Entrepreneur Diaries: The Cain Letters
Episode 01 – The Founder's Dilemma.
September 17, 2013 12:03 by kippreport
By Catalin Cighi, managing partner at Cain Hospitality Innovation (CHI)
Call me Cain. I currently own two businesses and I’m invested in several ventures without equity. In most cases, my strategy is clear. I know where I am, where I am going and why. But when it comes to my first company, I face a dilemma that I have yet to overcome.
You see, this first company of mine is a bit of a love affair. It is the reason why I became an entrepreneur. It is the embodiment of principles and ideas accumulated over many years as a strategy consultant. It’s that thing I finally got to do after I claimed my independence.
Sounds perfect, right? Well, in many ways it is. Except one.
This enterprise, structured solely for the purpose of making me happy, is utterly dependent on my own involvement – it’s not really scalable and certainly not sellable. It is like a jealous partner who claims my entire time and undivided attention. She will accept no less.
This was okay in the beginning. For several years, my experience as an entrepreneur was blissful. With nobody to care for but myself and with my material needs being modest, I could afford to only pursue projects that interested me.
Sometimes I flew high.
My clients included individuals from the ruling elite in the Middle East and companies I was proud to be associated with. My pattern was to approach them with ideas of how their business model could take the next evolutionary leap. Yes, it took several months to hook a client and then several others to reel a project in, but a single fee would cover my needs for one or two years – and so it went for a while.
Other times I crashed spectacularly.
Relying on one client at a time comes at a cost. I thought my approach was nothing less than a return to the old way of doing business. I entertained idealistic visions of two people shaking hands and proceeding to build something great, something that mattered.
The antidote to my hopeless romanticism was brutal. One client implemented my strategy and then proceeded to withhold final payment indefinitely. Calls unanswered, emails ignored and face-to-face meetings that invariably ended with the assurance that a bank transfer would happen that very same evening. It never did – and it took me months to recover.
If life stood still and personal circumstances did not change, I would have probably continued in the same manner, enjoying the freedom to pursue any interest at a moment’s notice. But it didn’t. I met a girl and one thing led to another.
If you don’t already know what I mean, hear me out, fellow entrepreneur.
A moment will come when you realise that all of your furniture is ugly and must go, that your wardrobe does not deserve the name and what you thought was a pretty good life is actually the irresponsible romping about of an economic vagabond.
It’s quite strange how a mindset can change when concerns about the future become a factor. When the here and now is not enough anymore and your choices no longer affect just you.
You’ve probably guessed by now that economic ups and downs are not the healthiest ingredients in a relationship. Actually, even sustained ups are not enough, simply due to the element of uncertainty. The talk of raising children is not entirely compatible with the impulse of rushing off to explore whatever latest scribbling you just made on the back of a napkin.
So, in the coming months, many things will have to change.
Change requires that I rethink my business model for a strategy company focused on business model innovation; that I explore ways to remove myself from the epicentre of my company; that I somehow transform my unique decision-making framework into a process I can teach others, allowing me to target several customers at the same time and be able to deliver, whether I am personally involved or not. Then scaling becomes possible and, eventually, the option to sell. Not that I would actually do that.
All of this was unthinkable just months ago, when I was happy to own a company built on passion that provided me with the opportunity to be self-employed, independent and conduct business according to my own set of principles.
A change in my life requires that I rethink my priorities and my approach towards business. I have given myself two years to achieve a transformation. I have also accepted to document what follows in a monthly column that will read as my entrepreneurial diary.
And as I invite you to join me in this adventure, I ask you to allow me a last moment of utter, unrestrained geekiness:
Entrepreneurship, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Cain enterprise. Her two-year mission: to explore our strange changing world, to seek out new business models and new partnerships, to boldly create what no one has created before.