Jack Barmby is the founder and CEO of Gnatta. A Northern Stars alumni, Gnatta is an automated workflow product that works to connect the right customer to the right operator, with the right information, at the right time.
Here he writes a letter to his younger self. It reflects on what he’s learned on his journey as a tech company founder.
Look at you. Late 2014; 22 years old, just graduated from university, and walking through the door of the company you founded two years ago as the full-time CEO and leader of 32 staff. You feel ready to take on the world. You feel invincible.
Hold on to that feeling, sometimes it’s going to be the memory of walking through those office doors in the early days which gets you through.
Because I have to tell you, this is going to be one hell of a year.
You’re in an enviable position after just two years of trading; you’ve a small number of close clients who keep the lights on, food on the table, and a revenue stream to reinvest into the product. But, true to form, this isn’t enough for you. You want something bigger.
Fortunately, something bigger has come along. A PLC retailer interested in Gnatta. A huge opportunity. Transformational for the business. Potentially even life changing. Phrases like these get thrown around, but in this case, they just might be on to something. If you nail this, Gnatta could really start down the path to greatness.
You’re going to go your own way – you’ll never do anything else – but here in the spring of 2017 I’m going to tell you some things you’d do well to remember. Your life is about to change, don’t go into that without warning.
Complicated deals, tiring times
First, remember that day in 2012 when you won your first contract? The first time someone bought into your vision with their own money, at their own risk? Hold on to that memory. The feeling when you left that meeting knowing you had an idea people believed in, that you could leave a mark on something.
You’re about to spend a lot of time first closing the most complicated deal you’ve negotiated so far, followed by an extensive implementation period with a lot of travel. You’re going to be tired, you’re going to be away from home, you’re going to be less available to those closest to you. And it’s going to get you down at times.
Don’t forget though, you’re chasing a dream here. That dream is worth the times like these. I know better than anyone what you’re about to go through, but I also know how much it’s worth it.
Next, trust people. Gnatta is your baby, and it always will be. From conception through to its life now – three years on from where you are today – it’s still your obsession every waking moment. But you can’t do it all yourself.
You’re going to find times where people will do things differently to how you’d have done them. You’re going to find times where there are delays, where results aren’t what you want. Keep trusting those around you. You might be their leader, the one they look to to provide for their families, but Gnatta won’t survive alone unless you all succeed together.
This year in particular when you’re spending so much time away from the office, you’re going to need those people around you to keep things working. Do yourself a favour and try to remember this from the start. You’ve an incredible team around you, make the most of them.
Retain your soul
Finally, retain your soul. I know right now, after two years of combining studying for your degree with running the company, you’re excited to roll up your sleeves and give everything to make this year a success – and that’s an amazing thing. You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t give everything you have to Gnatta, but part of giving it everything is giving yourself time to recover when you need it.
Between the travel, the work, and the responsibility of leadership; you’re going to get very little time to yourself. When you get these hours (or even these minutes), make a promise to yourself now that you’ll take them. You know the hours you put in, the 20-hour days and the late-night strategy meetings, but you owe it to you and those around you to recharge occasionally.
Do some exercise, cook a real meal, switch your phone off and go for a walk. Once you’ve made it through this year, and your biggest contract to date is signed, sealed, and onboarded; Gnatta is going to be something special. Trust me, you want to be able to enjoy what comes next.
I don’t begrudge you the next 12 months, but I remember that feeling you’re going to get when it’s over and you see the roadmap unfurl in front of you; and the size of opportunity Gnatta has to make a difference. Cherish that feeling, it’s been well earned.
See you on the other side.