We are now in month 5 of what has a been a journey full of ups and downs, with each day seeming to last a month, so I thought it was about time I explained why I quit my job to start my own company. Maybe it’s to remind myself of my own justifications or perhaps just to give some insight to others in a similar position.

Who am I?

Where do I begin? I’m James, a chartered accountant.…….

Well if you’re still reading that’s great news, it’s almost always a conversation killer.

Since leaving the accountancy world on the very day I qualified, I’ve spent most of my time working within Sport. Firstly in retail at Decathlon, the world’s largest sports retailer, and more recently I spent 4 years working at Benchmark a group of purpose driven companies operating in various sectors within the sport industry. Benchmark covers anything from talent management, events, a social change consultancy and more recently Esports.

There is never a good time to start a business

With two children under 3, you might ask, as most people did, whether the timing was quite right as to why I quit my job to start my own company. With both kids now in childcare, we are currently enjoying the fact that our monthly fees are more than our mortgage, but there is never a good time. There will always be a reason not to do it. There will be many people along the way telling you all about the challenges you’ll face. Why it’ll be hard to get clients. Why would people buy from your company? The reality is that most people stop at this point.

Ultimately you need to take people’s advice with a pinch of salt, and in some cases you might want to take the lid off the shaker and empty it down your throat. It’s not easy to overcome all the knockdowns. It’s hard to pick yourself up. I clearly remember times where I needed a crane to get back up onto my feet.

Being entrepreneurial means you need to have a certain amount of blind faith. You need to get up onto that top diving board and take the plunge, otherwise all you’ve got is an idea. For years I’d been standing on that diving board with all my ideas but never been ready to take the risk and step off. But the time finally came when I managed to get past all that, I ploughed through, pushed on and so I did it. I took the plunge.

Great timing! Lea & Kitty add another level of complexity to starting a business.

Benchmark – the development stage

The real catalyst that enabled me to take the plunge was what I learned during my time as Finance Director of Benchmark.

When I sat down in my interview with Nick Keller the CEO and founder I said, “if you want an accountant, please don’t hire me!” I told him that whilst of course I would ensure the finance function ran smoothly, my main interest was in growing his business and really getting stuck in and making a difference. That’s what I’m passionate about. Working with businesses to make a clear and tangible impact, and so I set about doing that in any which way I could.

When I joined Benchmark, they had around 20 staff and most had been there for quite some time. I arrived like a bit of a bull in a china shop asking endless questions as to why things were being done the way they were. For the first 6 months all the managing directors within the group probably wondered who does this guy think he is coming in and challenging everything. I rocked the boat. It wasn’t for the sake of it. It’s because I cared and had the benefit of a fresh perspective and new ideas to provide.

After a while and as the results of the changes we made started to become apparent, people started to understand why I had challenged them. We more than doubled the size of the team, we opened an office in the US and we increased profitability substantially. This might sound like it was all down to me. It wasn’t. Some fresh perspective and challenge might have been the catalyst but the changes we made allowed the Managing Directors and their respective teams to really focus, become accountable and grow their businesses as if they were their own.

So why leave?

Benchmark has a very exciting journey ahead. They have all the right ingredients to take the business on to the next level. They are such an amazing group of hardworking and talented people and if I’m honest, that’s what I miss the most. So why leave?! Why quit my job to start my own company?

Just another day in the office with Team Benchmark

Personally, 4 years in any business is a long time and I was at risk of plateauing. I achieved so much and felt like it was time for a change.

I’ve always wanted to have my own business. Even as a young teenager, I started selling portable DVD players and TV’s on eBay with a school friend. I’ve had endless idea’s, almost all bad, but finally I found an idea that I felt was achievable and more importantly one that I could execute. An idea is nothing if you can’t execute.

I gave myself a year. I worked out both how much the business needed and how much we needed as a family to live for a year assuming I didn’t earn for a while. My view is that worst case I would have given myself a mini MBA.

SynergyMode

So here it is, here’s why I quit my job to start my own company.

