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Image / Editorial

#IMAGEInspires: What’s It Really Like To Work In A Start-Up?

by Jennifer McShane
04th Nov 2017

Portrait of confident businesswoman with hands in pockets

We catch up with some of the nominees for Start-Up of the Year at this year’s IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards to talk the misconceptions and realities that come with getting your own business off the ground. On the one hand, it sounds glamorous; you are your own boss, calling the shots and taking steps ever-closer to success. You’ve taken that scary first leap, so surely the rest will follow naturally? This was something that I once (foolishly) said to a friend whose start-up is now thriving. It sounded something ludicrous  like, “It’s as if it just happened!” But of course, it didn’t ‘just happen.’  Not without dedication, hard work, sleepless nights, a few tears and (probably more than a few) well-deserved glasses of wine on a Friday night.

Below this year’s nominees spoke to IMAGE.ie about the expectation versus the reality of working and running a start-up and the misconceptions they come across while doing this:

“The biggest misconception is that you are working a few hours here and there and that it is very much a part-time ‘hobby.’ It is anything but, and is very much all-consuming especially at the start. Deciding to start my own company and label was the hardest part of the process and by that, I mean not allowing that dread and fear of failure and embarrassment overcoming you; allowing yourself to move forward with an idea you are hugely passionate about. Once I overcame the initial crippling fear of venturing out on my own, I found the more you talk about what you want to achieve and where you are trying to get to, the more people are willing to help. I received an amazing seamstresses number by talking to my jeweller when he was fixing my ring. People are more than willing to help point you in the right direction or at least try if you open up about what you are trying to achieve.”

Cairenn Foy, Designer and Brand Owner, Cairenn Foy Childrenswear

“Speaking from my own experience, it was best for me to just dive straight into it and not worry too much about anything else other than the client in front of me. I didn’t set out with a big grand vision, but as we have grown, I have become more ambitious about how we can better serve clients. I can’t think of misconceptions I had other than I didn’t imagine there was so much support and help out there. Now in our business, our primary new client is the start-up, so I get to speak to lots of entrepreneurs. These people have really researched what they are doing, and they don’t take their decision to start up on their own lightly. A misconception that is changing is that the business idea stays fixed from launch to success; the lean business model of iterating and pivoting as you learn more about your customer is helping start-ups see that its a process of learning, testing. This means you don’t often end up doing what you set out to do initially! The expectation is that you have the freedom to do whatever you want to do, as opposed to working as an employee of a company, where you do not have autonomy, and you have to answer to a boss. In fact, the reality is that the boss is now your client, and while you may have freedom, you are also ultimately responsible for everything, all the time.”

Larissa Feeney, CEO, accountantonline.ie

“A big misconception to me is that a good idea and introducing it at the right time and in the right place is enough to get you off to a successful start. It means you’re about halfway there, but then the hard work starts and doesn’t stop. Not in year one, or two or three! The expectation for me was that I;d create something new that might inspire people to feel better in themselves. The reality is that when you have peoples expectations to meet you want to go above and beyond for your clients all the time to supersede their expectations.  So you are constantly trying to improve their experience through your product and your team.”

Kathryn Thomas, Founder and Director, Pure Results Bootcamp

You see the Richard Branson and Jo Malones of this world enjoying a carefree life, but what is rarely shown is the graft and hard work that they put in for years to get to that stage where they can have that lifestyle.

“One of the most common misconceptions I found people have about start-ups is that establishing and running your own business is easy when in fact it’s the very opposite. From day one you face challenges, and that doesn’t stop as your business grows. If anything, it sometimes feels like the challenges get bigger as the company gets bigger. I think the misconception some people have stemmed from how certain media depicts entrepreneurs as being incredibly glamorous and having it all. You see the Richard Branson and Jo Malones of this world enjoying a carefree life, but what is rarely shown is the graft and hard work that they put in for years to get to that stage where they can have that lifestyle. I’m fortunate that my husband Owen and I run Jando together so while it can be challenging at times, I always have someone who’s there to share the good and the bad times. They say when you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life again, but we have found that the actual reality of running your own business is that you love what you do so much, that you never want to stop working. So although the expectation may be that you set your own hours and work when you like, when you’re passionate about something it can be hard to step away from it.”

Julie McLoughlin, Co-founder and Designer, Jando