How to recover from start-up failure: 10 tips

It was the summer of 2013, I had just closed my tech start-up and was contemplating what to do next. I decided to attend the G8 Innovation summit, a day of inspiring talks and networking. First to the stage for an eagerly-awaited talk was Sir Richard Branson...

At the end of the conversation there was just one opportunity to ask Richard a question, which I seized. I was interested to know what he felt the biggest barrier to innovation was in the UK. Part of his response was that he didn’t feel there really was a barrier to starting a business, especially with the Government’s new start-up loan scheme was providing entrepreneurs access to vital capital needed to get going.

I spent the next couple of months reflecting on my career and what I had learnt. Some of the key things I took away from that time included: If deals don’t feel right don’t take them – put yourself in a position where you can survive without them so you can make objective decisions, not reactive desperate ones. Work with the best people you can; they’ll bring out the best in you and it’ll make doing what you do a whole lot more enjoyable. Work and move as quickly as you can without taking shortcuts and compromising on quality. But ultimately, do what you love.

With those philosophies and the fundamentals of business behind me I knew I was safe in the knowledge that the next venture would be easier. I just had to decide what that next venture would be – and then it dawned on me – it was staring me right in the face the whole time: Filmmaking. I had been making films before my tech company, the most successful part of the tech company’s validation was a film and ultimately it was something that I loved and was prepared to do 24/7.

I utilised my network and got some work quickly. I then pitched intensively and won some bigger projects. There was, however, a catch, I had the work but I needed the equipment to produce final films, which required finance. Not wanting to relinquish any equity in my business at such an early stage I spoke to friends, family and the banks. 

It was quickly apparent that I would not be able to source the cash I needed to deliver the work to the standard my clients nor I required. So I carefully did the sums and decided to take advantage of the start-up loan scheme.

I worked hard and secured the loan within a number of weeks. The day the cash arrived in my account I was ready. Most of it went straight back out to the suppliers I had lined up and the following day the camera gear arrived. I was then straight out on set shooting, safe in the knowledge that with this and subsequent shoots I could repay the loan.

Business has since gone from strength to strength, I’ve been fortunate enough to work for some amazing clients such as Hunter Boot, Stella McCartney and Naim Audio. I’ve since shot more work for another great British client which premieres later this year both here and abroad. As well as more commercial work, I’m also now working towards my first feature, which couldn’t be more exciting – even if it is a whole new mountain for me to climb!

So what have I learnt through all this? Here are my 10 top tips:

  • Income. Make sure you have cash coming in (or in the bank) when you start so you can make sensible decisions about your business, not irrational, desperate ones.
  • Product is key. I can’t iterate this enough, make sure you (or your team) can build, make and deliver what you’re selling.
  • Team. Work with people you can trust and respect.
  • Size of the loan. Only take what you really need to make your product.
  • Spending the loan. Invest in tangibles, equipment, tools etc. – items you can rent out or sell if all goes really wrong. Get intangibles and disposables such as websites and marketing material for free or make it yourself.
  • Networking. Your network is everything, use it for advice, those vital first sales, referrals and to make sure you’re building products your customers want! Always offer help and intros where you can.
  • Promises. Under promise and over deliver – this takes practice, it’s easy to say yes.
  • Say no. Stick to your beliefs and principles – never undermine your brand.
  • Patience. Keep calm, it’s going to be a long haul, so much longer than you think.
  • Do what you love.

Written by Ben Stevenson, originally published on virgin.com on 3rd June 2014