As I mentioned during my time at Benchmark my passion was less around being a traditional finance guy and more around understanding what makes a company tick and helping business grow from a strategic and operational standpoint. I wanted to take that passion and channel it into a business.

I recognised the value of having experienced external advice. Someone to challenge the company to ensure it keeps on track with its mission and aims. Someone to keep the business in check and provide objectivity. A sounding board.

I started out with the belief that every company, whether they can afford it or not, would benefit from having an experienced external advisor.

The Traditional Model of Non-Execs

When I looked at the current model of a non-executive director, I saw so many flaws. It’s so hit and miss. People get to a point in their careers where they just decide to be one. They add it to their LinkedIn profiles and go out on the hunt for work. When they finally get a client, they often turn up to board meetings without having read the papers. They’ve been known to make suggestions that might have been relevant 6 months ago as they are so out of touch with the business. You also might not even hear from them in between meetings.

Clients often look out for illustrious careers and ‘celebrity’ profiles but unfortunately, they don’t always turn out to be great advisors. Especially the ones with egos.

Now that’s not to say this applies to all non-execs as there are some fantastic ones that care deeply about their clients but unfortunately many clients have been ‘burnt’ by bad experiences. There is no standard bar of performance and this is normally because the role itself is ambiguous in its desired outcomes.

The other key element is the isolation. Even if you find the best possible non-exec, they are still only one person, one brain, one set of experiences and one set of connections. Given the endless means of communication and methods of collaboration I set out to tackle what is a relatively archaic approach.

Why we’re different

All our Board advisors collaborate by sharing their advice, knowledge and connections so that when a client has one of our advisors, they effectively have the power of all of them.

I spent my first two and a half months sourcing my advisors, vetting them, onboarding them and ultimately getting them to believe in what I’m trying to achieve.

You could say it was a little daunting to interview such well respected people given the place they are at in the career vs my own. However, this was one of the best filters. Potential candidate’s that felt they had earned the right not to be vetted were instantly dropped from the process. No matter how high profile they might have been. A big ego doesn’t translate into being a good advisor. One of the most important qualities an advisor can have is the ability to listen and you could sense in these cases it was all about them.

The result of that intense vetting process is that I now have a pool of around 20 incredibly talented Board Advisors. Brilliant in their own right but together and working in collaboration they transition into a powerful force. A force that can have a significant impact to businesses in many ways.

Stakeholders

Recently I took them all out for dinner and asked them to look around the room. I told them “This is it; this is the consultancy, you are all stakeholders.” I reiterated the fact that they had not joined a non-exec jobs board where you pay for the privilege of being one of forty thousand. I don’t find that very genuine for either a company or an advisor. One by one they went around the room introducing themselves and it really brought it all to life, both for me but also for them. The diversity of skills, profession and industry experience in the room was clear for all to see. It was a great moment and it really gave me a boost of encouragement and belief that my risky decision to start my own company was starting to pay off.

SynergyMode Board Advisor Welcome Dinner

Summary

The life of a solo entrepreneur is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Each and every day has its fair share of ups and downs and sometimes makes me wonder why I quit my job to start my own company. It’s how you navigate those and push on that will define where your business ends up. If I’m honest one of the key reasons I’ve been able to progress in line with my expectations is due to the ability to reach out to my own advisor, Ed on a regular basis. Discussing decisions with Ed, even if we don’t agree, allows me to push on knowing that some thought has been put into the decision taken.

So if you have an urge to take the plunge. Here are a few tips:

  • Give yourself a reasonable time limit and stick to it. Don’t continue to flog a dead horse.
  • Don’t listen to all the naysayers and people putting you down. If there is anything valuable in what they say take what you can and then move on. It’s almost always the non-entrepreneurs that come up with the negatives because they lack the blind faith needed.
  • Focus Focus Focus on what you’re trying to achieve and don’t deviate chasing quick wins

The great thing about having a team of 20 Board Advisors who all care about the future of the business means we are not short of any advice! We are currently shaping up some exciting products and services that will be available to view on our website shortly.