After bootstrapping the business for almost 20 months, and having to suffer as a consequence of doing so, we finally raised investment in August 2015. We raised $700K principally from a German VC, but we also brought onboard the owners of a Bulgarian VC and the Former Founder of Fotolia to make up the full amount. By having all these guys in the team, we had a very strong board to help us take the business forward.
Just getting to this stage was a huge success, especially being in the UK and in the North where most people struggle to raise more than angel investment, we suddenly had a top VC onboard. However, once we raised the money, between September and December 2015, we made a lot of mistakes.
Due to bootstrapping for so long, the idea of making mistakes seemed crazy to us, but for some reason, as soon as we raised, mistakes started to appear as we struggled to get to grips with how you should act as a business who has just received that amount of investment. It was all very new to the 3 owners and we had to go by what articles we had read and other peoples experience, which in the North of the UK, is limited.
Mistakes included, hiring badly, changing our vision for the business, changing the company structure to accommodate hiring new personnel and trying to be bigger than we were by going after every single job and industry that we could. We even throw money at things like Google AdWords thinking that was a good use of money, when in actual fact, if its not done correctly and backed up with good content and a site to match, you are just throwing money away.
The biggest mistake for us was hiring badly. This has been an area for us that we have struggled to get right, hoping to mould people into a position that suits us, when actually, attitude, behaviour and experience are the most important. They need to have experience in start-ups and the area you are hiring them for first and foremost. However, after that, if they have the right attitude and work behaviour, you can work with them because you can trust them towards the same company vision. You will never get anyone to share the same motivation and belief as yourself though, but that doesn’t mean there are not hidden gems out there.
All of these mistakes were very frustrating looking back and still are but the one thing is you learn from them and you continue to learn. In the months between September and December and for 2016, I have learnt more from mistakes than I have done in all my years of working in business. I used to really fear mistakes and thought it would ruin the business and all the years of hard work, but actually without making mistakes, you cannot grow the business and yourself.
For me and the rest of the guys at Airstoc, making a mistake is normal as long as you record the results, can justify why you did it and you learn from it so next time you try something different. If there are no mistakes being made, then is it very likely you are not pushing the boundaries and will never realise where you can take the business.
Please see my separate article on raising investment, however, as a summary, it is extremely difficult and demoralising. To be successful, you have to believe in your idea and continue to push through even when you get knocked back. However, making mistakes is normal and the one bit of advice I can offer is do not be afraid to make a mistake. If your business fails because of one mistake then you did not have a strong enough business in the first instance.