whitefox has now been trading for seven years.
So what are the big questions we ask ourselves at this point?
Have we proved the concept yet?
Are we ready to scale up?
I’d say it probably took us five years to work out a business model that made sense for us and for our clients. And it has taken all that time for us to become an in-house team of eight, with one person based in the US. Operating in our own space within a work hub.
Where once there were two of us in a café in Shoreditch. When we were not working from home.
Looking back at that time as an evolving start-up, what advice would we pass on to anyone thinking of taking the leap into the unknown of running your own new business?
Here are seven insights for seven years spent at the coal face.
1. We are a business based on specialisms. But the people in our own business need to be generalists.
whitefox has always been about giving anyone the ability to access the most talented freelance publishing professionals. But anybody starting their own business like ours needs individuals within the team who can adapt their own area of expertise and interest – editorial, sales, production – into more general working knowledge of all the publishing processes. Everyone needs to know everything or to be able to perform any function.
2. Can you explain what the business is in one sentence?
We love innovation as much as the next growing creative business. But it helps to be able to define the need you are fulfilling or the problem you are solving so anyone can understand it. Succinctly. Rather than being focussed from the get-go on how much money you will make when you exit.
3. Even if you are small, culture matters as much as strategy
Execute a plan by all means and do it relentlessly. But understand the value of a collective mission and the old cliché of everyone singing from the same hymn sheet. It matters. Even one person not buying in to the way you choose to work will have a disproportionately negative impact.
4. You really can’t succeed without making some mistakes
Every year we have made progress by any of the metrics we choose to measure that by, it has been by learning from the mistakes we have made. Usually saying yes when we should have said no. And when I say we, what I really mean is me.
5. Don’t do it alone. Who complements your skill set?
I would never have started whitefox without my co-founder. And we would not be where we are today without a mix of skills driving the business. Natures that are impatient, absurdly competitive, overly emotional, thriving on gut instinct, obsessed by selling and marketing and with an unwavering belief and innate optimism benefit from being counterbalanced with practical integrity and patient, calm, dispassionate realism.
6. There is nothing but pure unadulterated value in mentors and input from the right Non-Execs.
I love being told what I want to hear as much as the next shallow human soul. But that will not help our business grow. Regular input and advice from people who care enough to be brutally honest can be the difference between long term transformational success and treading financial water.
7. Don’t wait for the right moment.
It doesn’t exist. That’s what The Lean Startup is about really, isn’t it? By understanding customer needs, by testing and iterating the product, the business journey can begin at any time. You just have to make it happen.
We like to think we have proved the concept at whitefox. And we believe we can scale up, even though we are based in Highbury in North London and not in Silicon Valley.
But then, when I’m not thinking about all of these sorts of tips and insights, sometimes I just sing very loudly and off key to myself, paraphrasing that famous Stephen Sondheim song from the show Follies.
We’re Still Here.