because we’re naturally more risk-averse? Or, more likely, that we’re told that we are – because risk-taking is an inherently masculine trait? Did you know that 30% of women apply for a job when they can do 70% of the tasks, whereas men will apply for a job where they can only do 30% of the job description? Go figure. It’s not that we don’t have great business ideas, or that we aren’t capable of running a business – it’s that the world is telling us we’re doing it the wrong way. The feminine way.
At The Curve, our personal lives come first.
Both Vic and I have had very different, but equally debilitating, health issues over the past few months. Whether it’s Vic turning off her camera during an important meeting because she’s lying on the floor with unbearable back pain and doesn’t want our client to get a clear view up her nostrils, or me dealing with a recent ADHD diagnosis - the two of us being safe, healthy and ok will always be number one - not nailing a pitch with a potential investor.
You can care for the people you work for and with, in the same way you would care for your friends and family. Recently, Vic sent me flowers but the note was the best bit. She told me what an amazing friend I am, that she loves me, and that I am stronger than I know. That being said, I would be lying if I said it was all smooth sailing. Vic and I, like every business relationship, have disagreements. We challenge each other. In my eyes that is healthy and normal, it just means you also need to communicate when things aren’t feeling dandy.
Vic and I have started a ‘f**k you and f**k yeah’ session as a ritual at the end of each week. It’s a chance to celebrate and recognise what went well, and consider what could have gone better. We aren’t perfect, but we are trying to create a business and an environment for ourselves (and hopefully employees soon) that fosters a ‘your life comes first’ mentality. We are so acutely aware of not wanting to be those old women on their deathbeds, wishing they had loved something more than their jobs.
Don’t get us wrong, we love our work, but it’s caring for people, for the planet and spending time connecting with the world around us that matters most.
The Curve feels so natural. So obvious. So important, and necessary. I don’t feel like we have taken giant amounts of risk. Yes, we’ve given our time, some of our savings, our steady incomes and our nine-to-five(ish) schedules, but we’ve also given ourselves room to live and breathe. To enjoy ourselves outside of work. Right now I am writing this while on a flight to Morocco, where I’ll be photographing (and attending) a surf and yoga retreat. If you’d told me I could be working by the sea in Morocco with sweet long-boarding waves crashing outside my accommodation, I would never have believed you.
We’ve been thoughtful, careful and considered when it comes to spending money. I went full-time nearly two years before Vic did, because we could only afford to pay one of us. We made it work. All of that being said, perhaps I do have a high tolerance for risk, but also perhaps I fundamentally don’t believe that in order to be a business owner, you should have to put everything on the line, all of the time. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be shaking in my boots from bold moves.
I’m no Elon Musk and I never want to be.
Just like you don’t have to be stunned by the amount of risk you’ve taken, you can also surround yourself with those who are talented where you are not. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to have it all figured out. This might be glaringly obvious (it wasn’t to me initially), but did you know that there are companies, and individuals, that invest in early start-up ideas? For some people, looking for great new business opportunities to invest in is a full-time job. There are different ways to start a business than fully self-funding. There are different ways to get an idea off the ground. You don’t have to risk every dollar to your name in order to start a business. And you certainly don’t have to have all of the skills - that’s what building the ‘dream team’ is all about. Have confidence in your abilities and know that you can learn the skills that you don’t yet have. Better yet - find someone who complements the areas you struggle in. Find someone who is just as willing to take a leap of faith on their abilities. Find someone who won’t blink an eyelid when you tell them you’re going to be working surf-side for a week…
In my experience, not focusing on the risk too much can be really powerful. Instead, focus that energy on the goal. On the big picture. On the impact you want to make. Allow yourself to daydream about how different your days could look if you were working for yourself. Think about the skills you bring to a business and look around you for people who will complement the less endearing. There are so many fake barriers to business entry, but what if we all realised that we don’t have to have all the skills, or all of the money, or a navy blue suit and a pair of balls?
If you have an idea, or a drive for things to be different in your life, you can take as little or as much risk as you like. You can start small if that feels more comfortable. Really small, like Googling a domain name, or seeing if an Instagram handle is available. You can find other ways to fund business ideas, or people to partner with who bring different skills. You can take calculated risks. You can dip your toe in. You can invest your time instead of all your money. Rather than feeling like you have to give your boss the finger while walking out of their office, with no idea how you’re going to start something on your own… take baby steps. Feel secure in your decision. Back your ability to learn on the job. To grow. And to rise to a challenge.
Perhaps you’ll never feel ‘ready’ to be a business owner, I don’t and I already am! And hey - being employed is awesome too. This is in no way a piece about looking down on the nine-to-five, or saying everyone NEEDS to immediately change their career/dream/life. What I hope this piece does is remind you – or let you know for the very first time – that you are capable of going out on your own, if it’s what you want to do. Whether you’re a big risk-taker or a gentle, careful soul – it doesn’t matter. Masculine, feminine, financially-savvy or a free-spirited dreamer; the business world can be your own delicious oyster.
Back yourself, I know I’m backing you.