As I sit here on my flight from London to our Cape Town office. I can hear the voice of our Head of Marketing, Christine : “Ish, it would be great for you to write a blog and share some of your experiences”. However, I’m sat here thinking: do people really read them? I suppose a fair few do. I know I have on occasion. I have always believed that if you do anything, do it because it adds value; whether big or small. So naturally the first question in my head is – will what I say add any value? The thoughts go on: I’m not sure if anyone out there has ever felt the same.”
Well, for better or worse here goes – my first ever blog – I hope someone finds it useful! I thought I would kick off on a topic close to my heart: “embarking on an entrepreneurial journey.”
Corporate Life (pre-2014)
I started my working life as a cinema attendant before studying law and then making a complete switch to embark on a career in resourcing. I worked my way up, starting as a junior recruiter, and ending my last corporate role as part of the Senior Management team, managing several large client accounts for a leading RPO business. Life was good; I was blessed with a beautiful family, a successful career and the good fortune of working with some incredible people. However, I felt something was missing. Maybe it was the daily routine, I wasn’t being challenged or perhaps a simpler explanation: I yearned to maximise my time here and do something I can look back on, and be proud of, that was done on my terms and had a positive social impact.
Entrepreneurial Life: Finding Your Purpose
Having made a plan with my business partner Brad, (who I’ve had the great fortune of working with for over 15 yrs) we embarked on an adventure that was full of hope and promise.We were excited. We believed we would make a real difference, whilst delivering outstanding value to all those around us: our people, our clients, our local neighbourhoods and people less fortunate. Put simply, we wanted to “improve the lives of others through work” and this became our purpose as business.
We had a clear idea and vision and we implemented this with a few clients. Before we knew it we were trading!
Choosing Your Name
How do you go about choosing a name? And, why Aston Holmes? We wanted something that represented a strong, qualitative, consulting brand. Something that was also personal to us. It just so happened that Aston Martin was both mine and Brad’s favourite car brand, so Aston became part one. And, after having our first ‘board meeting’ at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel in Baker Street, we stumbled across part two of our name. Sherlock Holmes is a British icon who is methodical, intuitive, observant, meticulous, inquisitive and insightful. The way he solved his cases is the same way we would solve our clients’ problems. Aston Holmes was born!
Open Heart Surgery and The Early Days
The early days were off to a great start and I was beginning to wonder why more people weren’t embarking on the journey of entrepreneurialism. However, whilst we grew quickly and despite the years of corporate training and success, we made plenty of mistakes. This was different and something neither Brad nor I had experienced before. It got challenging. Cash got tight. We had invested a lot of personal money and taken minimal salaries. Sales just weren’t coming in as quickly as we had anticipated. We had grown rapidly and our cost base was high. To compound matters further, I was diagnosed with a serious heart condition in 2015. It came completely out of the blue and in seconds, my whole life flashed before me. I wasn’t even 40!. I was staring down the barrel of major open heart surgery to correct a faulty mitral valve I had been carrying since birth, whilst also in the early stages of building a start up.
I don’t add this to elicit any sympathy but merely to add context. I know I am one of the fortunate ones: born in a loving family, stable and diagnosed and treated early. It was an interesting time. I had to take considerable time off and leave Brad to run the business. The words “team” and “partner” had never held more meaning. I count myself lucky that I had Brad and a team of people who were happy to step in to take the reins and keep the dream alive. I have always believed that by surrounding yourself with great people and allowing them to shine will always make you collectively stronger.. I now had the proof… I can’t ever thank Brad enough for what he did, the beautiful part is, somewhere along the line our relationship moved towards being more like family than just business partners..
Hold Your Nerve
I was lucky. I made a full recovery, thanks to a great medical team, my wonderful wife, daughter, family and friends and whilst it took some time, and I still feel the effects from time to time, I was ok and I was back. The team had done a superb job of keeping the business trading and delivering to our clients. We still had big challenges ahead, but the words I kept hearing in my head were that we must ‘hold our nerve.’ If we could get through this, then surely we could get through anything.
We refocused, were more targeted with our hiring, we turned away from distractions, streamlined our messaging, believed in each other and worked hard. You just can’t get away from hard work, long hours and belief.
So today as I write this, our dream is still alive, we are stronger, wiser and more determined than ever. We are more secure financially, we have a great team around us, we are profitable and we are growing and if possible, more excited about the future..
My advice to all of you budding entrepreneurs out there: make a plan, surround yourself with great people and go for it. Live with no regrets and most importantly: “hold your nerve“.