Lee Rotbart

Posts Tagged ‘venture’

The entrepreneur in me

In Living with the parents on December 24, 2010 at 11:23 am

Throughout the process of starting a business you hear a lot about entrepreneurs, people who have done this, that and the other – all hugely successfully of course. Names like Richard Branson and Alan Sugar are bandied around, and while I’m quite happy to hear Little Leaf in the same sentence as Virgin (less so with Viglen), I am well aware that I have to temper my ego with the fact that I have over-enthusiastic friends and family.

Does buying a little guest house in St Ives make Danny and I entrepreneurs? While I’d like to think so, I believe a more detailed exploration of the word (ref. Wikipedia) is required.

“An entrepreneur is a person who has possession of a new enterprise, venture or idea and is accountable for the inherent risks and the outcome”

Am very much feeling the accountability and risks at the moment. Eating 3 mince pies in a row while panicking about the mortgage repayments helped a little, but an hour later I just felt fat, poor, and still a little panicky (although this could have been the excess sugar).

“Entrepreneur in English is a term applied to a person who is willing to launch a new venture or enterprise and accept full responsibility for the outcome”

The words ‘willing’ and ‘full responsibility’ in the same sentence are interesting. Risk averse by nature, the last 6 months have been relatively out of character for me. I dislike responsibility and am rarely willing to do things that mean I have to take some. Having had some kind of salaried job for the last 14 years, responsibility for my working life has not been high on the agenda. A die-hard party girl throughout my 20s, my only concern was that I had enough money to pay for pretty cocktails at the best bars, and buy enough pairs of shoes and dresses to look good while standing there.

With all that in mind this idea of being willing to take full responsibility is pretty alien to me; and maybe a more appropriate turn of phrase would be to say that I have been forced to take full responsibility, with acceptance still being quite a way off.

“The entrepreneur leads the firm or organisation and also demonstrates leadership qualities by selecting managerial staff”

Now this I did get right: I selected Danny. While at the time I wasn’t quite sure what I selected him for, it’s come to be one of the best decisions I ever made.

“Entrepreneurs also often possess innate traits such as extroversion…”

Tick.

“An entrepreneur characteristically innovates, introduces new technologies, increases efficiency, productivity, or generates new products or services”

Hmmm… I’m not sure my work colleagues would agree with that one. Efficient I might be, but I’m not sure I increase efficiency across the board. My constant chatter at work and tendency to panic when under pressure might suggest that I need to hand over the operations side of the business to Danny.

Now, according to Wikipedia (and I must admit to there being gaps in my research into this subject), there are 3 types of entrepreneurs: (i) Social (ii) Serial (iii) Lifestyle. Even before reading the traits of all three I guessed that I would fall into the third one… and this is backed up by the first sentence in the explanation:

“A lifestyle entrepreneur places passion before profit when launching a business…”

Tick.

“…in order to combine personal interests and talent with the ability to earn a living”

I hope so.

“A lifestyle entrepreneur intentially chooses a business model intended to develop and grow their business in order to make a long-term, sustainable and viable living working in a field where they have a particular interest, passion, talent, knowledge or high degree of expertise”

Interesting. While I am developing an interest, some knowledge, and a bit of expertise in the hospitality sector, I must confess to having zero to start with and I’m a long way from ‘high degree of’.

Passion – not a problem, I have that in spades; it’s a little scatter-gun as I can get equally passionate about a cheesecake as I can about Little Leaf, but it’s definitely there.

Finally…

“Common goals held by the lifestyle entrepreneur include earning a living doing something that they love, earning a living in a way that facilitates self-employment, achieving a good work/life balance”

And that’s what it’s all about really. I’m not a traditional entrepreneur yet I’m lucky enough to have found something that inspires me. That, despite all the risks and terrifying leaps of faith, Danny and I are absolutely dedicated to being self-employed and doing something that we (more than) suspect we will love.

I never imagined, for one teeny tiny second, that I would end 2010 where I have. I am no Richard Branson – with dreams of running empires since the age of 15. Nor am I an Alan Sugar – selling things out of the back of a van after leaving school 3 years early.

I stayed in education as long as I could (and even went back for more). I’ve relied on employers to look after me, providing me with holiday pay / sick pay and a regular income. I’ve spent more money on clothes in the last 10 years than some people spend in a lifetime, and not that long ago I believed that all you needed to do to have a good life was to ensconce yourself in a trendy bar with endless access to champagne. How things change, and how wonderful to have proof that you just NEVER KNOW what’s around the corner.

