Lessons Learned Running 3 Tech Startups

Towards the end of 2013, I left the world of investment banking to pursue the running of my own businesses, namely Retroviral together with Mike Sharman, SA Cardiosynthetics and Webfluential.

With just four months into these businesses, I was fortunate enough to experience some rather interesting insights and observations.

I wanted to share these for those that are running their own businesses, and those considering leaving the security of a paycheck to follow their dream.

The most rewarding and challenging part in the year so far has to be the investment in human beings.

Invest in the right people

Not everyone is passionate about their work, but if you can find people that eat, sleep and talk about their passion made work with that twinkle in their eye, then you’ve got a possibility of seeing them thrive.

I’ve also realized that a lot of people don’t appreciate their own potential, and by you trusting them and believing in them to do something well, they tend to surprise both you and themselves in the end.

The people you hire don’t think the same way you do, and that’s great

Mike and I work so well together because we think in polar opposites. We cover for each other’s blind spots and can generate something remarkable by discussing it from differing points of view.

I’ve been attracted to like-minded people in my relationships and friendships in the past, but the richest connections have been with people totally different to me.

Hiring people with the same values and culture as you makes you worry less

Growing a business has given me grey hair this year, literally, in trying to cover off the cracks and segregation of tasks as new team members join.

We’ve always looked for “A Team” players, but the recipe clicked today when I read AirBNB’s letter to their staff about keeping the culture. The better aligned to a culture your team is, the more likely they are to work well together, and not require you to corporatize through processes and procedures.

You get more done when you delegate and work with a team to deliver something together

I find that the time between 8 and 5 flies by – meetings, guidance and conversations fill the day at the expense of actual deliverables.

To do more, I have to brief well, delegate to them, and trust and believe in them to produce their best.

Personal insights applicable to me, but also to others that I’ve seen working in our high energy offices off Grayston Drive in Sandton (Johannesburg) are:

1. Your best insights don’t happen when you’re at work

In the shower, at a client, sitting on a bicycle, swimming, or walking outside of the office are when insights and ideas happen for me. The more I’m behind my screen, the less valuable commercial and innovative thinking I do.

2. Success, or failure, happens as a process

Before attempting my first IronMan event earlier in April (2014), I read a lot of articles about DNFs (Did Not Finish).

Every athlete’s account was the same – their failure to finish was not as a result of a single event, but a sequence of events that they chose to let happen. They went out too hard on the swim, drank too little on the bike, didn’t eat enough solids, and fell apart on the run.

One of my least favourite moments this year was sitting in a client’s office being told how horrible our service to them had been, and were fired from the job. In hindsight, it happened as a sequence of small issues and oversights that turned into a catastrophe.

Similarly, success doesn’t happen in a short period of time – it’s through a collection of little wins and positive steps forward to a final result.

3. Very few people are truly interested in your ultimate success

The story behind David Wheatley and my journey together in the patenting, production, and now commercialisation of a heart valve replacement is quite remarkable.

I tend to discount this because I’ve been doing it for eight years, but it’s fun to tell the story to someone that hasn’t heard it before, and their reaction is normally the same – quite impressed, a little bit jealous, but always very intrigued. I wont call it a “fame” factor because it’s not that, but there’s a certain pedestal that you get put on and it’s a very awkward place to live.

I’ve found that people like to gravitate towards the light of something unique – not necessarily because they just want to be your friend, but by somehow associating themselves with you, they somehow share in the warmth of that light. It’s weird, and I haven’t yet been able to put my finger on the rationale behind it,

but your own success appears to be quite a lonely road to walk. The people that are on that journey, though, are the ones that count most.

I’ll hopefully have a few more things to share with you in the months to come. Right now, I’m going for a walk.

Murray Legg

About Murray Legg

Experience across investment banking, biomedical engineering, product design, digital communications, educational business and corporate finance focusing on China, India and the Middle East.