Lindsay Rogers, co-founder of creative content agency Chello, talks to My Business about what it’s like to be in business for the first year and deal with risk.
While high risk probably isn’t defined in the dictionary as ‘multinational clients working with a very green start-up’, it may as well be for us at Chello. It would probably also be synonymous with ‘out of your comfort zone’ and ‘one more glass of wine, please’.
Regardless of how high or low the risk, it’s safe to say that our size, or our ‘infancy’, hasn’t stopped us from giving it a red-hot go.
Shoes of Prey co-founder (and someone I admire) Jodie Fox often mentions to “do things before you’re ready”, which to me means to do things before that impending sense of risk or fear of failure has the opportunity to talk you out of it.
Taking risks in business, especially when it’s your own, is inevitable. It’s part of what you’re signing up for. But it’s not until you stop and reflect that you realise risk is a muscle that you work, and it gets stronger over time, through experience and getting back on your feet.
Here’s a bit of our story from the early days until today, and what I’ve learnt about this scary word 'risk':
1. You just have to give it a go
Our first risk was pre-launch: it was deciding to give it a go. Should we leave our well-paying jobs and run headfirst into the unknown? We jumped over that hurdle, decided that we had more to gain than we did to lose, decided to back ourselves and sprinted the next 100 metres, setting up the back-end systems ourselves and pulling in work.
From there, clients started to flow in and the ‘us v risk’ race seemed to leap in our favour.
2. Calculated risks are ideal, but do not always present themselves first
We raced ahead, madly working on projects and building up a client base.
The next hurdle was about three months in, and it came in the form of a financial investment. We had to decide whether we should invest the bulk of what we’d earned into new equipment or continue renting equipment.
We bit the bullet, took the risk and spent a huge portion of our modest income on gear so that we were investing in the future of the business. Phew, over that hurdle. Keep on running.
3. Align business risk management with the end goal: 'Will this leap help us get to where we need to go?'
After six months of my co-founder and I managing everything ourselves, the not-so-glamorous all-nighters, using our personal laptops, renting shared space from our contacts and walking all over the city to meetings, we decided to take a plunge and take on our first contractor.
“In an interesting way, the more we risk as a business, the more we enjoy it.”
Our first hire was a big risk for us. What if we couldn’t manage their work? What if they weren’t as committed to delivering quality output?
We were fortunate with our first hire and made sure it was a good cultural fit along with technical understanding. It helps you navigate the tough times when you have a like-minded approach to work.
4. Risk can make you feel a bit sick, but you’ll stay stagnant if you don’t get used to it
Our next risk came in the form of studio space. Everyone should know, Gen Y isn’t good at commitment, but at some stage we had to put a stake in the ground and find a place to call home.
As we were growing at a rapid rate, we took the plunge to lease a four-desk shared space, but quickly outgrew this and realised we needed six desks.
We increased this commitment to accommodate some further employees and at the time six desks seemed huge, like we were sitting in the open plains of the Sahara, wondering how we’d ever get to the stage of filling them.
5. Commitment is scary, but at some stage it has to be done
Shortly after committing to six desks (and our own fishbowl area), we hired our first full-time employee, along with our second, third, fourth and fifth, leaving us with a team of seven in a six-desk room.
And when I say room, I mean we were suddenly trapped in a glass cage with too many people, too much body heat and too many computer cables being knocked out during the rush hour at lunch.
6. Take advice from people who have the experience, but let your gut make the final call
After careful deliberation and looking at our trajectory, we signed our first lease on a space and installed 18 desks, not just for our own growth, but to accommodate like-minded creatives looking for a place to start out.
People were so generous to us when we started, so it’s our way of giving back and fostering great minds in their early business days, particularly those that don’t want to take on the risk of leasing.
In our (limited) experience, start-ups are full of risk. Some have huge overheads, others have outsourcing commitments; there’s the sales pipeline, the forecasts, leases, contracts, legals and people management.
It’s never-ending, but in our experience, sure you may lose some, but there’s way more to gain.
Lindsay Rogers is the business director and co-founder of Chello, a creative content agency specialising in video.