The power of setbacks

I am secretly incredibly lazy.

Whilst working as a waiter during my adolescence, one Head Chef described me as “Doing the minimum account required to get by.

He was bang on. Alas it’s too little stress that plagues my life rather than too much.

Despite this fact the last year was a rather productive one.

I went from the monotonous routine of a 9-5 to quitting my job, launching two companies (down to one at time of writing), blogging daily and running a public speaking group.

Why the change of pace?

Setbacks. Thank god for setbacks.

What setbacks have I had? Less than most. And almost all were caused by my own stupidity.

I’ve failed university exams. Drunk myself into oblivion. Lost large chunks of money gambling. You get the idea…

Whist these were and still are embarrassing, and tough to swallow, I’m grateful for these moments. As they alone have helped me gain real control of my life for the first time in 25 years.

If I had more carefully toed the line, my motivation would have stayed close enough to zero for the change of pace to have never arisen. But I didn’t. Instead I tripped over the line frequently..

But with each of these trips I gained the clarity and energy needed to change my course.

Whilst I haven’t remotely achieved any “Success” by all objective measures, I do finally feel in the driving seat. So cheers to the setbacks.

Over communicate

Pick up the phone. It’s often a superpower

Just about every problem in business (and life?), as far as I can see, either comes from or is worsened by a lack of communication.

But it’s easy to get wrong!

Any issues I’ve had in my short tenure as a founder have been a result of me not picking up the phone frequently enough.

It’s amazing what a quick, open conversation can do.

Simple.

Adjusting

I’m writing this whilst listening to a racket.

The culprit is a building site across the street from my third floor flat.

Typically they started at exactly the same time I quit my job and began working from home.

What are the chances?

I remember sitting at in my home office (living room) on day one shocked at the commotion coming from across the road.

Drilling. Shouting. The clang of metal. It was overwhelming.

“How on earth is this going to work?” I pondered.

But then a funny thing happened.

I got used to it.

The longer this scenario played out, the more the sounds faded into the background.

Today it’s virtually become my background music. I’m now worried how I’ll cope when it’s over!

But I will cope. And that’s just it. We adjust. It’s the same with everything in life. We can often feel there’s no chance we can cope with a new exercise regime or a new city even but we are remarkably adaptable creatures.

Pushing through the initial discomfort is often all that’s required.

Keep Launching

You’ve launched.

No one noticed.

Fantastic! You have one big advantage here:

No one noticed.

So you can launch again. And again. And again. And bit by bit people will start to notice.

This is what the founders of Airbnb did. They’d go to one event, “launch”, and then “launch” again at the next one.

Genius.

The Cabin Token

In January 2020 NBA player Spencer Dinwiddie “tokenised” his contract on the Ethereum blockchain– a throw back to the Bowie Bond.

Inspired by this, I propose: The Cabin Token.

Mechanics

One £35k cabin.

20 tokens issued at £1.75k each.

25% of revenue generated by the cabin (or an aggregated pool of cabins) is paid out to token holders on a monthly basis.

Token Lifetime is until 3x the initial investment is returned (£5.25k per token).

Projected Returns

Assuming 60% occupancy and £167 rev per night (ex VAT) we have a £3,047 monthly revenue.

Which gives £762 to be paid out to token holders.

Therefore, each token holder would receive:

£38.09 per month or £457.16 per year.

A 26% ROI.

Token lifetime under these conditions: 11.48 years.

— —

The advantage of using tokens?

Ease of trade.

This not only gives the investor flexibility but it also allows the cabin company to buy back tokens at each dip in the market. Lovely.

Bottomless

Here’s a glimpse into the future- Bottomless.

The US startup currently supplies coffee.

The twist?

There’s no need to order more.

They’ll send the next bag when your current bag is running low.

They do this by providing a weighing scale to sit your coffee bag on. When the bag goes below a certain weight they know it’s time to order more.

Simple.

Yet the potential is huge.

Much like Amazon started with books, Bottomless are starting with coffee but have lofty ambitions.

It won’t be long before every corner of our house has a sensor, quietly collecting data. Things are about to get a whole lot smart.

Where this gets really interesting is at the intersection with biotech.

What if a supplement company could monitor your blood levels.

Not getting enough iron? Your next batch of supplements will help with that.

This barely scratches the surface.

Somewhere on the US West Coast Elon Musk’s Neuralink team are quietly working away at their brain implants.

