It has been 5 years since I left the employee status in a large corporation. I resigned in November 2011 and started my consultancy business on 1 Feb 2012. What an adventure with many ups and downs!
5 years and 5 companies founded on 2 continents later, with quite moderate but sustainable success, here are some experiences I would like to share from this journey:
Going on one’s own is not for the faint-hearted. It is tough, and requires a lot of dedication and effort. A lot of people I know do fail.
Family support is essential, as is caring for the comfort of the family.
Pay yourself fairly, while keeping enough in the company for growth. The money you own personally is your freedom.
Commercial skills are essential. They are worth a lot. I am still learning as it is not really my background. In reality I cover most of my companies’ commercial development. Develop these skills early if you can.
Do not start on your own. I made the mistake to start by myself alone. Now that I have experience having ventures with partners and working with teams of people I like and respect, I see how much more comfortable that is, even when it’s tough.
Highs will be high and downs will be very low. Brace for uncertainty and change. Keep reserves and be conservative in accounting.
Clients will not always be fair or follow previous agreements. Protect yourself with enough written stuff. Keep reserves for the unexpected (see 6.). And don’t follow the example of your clients: stay fair to your partners and contractors.
Small is beautiful. In today’s world it is possible to bring substantial change from a small structure. I am perfectly happy to keep my companies small but very ambitious when it comes to their impact to the world.
I am very proud of providing an opportunity to the people that work in the companies I am controlling, having been able to keep them as much as possible through the downs and this a great motive of satisfaction.
Having the freedom to experiment is an essential motivation. We don’t have the means to do a lot, but we can still experiment at the limit of technology some new services for our clients. It is a great motivator.
As you can see the positives far exceed the negatives. If you consider such a move, plan it well in advance. But do it, it is worth it.
I am struggling with the fact that I always have a number of parallel projects going on at the same time, and whether this is a good thing – as it is sometimes a struggle to deal with all of them at the same time. The problem is that I can be passionate about many ideas. Some well-known entrepreneurs like Elon Musk pursue many ventures at the same time while many others underline the need to have focus (Focus – as a driver of excellence as the title of a book by Daniel Coleman).
Let’s analyse the situation. Having many projects at the same time:
provides interesting options and wider encounters,
Is a great way to manage the risk of failure of a project by having several others at various stages of development,
allows to identify and develop synergies between projects and related social groups.
On the other hand, limiting the number of projects:
allows focus and more chances of success through stubborn attention,
allows to manage workload more easily (less conflicting calendars!),
requires less resources.
It may be because of my nature but I think I like to keep having several projects. I realize however that for this to work, I need:
to be able to drop projects that become excessively time-consuming with poor results,
in general be mindful to limit time involvement to a certain limit,
find ways to make it work time-wise, for example by combining projects that are flexible (do not require a lot of interactions) with projects that bear significant time constraints,
While concentration of power is quite unavoidable in today’s complex world, we still can thrive in this world. Of course, those institutions that have the power and the wealth might not have the best intentions and we should not be too naive. But thanks to the newly available technology of the Fourth Revolution, there is an intrinsic counter-power to this situation.
anybody can publish to the world, for free (or close to it),
we can coordinate, re-group and communicate globally, for free (or close to it),
it is possible to start a business for a lot less money than before, and have instantaneously a global footprint,
we can travel anywhere for much cheaper than anytime before (compared to the average earning power).
The sheer size of those actors has also an interesting drawback, that can be increasingly observed: they don’t know what to do with their money. Share buy-backs are more and more widespread, a sure sign that those organizations don’t know what to invest their resources in. This is great news because it has probably never been easier to get money to fund new initiatives and ventures. And these resources will necessarily flow into much smaller setups, that are nimble enough to take advantage of the opportunities of today’s world.
One can also argue that these huge organizations are also struggling with controlling themselves and what they are actually doing.
Hence although this might be a problem on some aspects, I do not find the concentration of power we can observe to be a major impediment of taking initiative and developing new stuff, on the contrary.
In his highly recommended book ‘Power: Why Some People Have It—and Others Don’t‘, Jeffrey Pfeffer insists that “performance doesn’t guarantee success”. And this is true bith on a personal and on a professional level. It also works for companies – even great products may not sell!
Success requires something more than just great performance. It requires marketing skills and political savvy-ness to be able to navigate within the organization, the market, the institutional setup. Unfortunately this may also lead those that have those extra skills to be very successful without necessarily the performance attached to it.
As the theory of constraints also shows, local performance in an interlinked system with other entities that are not performing will not save the entire system. It is a waste (the myth of the hero does not exist)
Thus, the fact that pure performance is not the first deciding aspect is a reality that needs to be taken into account in all our endeavors. We also have to hone our skills of influencing, managing our bosses and clients, and in general, marketing our abilities. A good balance will create success.
I have discussed with a few would-be entrepreneurs lately, and have been involved in trying to recover a small company emptied by its founder’s greedy way of life – charged entirely to the company. Often the same mistake appears: the simple fact of creating a company appears as an open check book for a jetset-type lifestyle.