For the next two days all thoughts of entrepreneurship will be put aside while the merry season commences. After all good hospitality starts with constant thought of others, and I would be no kind of lifestyle entrepreneur if I couldn’t start by applying those principles on home turf.

Have a good Christmas all.

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Mates rates

In Preparations in London on December 14, 2010 at 4:44 pm

What constitutes a mate?

A question that never really needed answering until now. Having never had a job which rains down perks upon my grateful little head I have never really had that ‘Who shall I take as my plus one to this fantastic event?’ problem. Obviously I have needed plus ones, but rarely for anything very interesting. Once I had to find someone to take to the opening of an exhibition but that was more of a case of who I could get to come with me, I was hardly beating offers off with a stick. Now however, I am in the enviable position of having more mates than I know what to do with.

Before I continue I should make the point that I am delighted to have so many people excited for Danny and I, so many people who are really supportive of what we’re doing, the announcement of the name last week has given both of us renewed excitement about this venture.

All that aside I am still faced with the ‘mates rates’ question.

Now we knew it was going to come up and it’s something we’ve discussed a lot – what kind of ‘mates rates’ do we offer, and who do we offer it to? Between Danny and I we have a fair amount of friends, family, friends of family, and work colleagues that could be considered ‘mates’; not to mention the amount of people on Facebook that we are ‘friends’ with.

Yes, there are lots of ‘mates’ but there’s also one other key thing beginning with ‘m’ that should be considered – our MORTGAGE, which is huge; not to mention our MONEY which is ever-decreasing. I’m not going to bore you with the plethora of things that we haven’t budgeted for as they are all so minor that you would laugh, yet it all adds up and if I think about them for too long it usually results in me having a very small panic attack about bankruptcy.

So, here we are, the possibility of us opening at the beginning of April is now no longer a pipe dream, it’s a very necessary reality and guests are what’s needed. Like Churchill in WWII we need you to sign up and be counted – and what better way to entice you in than with a nonchalant “Of course we’ll do mates rates” answer to your question.

Yes, of course we WANT to give discounts to everyone, we want you to come and stay not only to see us, but to also experience everything St Ives and Cornwall has to offer. We want people to fall in love with the place as we did, and we want them to have a fantastic time at Little Leaf, but we just can’t go round promising crazy rates to anyone that once knew us, or once knew members of our family, or once worked with us on a project in 2004.

Nor do we want to feel resentful towards guests by devaluing the service we hope to be providing. Delivering 100% service yet only getting paid for 75% – I know myself well enough to know that that’s not going to go down well. As a chronic people-pleaser desperate for your love and approval I want to give you a giant discount and make you make you smile. As the owner of a guesthouse with a burgeoning overdraft I fear that I will have to do the opposite.

This musing leads me back to the original question “Who is a mate?”, and “What kind of rates should they get?”.

What about a means test? Ask people questions about Danny and I to see who really does know us. Where did we meet? How long have we been together? When did I first start writing this blog? – no cheating now! That should separate the wheat from the chaff, even if it’s somewhat unconventional. Or, how about we ask for something in return… what do they do and what discounts could they offer us? After all, accountants must get asked for free advice all the time, not to mention lawyers and doctors; and I’d be lying if I hadn’t taken advantage of that in the past.

It’s a minefield and you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Having worked in sales for nearly 14 years I’m a stickler for standing by prices and not devaluing the product. It’s short term gain vs. long term strategy and as we’re in it for the long haul I know in my heart of hearts that we’ll have to do the right thing, and whatever that might end up being I don’t think much of your chances of getting a huge discount… but do come and stay anyway, you never know you might just think it’s worth it!

Back, and in at the deep end

In Getting the mortgage on October 20, 2010 at 11:51 am

You’d think that no time had passed at all. Back from a fabulous holiday I was secretly hoping that all would be sorted, that I would sashay gently into an exchange and move. Ignorance really is bliss.

