Founders’ advice, regrets and encouragement: a letter to my former self

Angela Logan, January 23, 2020 5 min read

A founder’s journey is a unique one. It can be stressful, an emotional rollercoaster – but also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.

To get an insight into some of our founders’ journeys, and to help people who are at the start of their journey, we asked some founders from our Fintech 2.0 programme to write a letter to their younger self, to give advice and encouragement, to highlight things they wish they had known, things they wish they had done and a few things they wish they hadn’t.

Take a look at what Nick from Fractal Labs, Anna from Paybase and Freddy from Credit Kudos had to say.

Fractal Labs

Nick Heller, Co-Founder and CEO

Dear younger self,

Get some sleep. I know you are proud of your unbounded energy and ability to live without it, but sleep has many scientifically proven benefits and will help you succeed in the game of business.

As a runner, you’ll appreciate that entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. Overnight success stories are actually built over a decade. It will take courage, resilience, physical and emotional strength to succeed. Sleep will be your essential companion during the good times and the bad. It will help you maintain the focus and mental health required to go the distance.

Business building entails a series of important, time-sensitive decisions. Sleep improves our cognitive and decision-making abilities. Decisions will need to be made quickly – with a clear, objective and focused mind, oftentimes with limited data points, and relying primarily on your instincts. During sleep, your brain is busy processing your day, making connections between events, sensory input, feelings, and memories. Deep sleep is a very important time for your brain to make memories and links, and getting more quality sleep will help you remember and process things better.

6 year old Nick Heller - and now, CEO and Co-Founder of Fractal Labs

Nick Heller at 6 years old, and today as CEO and Co-Founder of Fractal Labs

People make successful businesses. Sleep is linked to emotional and social intelligence. Someone who does not get adequate sleep is more likely to have issues recognising other people’s emotions and expressions. You’ll need empathy to understand how to lead the people who will drive the business towards success.

Entrepreneurship is lonely. It’s a difficult road full of ups and downs. You must be mentally strong. There will be days of despair and days of elation.

There is an association between sleep and mental health. Lack of sleep can accentuate stress and lead to depression. Sleep impacts many of the chemicals in your body, including the production of serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate your mood and social behaviour, appetite and digestion, memory, and sexual desire and function.

Business building is relentless and so is parenthood. Not only will you and your partner be building two businesses but you’ll be blessed with identical twin boys. There will be no downtime during evenings, weekends or sick days. Sleep helps the body repair, regenerate, and recover. Research shows how better sleep quality can improve the immune system and help the body fight off infection. A good night’s sleep makes you feel energized and alert the next day.

Perhaps most importantly, sleep is when you dream, and your dream is to make a positive impact on the world. So if you really want to make a dent in the universe, go to bed and get some rest. There’s a long journey ahead. Good night!

Sincerely yours,

Nick

Paybase

Anna Tsyupko, CEO

Choose your team carefully

When it comes to hiring staff, make sure that your process is rigorous. Even though the obvious candidate choice might be someone with the perfect skillset, a culture fit is much more difficult to get right and, in the end, much more valuable for the business in the long term. It’s also important to learn to identify those who can complement your skills and manage recruitment along these lines. This will make delegation much easier to learn and use effectively.

Things always take longer than expected

And this is not an exaggeration. It’s therefore important to incorporate this into your planning for completing tasks and for achieving your longer-term business goals. Don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t go to plan. Often, they’ll be completely outside of the realms of your control. Delays, although frustrating, might also give you the opportunity to strengthen the task you’re working on and you should try to look at them as such.

Make mental health a priority

Learn to manage your mental state as early as possible. This is the single most important lesson to learn in your journey as a founder. The road can be long and turbulent and you may feel that a lot of pressure rests on your shoulders. But it’s of paramount importance not to try to weather it alone. Take the time to find ways to switch off – meditation, exercise, walks etc. – and experiment with what works for you.

Actively make time for life

It may sound obvious but it becomes easy to overlook. Life as a founder can be all-consuming so it’s important to sometimes prioritise your personal life over your work. A good work/life balance is key to success in business and it will be beneficial for you both mentally and professionally.

Credit Kudos

Freddy Kelly, Co-Founder and CEO

Dear younger Freddy,

I’m writing in hopes I can steer you toward the important questions and avoid you wasting time with the less important stuff. When starting a business it’s easy to gravitate toward “shiny objects” and neglect the fundamentals that will set you up for success.

Ideas are great, but they’re also cheap. Though it may not feel like it, the quicker you get to “no” the better. When validating a new product or business idea, try to quickly find the people who are willing to tell you why it’s not a good idea, rather than surrounding yourself with those who think they’re doing you a favour by encouraging you. Read “The Mom Test” by Rob Fitzpatrick and learn how to talk to customers. Pick up the phone instead of writing emails and get validation quickly. Fail fast and move to the next thing.

When you’ve got your winning product, be confident. There will always be 100 reasons for something to fail, you can’t forever get hung up on them. If it were easy, someone would have already done it. Learning from your time in the U.S., get good at focusing on the 100 reasons you SHOULD build your business as they are what will matter when speaking to clients and investors.

Say no more often than yes. The most important quality in a founder is focus. There will always be new opportunities that can take you off course. Retaining focus on a single objective is crucial and therefore learn to say no and learn early.

Use your instincts when hiring people. Early hires will make or break a business and finding people that truly believe in your vision will have a massive impact. Your first hire is 33% of the business, second 25%, and so on. Don’t be afraid to take your time on who you hire and go with your gut.

Ultimately, there’s no plan you can follow for building a business so don’t be discouraged if others disagree. Your job is to follow your vision and make the best decisions with the available information.

Old(er) Freddy

We have more Fintech founders letters of advice still to come, so watch this space.

 

Interested in joining our next cohort?

If you’re interested in being a part of our next fintech cohort, you can pre-register here.

 

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