The future is coming.

Andrew Carnegie & Parkinson’s Law

Andrew Carnegie, was at one stage the richest man in the world.

His workday? Three hours in the morning.

An acquaintance once boosted to Carnegie about how he started work at 7am. Carnegie responded: “You must be a lazy man indeed if it takes you 10 hours to do a days work”

I see a lot of wisdom in this.

It brings to mind Parkinson’s Law. Proposed by British Author C. Northcote Parkinson: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

We are no doubt all guilty of this phenomenon.

I’m sure much of Carnegie’s incredible success was in part down to being in the right place at the right time. However I suspect he understood Parkinson’s Law far better than most.

We can work, and work, and work, and measure ourselves by the hours clocked. But how much of this actually moves the needle?

I’ll bet it’s not as much as we think.

Newton’s First Law

Newton’s First Law states that an object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force.

Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

So what?

Well this is an incredibly useful lesson for life.

So often we don’t start something for a fear of what will happen after we get started.

We’re crippled by the uncertainty.

“How will we keep it going?”

As Newton wisely taught us- once we’re in motion, we will tend to stay in motion.

Getting started is the challenge! Once we’re up and running we can usually figure out how to keep going.

I’ve found this rings true in my own life:

Last October I quit my job to start a company. I had money to last me about two months.

Rash? Certainly.

But, perhaps naively, I had a feeling it would figure itself out.

As if by magic the solution appeared…

I was chatting to a friend, my now business partner- Ben, about the new business. He not only decided to come aboard and join me but also to pay me a share of his salary (he was still working at the time) whilst we figured it out.

Admittedly I was lucky to have extremely low overhead at the time, and others may not have this luxury.

But the point is that by stepping into the uncertainty we often stumble upon the very solution that we could not figure out from the sidelines.

The idea in this post was borrowed from the wonderful “Think like a Rocket Scientist” by Ozan Varol.

25 year old, white male

I’m a 25 year old white male. My co-founder is a 26 year old white male.

Since launching Unplugged I’ve meet 3 or 4 people whom I’ve thought would be a great hire when the time comes. What do they happen to have in common? You guessed it mid-twenties white males.

What’s going on here?

There are a number of factors that cause this phenomenon. Environment does play a part- it’s not surprising that a disproportional number of our acquaintances are from a similar demographic.

Fundamental, however, this is a case of implicit (or unconscious bias). We unconsciously judge others based on their demographic. We tend to have an easier time rating someone similar to us because it is easier for us to imagine their strengths.

This is a big problem!

Not just ethically (and to tick the diversity and inclusion box), but also because diversity is good business.

So much of business is making decisions in the face of massive uncertainty and our ability to do this is hugely boosted by different perspectives.

By surrounding ourselves with people who have both different experiences and a different view of the world, and creating a safe space for people to voice those perspective, we gain a much richer insight in to the problem at hand.

We have a tricky road ahead. The struggle to not fill our office with clones of ourselves is real. I hope this article is the start of the journey towards completing that goal.

Am I going to die from this?

I got rattled yesterday.

Our final quote for our first cabin’s off-grid energy system came through- £2k more than expected.

Ouch.

This sent my mind racing.

First, I was frustrated with supplier who sent the quote- why wasn’t this clear earlier?

Next I was fretting about the implications.

Finally my thoughts turned to all the other outstanding tasks. A sense of overwhelm followed.

After an hour of fairly unproductive typing I dragged myself away from my laptop, grabbed a book, my journal and went for a stroll.

A quick stroll to the local path and I sat down to write:

“I’m a little rattled this afternoon!”
“How come?”
“Basically the solar bill came back higher than expected.”
“Ok… Are you likely to die from this?”
“Haha no…”
“Then there’s nothing to worry about! So it comes in expensive… Amor Fati! Figure it out with the supplier”.
“The learning: I should have got to the bottom of this earlier… Now I know for next time!”

I hadn’t planned to write this so I was pleasantly surprised at how it turned out.

Writing has an amazing power to help you gain an objective lens through which our worries seem petty and irrelevant.

Not only did I diffuse the worry but I also realised where my mistake had been and internalised this lesson for next time.

On the walk back to my flat I mused that, although I’m not in much danger of dying from this, I will die someday!

Wouldn’t it be a shame to waste the time I have left worrying.