Don’t get me wrong, things have moved on a little bit and we are now the other side of a successful survey and valuation; yet it still feels like there’s a long way to go and the bank still need this, that, and the other before making the official offer. The key problem at the moment being that they’ve suddenly decided they would like evidence from my current company that I will be continuing to freelance for them once I move to Cornwall. Hmmmm… difficult. Considering that I haven’t actually handed my notice in yet, I’m not quite sure how that conversation would go…

“Excuse me boss, just wondered if I could run something by you. I’m planning on leaving at the end of February but don’t want to hand in my notice now just in case it all goes tits up and I end up not wanting to leave after all. However, if I DO leave (and I fully intend to) I would like to continue to work for you so if you could just write a letter saying if I leave you are happy to let me do freelance work that would be ace, because that would help me get the mortgage and help me leave. Obviously, this is on the understanding that if it all falls through you should just forget all of this ‘handing my notice in’ rubbish, and I will continue to stay on at the company. Thanks so much.”

It’s a bit of a Catch 22 don’t you think?

Am hoping that the bank will just take my word for it, and this will not be a deal breaker.

Meanwhile I have since decided that I have far more to worry about, and last night ‘The Fears’, or as my Mum would say ‘The Willies’, hit me like a ten ton truck. In no particular order:

  • Fear that this will fail
  • Fear that my marketing skills are all well and good when they’re for someone else, but putting my own business on the line is a different story
  • Fear that no one will want to stay
  • Fear that we will go broke in the first year
  • Fear that I am leaving behind all my friends and family and won’t have a support network
  • Fear of going it alone
  • Fear that we have massively underestimated the cost of all this and we won’t be able to afford to do what we need to do

Being quite risk averse as a person I am appalled to find myself in a highly risky situation. Luckily Danny, who is possibly the most optimistic person I have ever met, doesn’t actually believe that this could fail; suggesting that this entire scheme is a ‘no-brainer’ and through the powers of persuasion and a winning smile managed to convince me that my fears were all unfounded.

I suspect it was reading all the mortgage jargon that sent me into a tailspin; triggering the realisation that we are ploughing EVERYTHING we own into this venture. We are selling our flats in London, we are leaving our jobs, we are basing our whole future on the fact that we think we might be able to market and run a guest house, and we think we will be able to do this without killing each other. (Don’t tell the banks this, according to our business plan we are highly confident, skilled individuals that will be running the most successful guest house in the world within 3 years).

Tonight we are writing a pre-opening budget and once it’s all in black and white I know I’ll feel better, I just need to keep the final goal in mind, not forget why we’re doing all this, and fight the temptation to just settle for what I know, and what’s comfortable.

Never has the following expression ever rung so true.

‘Experience – something you get only after you need it’

The end (of phase 1)

In The beginning on August 25, 2010 at 12:34 pm

It’s ironic that when I set up this blog I tagged the first lot of posts ‘The beginning’ and now it seems we’re at the end and I don’t remember the middle.

Around 8 weeks ago Danny and I received a phone call that changed our lives, and yesterday we received another phone call that changed the direction. The beautifully patient and enthusiastic proprietors of Porthminster View finally accepted another offer on the building. After putting off their estate agent for over a week in anticipation of a successful mortgage application our last rejection was the final straw and they just had to pin their carriage to another train – one that doesn’t need a mortgage to get it moving. If ours is a steam engine – traditional and nostalgic, theirs is an express – fast, efficient and less likely to break down.

I don’t blame them. This has been a highly emotional journey for both us and them, and I truly believe they were as disappointed as us when they called yesterday. The saddest thing about the whole affair is that the new owners are not going to run Porthminster View as a guesthouse and so another B&B bites the dust, and another view of the St Ives beach and harbour is privatised.

In an environment where holiday companies are going bust left, right and centre, and oil prices are going to restrict the number of people who can afford flights more and more each year, it’s a sad state of affairs that one of the UK’s busiest tourist destinations is likely to run out of medium priced guesthouses due to private purchases and a banking industry who make it impossible for small businesses to get a break.

On a personal, less holistic, note I am sad for us. Sad that something which for the first 4 weeks seemed so right, could go so wrong. The accidental visit, the ease with which I sold my flat, and the accepted offer so far below the asking price all combined to give us a very strong feeling that this could not go wrong.

However if we’re going to be positive about this and, let’s face it, what choice do we have? This hasn’t gone completely up the spout. OK, so Porthminster View wasn’t the place for us, that doesn’t mean that another place won’t be. It doesn’t mean that the guesthouse we should be running isn’t out there somewhere waiting for us to come along and take it over. After all we now have the following information, none of which we had 3 months ago.