Real entrepreneurship involves effort, tears, long evenings, and actual sacrifices. Sacrifices in the field of time and family life. Financial sacrifices when it comes to achieve payroll and not paying oneself for the sake of cash flow and continuing business, because a client is late paying its dues.
Some people believe they are successful the day they create their company. It is not so: it is just the start of an uphill battle. Life before (e.g. as employee) was easy. You did not have to care about getting the salary check at the end of the month. Rewards were maybe minimal, but predictable.
To all of those with this erroneous of entrepreneurship: entrepreneurship is a great experience and a provider of growth, but it also comes with a lot of sacrifices and not an easy life. Be aware of it, and above all, make sure you maintain your overheads limited and a simple way of life to ensure sustainability of the business!
I like this quote “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we already have done“. – Longfellow.
I find it so true both on a professional and a personal level. Because we are often judged by others on our past track record, it is extremely difficult to explain that we have decided to change, and that we intend to change. And even more to explain what we feel capable of doing in the future if it looks vastly different from what we have done in the past.
As a personal note, the most salient occasion where I have observed this was when I was an expatriate. The home office was still judging me on the basis of what I was doing before departing a few years earlier, while of course by experience grew tremendously from the exposure (hence, a divorce to be expected with my employer).
When we face this issue, explanation is one way, but action is probably the most effective way to demonstrate commitment and that we take a new orientation seriously, based on what we believe we can achieve. It may involve some significant initiative-taking. But that’s worth it!
For those of you who follow my professional activities I want to share one important new initiative: CleanuC.
Created by a group of people frustrated by the lack of progress in nuclear decommissioning in France, CleanuC is a new concept that aims to improve significantly the effectiveness of nuclear decommissioning programs by taking them as an integrated project driven by a single responsible contractor.
For me it is the occasion to bring my expertise in managing and controlling large complex projects in an area of public interest.
It is a highly disruptive contractual and industrial approach in France where decommissioning programs have generally been contracted in small pieces.
CleanuC is born as a registered entity in July 2016 after maturing the concept during one year in a few Paris cafes (actually we have taken over a small company specialized in safety studies for decommissioning facilities). We have a partnership with a leading industrial partner.
I have taken a participation and will devote significant effort to set it up and develop it. Watch this space and cleanuc.com for news on this exciting project!
In my consulting work I often observe that clients expect us to provide “consulting methods”. Actually it looks like our credibility would stem from having proprietary, proven consulting methods to address a large number of cases. However I feel that in a number of cases this should not be the most important concern from the client. Experience and capability to handle specific situations should be.
Of course it is important to have methods and to put on paper the lessons learnt from various interventions in a structured manner, that can be enriched over time. On certain aspects it is a definite indicator of effectiveness in a consulting intervention.
On other aspects I see to many “consulting methods” just developed to give some comfort to the client whereas ad-hoc approaches based on general principles would be the best response to the issue at stake. Even worse, applying those “methods” automatically will lead in a direction which might not ultimately resolve the actual issue of the client.
I consider that while having a few methods is essential, the client should also consider the level of experience and of human connection that the consultant brings to the table (in addition to providing an independent cold eye view of the situation). This is often all that is required, not the extensive application of a complicated analytical method.
I thus become suspicious when I encounter consultants that have methods for about everything: formatted by their methods, they might not look into the real issues at stake.
The main reason according to him is the conservation of personal energy: “Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction”
I find this viewpoint very interesting and challenging. Establishing a system that works consistently and reliably allows to avoid focusing on challenging goals that might never be reached, and allows to focus on a daily routine that will bear fruit. Hence for 2016 I have decided to focus my effort more on setting up a system than setting goals. And you?
I find that it is a very interesting point of view that is worth considering. Mastering some technique is a way to elevate self-confidence, something that can found one’s identity, and become a real passion that defines oneself.
Passion would then not be just intrinsic, but develop as a response to external feedback.
Truth probably lies between those two opposites: we may be attracted by certain things irrespective of our experience or capabilities, and passion may develop around mastery of certain techniques as well. When both meet somehow, a miracle will occur. It is probably quite rare, and remarkable.
Seek your passion in what you master, and master what interests you. And find the sweet spot at the confluence. Do you see it?
According to Scott Adams, this advice would be an illusion, fostered by the fact that successful people assign their success to passion but it is not proven that it was the origin of their success: “It’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion”
Moreover, he believes that passionate people are less susceptible to be successful, because “passionate people are more likely to take big risks in the pursuit of unlikely goals, and so you would expect to see more failures and more huge successes among the passionate“.
Finally, he remarks that “If you ask a billionaire the secret of his success, he might say it is passion, because that sounds like a sexy answer that is suitably humble. But after a few drinks I think he’d say his success was a combination of desire, luck, hard work, determination, brains, and appetite for risk“.
This point of view is definitely contrarian in a world where ‘follow your passion’ is a basic advice (in particular since Steve Jobs “follow your heart” famous speech in 2005), and I think it should make us think a bit about this element of popular culture.
It is true that passion only can’t be the single recipe for success. It is also important to have skills that can be sold, and sometimes people are very happy having their passion develop outside a more common salaried job.
The next time you see ‘follow you passion’ advice, stop a few minutes to think if that is reasonable when it comes to what you are really passionate about!