The reality of a startup

The reality of a startup
The reality of a startup

The reality of a startup, there’s no way to sugar-coat it. It’s tough, really tough. Especially when you first start and especially if you start and it’s just you on your own.


When I was much younger I was one of those sporty kids at school that played everything going. You know the type – talked too much, likely had ADHD before it was a thing and would never sit still.


I joined the tennis club, the football team, hockey, table tennis, badminton, chemistry club… you name it! I’m still not sure how my parents coped dragging me around to all these different team events and activities. It was probably the only way they got a rest.


Fast forward a few years, and I’ve found that moving from a large business with an infrastructure to being on your own, is a bit like growing up in the world. When you are a kid you have all this support and structure around you. And then suddenly you find yourself in the real world and feel slightly dazed by it all.


Ah structure, allegedly the stifler of creativity, but trust me on this – structure gets stuff done. That’s why big businesses use it and it’s so effective.


Creating a startup feels a bit like going to university; you haven’t cooked before, you certainly don’t tidy your room on a regular basis, no one tells you off if you don’t go to class, you can get trashed whenever you want and sleep in… and no one’s going to shout at you for it.


But here’s the thing, if you don’t go to class, guess what, you are going to flunk your degree. And it’s your own fault.


Like going to university, when you first start your own business a lot of things will be new and you won’t have done them before. Like IT support, accountancy, facilities management, payroll and marketing? All pretty important things to get right when you are a business.


Plus, when you think you have it all nailed, you then get a little bit bigger (as I’ve just found) and the things you thought were great, start not working again, who would have thought?


The great thing about being a start-up these days is all of the support around you, if you choose to find it, it just takes a bit of time to find the right partners.


There is a great book I’d recommend reading called, ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ by Robert Kiyosaki, and one of the basic premises is to free up as much of your time as possible and to focus.


This has been one of my major challenges, learning when to invest in things and what to spend the businesses money on. I don’t think there is a magic wand which will reveal how to get this right, it seems a bit trial and error unless anyone has any tips for me?


But I wouldn’t change it, not for a second.


If you are thinking of making the jump, what’s stopping you?

To discuss further, you can email me on You can view more about James Cumming our change and business transformation specialist here

How to increase commercial awareness.

How to increase commercial awareness.
How to increase commercial awareness.

You will no doubt have noticed that more and more companies are advertising for commercial skills when hiring prospective new employees.


I can also tell you from personal experience, that lack of commercial awareness is one of the key reasons that good candidates are rejected at interview stage – “they were really nice, but just lacked the commercial edge we were looking for.”


So what exactly is commercial awareness and knowledge, and is it something that you can learn?


First of all, yes, anyone can learn commercial awareness and knowledge. It does, however, take hard work and dedication to become good at it. It should be noted that commercial knowledge isn’t the same as general knowledge i.e. what is Donald Trump’s foreign policy (does he even know himself!?)


Commercial knowledge refers to a sound understanding of what a business does, how it makes its money, the market in which it operates in and how you and your role can fit into all of this. Often this means considering things such as, how you can increase revenue or market share, customer service levels, improved productivity levels, a better and more efficient team environment, great levels of quality assurance, less waste – I think you get my drift here!


If you want to actively increase your commercial knowledge you can consider these top tips to help you get it right:

  • Firstly, you must understand what a business does and have a good understanding of its competitor environment
  • Do your research and look at their online presence (e.g. Glassdoor, LinkedIn groups, Twitter feed, Feefo etc) these can give indicators of customer service levels and employee satisfaction rates
  • Look out for important events, are there any future projects a company is about to begin working on? What have they done in the past?
  • Be aware of how economics can affect that business, for example, Brexit has caused a drop in the value of the pound and increased costs in the retail sector
  • Think about the challenges that a business could be facing and formulate ideas on how you can help solve these issues
  • If you’re at an interview, a great way to demonstrate your commercial knowledge is to have a couple of ready-made questions prepped and on hand


There is no quick fix here but by putting the effort in, potential employers will give you kudos for trying, even if you don’t get it 100% right! Good luck.

To discuss further, you can email me on

You can view more about James Cumming our change and business transformation specialist here