My entrepreneurial journey started somewhat curiously. After a decade of building front office systems for big banks and strategy consulting at the likes of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, I made the bold decision of launching my own business – Studio Graphene – in the UK’s largest startup hub – Shoreditch, London.
I am pleased to say that since the launch in 2014, Studio Graphene has overcome many of the challenges faced by young businesses and achieved fantastic scale-up success. We have also gone global – Studio Graphene has a dedicated team of almost 50 employees in three different countries (the UK, Switzerland and India).
However, it would be misleading to suggest that launching a startup is easy. The fact of the matter is that 90% of startups fail. This is a confronting statistic, but I fundamentally believe it shouldn’t deter people from pursuing their entrepreneurial goals. After all, here at Studio Graphene we are celebrating our fifth birthday this month.
The past five years have certainly taught me a lot. For this reason, I want to impart some of the practical things I’ve learnt to ambitious entrepreneurs seeking to launch a startup, or those currently in the formative stages of their business.
Overcoming the obstacles
The first obstacle presented itself before I even launched Studio Graphene: a fear of failure. This should be a familiar feeling to everyone who has, or has considered, launching their own business.
Fear stems from different places for different people. Some might be wary of sticking their neck out and not wanting people to think of them as a failure, while for others the fears are more tangible – the risk of not getting enough customers, not having a revenue stream, or simply not having the finances in place to cover your basic business overheads.
Although challenging, I overcame many of these fears by accepting the simple fact that there is no reward without risk. In the first two years of launch, I didn’t draw a salary. This was not something I had originally planned, and it presented a huge learning curve for me. There were times when I had to borrow or somehow find the money to cover basic costs. But what kept me grounded was the belief that through hard work and perseverance, taking a chance and making the investment would eventually pay off. Looking back now, I can confidently say it has.
In the early days, not getting customers was also a challenge. With little to no credentials to our name, it was difficult to convince people to give us a chance. But by dedicating our full efforts to delivering projects we were proud of at discounted rates, we were quickly able to build up a portfolio of quality products that showcased our experience and high standard of work. Perseverance, patience, belief and sacrifice were elements that were all in play here, and it was only be using these to guide my actions as startup founder that I was able to effectively over these challenges.
Building the dream team
The first lesson that I learned with hiring was that CVs don’t matter that much. In fact, over the years, people’s skills have proven much more important than the technical knowledge. I quickly came to learn that you can train someone up for a skill, but cultural attitude is much more important in the grand scheme of things.
In a startup, the first few people you onboard to help you grow the business really set the scene for what your culture is going to be like, so it’s really important to give careful consideration to who you want to be part of your team. For me personally, empathy was a really important trait that I looked for in a candidate. That, and honesty – I was determined to create a transparent culture, where the team never felt like they had to hide things when things were bad. To this end, we’ve managed to build a tight-knit and supportive team that has been an integral to Studio Graphene’s success.
What’s next for Studio Graphene?
Our goal over the next five years is to become even better at building new digital products and services from the ground up. We want to bring more ideas to life, and in the process leverage technology to help make the world a better place. This mindset was at the heart of our some of our recent tech for good projects, whereby we built apps for free for a not-for profit cause (as part of our annual Build My App competition).
While all of our projects have a special place in our hearts, the process of working on these kinds of projects has been the most rewarding experience. Going forward, we definitely plan to be doing more in this sphere. More generally, we want to learn from every product and service we built to make the next one even better. For this reason, I can happily say the future looks bright for Studio Graphene, and I look forward to helping more startups and young entrepreneurs turn their ideas into functioning apps and products.
Ritam Gandhi, is the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene – a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed over 50 projects since first being started in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.