  1. We know we want to run a guesthouse
  2. We know we want to be in Cornwall, preferably St Ives, definitely by the coast
  3. We have a template for a guesthouse business plan
  4. We have projections for a guesthouse turnover
  5. We know the lending criteria we need to meet
  6. We know our budget

So the only question remains is what to call this blog. I’m regretting calling it after the name of the guesthouse we were hoping to acquire (maybe I jinxed it?!), but I have never once regretted starting it up and I certainly don’t want this to be the end.

Will think on it… Watch this space.

Learnings so far…

In The beginning on August 2, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Bored of moaning about the mortgage, and unable to update you on anything as there is no news as yet, I thought I’d take this time to reflect on how things have gone so far.

We arrived back from our holiday in Cornwall 6 weeks ago and in that time we’ve managed to get an offer accepted on our dream guesthouse, sell my flat, appoint a solicitor, write a business plan and gather all manner of statistics and research about the Cornwall Tourist Industry.

Not bad going when you consider that we left for our holiday with absolutely no intention to do anything bar have a lovely relaxing time, and partake in a bit of walking. Also in this time, I’ve learned a helluva lot about mortgages, about juggling a job while trying to fulfill a dream, about estate agents, and about myself.

To summarise:

  1. Not all estate agents are bad people; yes they’re a bit pushy and a bit insensitive, and it did annoy me the way they addressed all correspondence to ‘Mr’ Lee Rotbart when I am quite clearly female. However, they have been pleasant, efficient and did a very good job at alleviating the guilt I felt when I couldn’t sell to the first guy that saw the flat – apparently house buying should not work on a ‘first come first served’ basis no matter how nice the person seems.
  2. The headlines about banks not lending are NOT fabricated or exaggerated. They really are not lending.
  3. Getting annoyed about #2 does not do anyone any good. Ranting and raving about cause and effect, focusing on articles in the newspaper about giant bonuses paid out to banks when they not only caused this crisis, but are exacerbating it, does not make it any more likely that we will get our mortgage.
  4. I am not very good at juggling two jobs, and the more I focus on the guesthouse the less motivated I am at work. In my defense I haven’t had a pay rise or decent appraisal in over 2 years so there are few reasons for me to pull out all the stops at work. However, things still need to get done and I am finding myself working late and checking emails at weekends to compensate for day time shenanigans.
  5. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, thinks they will be able to identify the solution to our mortgage problem. “Have you tried ‘x’?”, and “Did you think about ‘y’?”; this isn’t really a problem as we do need all brains on board for this, however my ego is bristling at the intimation that people don’t think we are exploring every single avenue available to us.
  6. I have an ego. A big one. A giant one, with a whole heap of pride on top.
  7. I don’t like cleaning. This is something I suspect that I knew about myself already, but with my cleaner having been away for over a month, I am struggling to dust, sweep and wash floors in an efficient manner. This does not bode well for when the live-in maid takes her leave of Porthminster View.
  8. I understand more about business than I think I do. Even though I have an MBA (Masters in Business Administration), I’ve always suspected that I have very little business acumen, yet I’m discovering it’s not actually that bad. Both Danny and I have written business plans and cash flow reports, and I’m amazed at how much I understand about pulling this together.
  9. I really do want to leave London. This might seem like an obvious thing to anyone reading this blog, but I have to admit that at the beginning I had my reservations. Do I really want to leave the convenience of 24 hour corner shops? Friends on every street? Family down the road? Will I miss the choice of 30 cinemas in a 3 mile radius? Late night coffee places? My favourite bars? Ultimately, I probably will miss all those things, but not so much that it would stop me leaving. As the mortgage gets further and further out of reach I know that the desire to move away is not only real, it’s obviously and painfully apparent.
  10. I struggle to delegate tasks. While I moaned for the first 4 weeks about how I was dealing with all the mortgage calls, now that Danny is doing it all I want to do is get involved. I feel powerless when someone else is doing the work, and I suspect that the control freak in me secretly thinks that things will be forgotten if I don’t do them. However, this is a business partnership, and I have to admit that Danny is doing just fine without me, maybe even better.

I suspect that if this project continues, this is just the beginning. I suspect that there’s plenty more to learn. I also know that, for the first time in 6 weeks, I am 110% sure I want to learn it.