The Entrepreneur ‘Crazy’

29 Oct 2018
A closeup of a black and white floral wallpaper effect hand drawn using a black sharpie.

I’m in the middle of wallpapering my garden office. I’ve been ‘wallpapering’ since the end of August. “Big deal” I hear you say, “what makes that a blogpost?” It’s a blogpost because this is no ordinary wall. And this is no ordinary wallpaper. Let me explain.

My garden office was in much need of TLC. It had become a place of neglect and ill feeling, a place I didn’t want to spend any time in. It was full of reminders of a failed business and that was painful. I’ve consumed enough entrepreneurial content over the past few years to not let that failure beat me. It’s been a valuable learning curve, one I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to experience and it’s time to move on. My summer weekends were spent clearing out the clutter, stripping the space back to its bare walls. It felt good, it was cathartic.

I have a busy six months ahead with my tech startup. I am in its third year and I’m working out how to scale and de-risk the project. Financial commitments necessitate a full time job so that work has to be carried out at home. It’s going to mean long hours and late nights. I need a space I want to be in, where I can concentrate and create. This renovation project is special. I want it to be just right.

I had this notion that I wanted a huge floral black and white print on the main back wall, mainly inspired by the floral pattern that’s become part of my personal brand here on this website. I searched in vain for this wallpaper. I couldn’t find anything that anywhere near this vision I had in my head. So I decided to make it myself. Or rather draw it to be precise. I had a rough idea of how I could do this. It was during one of our retro meetings at work (where we review the past week’s workload, what went well, what didn’t…) holding a sharpie pen and post-it note in my hand that I had my a-ha! moment. I could draw this with a sharpie! It turns out this is actually a ‘thing’, the internet is littered with images of sharpie wall art. Great. That was my idea validated.

The original small template on a window and larger template up on the wall

So how to go about this? I printed out the floral pattern I use on my website and stuck it up on the wall. It was too small, this would simply take forever. I tried again, this time tiling it across 12 sheets of A4 instead of 4. That worked. How to transfer the pattern onto the wall? I remembered tracing at school and scribbling with pencil on the reverse. I started that way but soon realised this was going to be messy and meant me drawing over the same pattern three times just to cover one area. That was neither efficient nor scaleable. Version three involved two pack of self carbonating paper. Perfect. I could transfer the pattern onto the wall and then make it permanent with a sharpie. I’d cut my workload by a third. It’s not perfect, there’s some tweaking involved to line up the repeat of each section but it’s good enough.

As you can imagine despite the workload saving, this is still going to take some time, after all I only have weekends free to work on this project. I’m making the most of that time binge listening to podcasts while I work. My current listening material is the Gimlet Media ‘StartUp‘ series. There I was, drawing and listening when it hit me. One discussion was delving into what a VC looks for in a founder, what common quality is there amongst those founders who’ve succeeded? The reply was ‘it takes a certain kind of crazy’.

I’ve tried to scan back through the podcasts to find the full quote but I listened to so many over the weekend, I can’t! But I did however manage to backtrack to this, a quote from Chris Sacca talking about the “ambition and drive and hustle and single mindedness and obsession”. Of all the founders he had in his portfolio, not one was what he’d consider normal in any way, there was something very different about all of them. So different how?

All of them have seen a problem that most people probably didn’t notice or took for granted. And all of them had the confidence to take the harder path, to shoo all the easy stuff they could have had otherwise and take the hard way to fixing it.

Statistics say that as a startup you’ll fail. He considered that it took a different kind of person to be willing to walk away from a salary, without any real savings, to undertake a journey that will probably land them on their arse (his words, not mine). I can’t take such a risk because as an older founder I have responsibilities to my kids, I can’t take that gamble. But that said, I’m prepared to work double time to get started.

This wall is hard work. There are times when my wrist is screaming at me, when I make a mistake, or the office is just too cold, times when it would be much easier to give up and go grab a paint tin and brush. My family think I’m mad. My friends think I’m mad. But I’m not giving up. I am wilful enough to see this through. As I look at my wall I realise that this wall is my startup journey in black and white. I smile as I realise I am that kind of weird crazy. And I like it.