Last month in his Founders Diaries entry, Martin Campbell talked about cutting ties with a business he’d set up and moving on to pastures new when the time was right. I’m acutely aware of Martin’s decision, as he was the startup founder of Ormsby Street, and I’m a member of the team that he’s left behind. When Martin founded Ormsby Street back in 2014 I became employee number two, joining him when it was just him, a desk, a fridge and a coffee machine (he had his priorities right!). We started the business with metaphors of running a ship, sailing into uncharted waters, and I’ve been there since we set sail, and it’s now down to me to start charting a course. I’m the head of product and perations at Ormsby Street, rather than managing director, but it means that on a day-to-day basis, now Martin has disembarked, I’m looking after everything that is non-technical, including support, product roadmap, marketing, channel partners, and increasingly taking on more of a financial management role. It’s been a widening of my role, but the biggest change is that the person who provided the strategic direction for me and the business is no longer sitting in the corner of the office and available for me to wander over to and ask his opinion on things. Should we consider this potential product area? I think we need to hire someone with “X” skills, what do you think? There’s a decision that needs to be made and there’s no one else to turn to, we just need to make the decisions and move forward. Martin’s experience in running businesses was key in many of the team’s decision to join Ormsby Street in the first place, with a few of us having worked with him in our previous lives, in my case over a decade ago. I was happily working at an award-winning digital agency as an account director responsible for some major international brands when Martin invited me for coffee and a catch up. We met one morning before work and he laid out the vision for this new business he was forming and it all sounded very exciting. Disruptive. International. Agile. Exciting. He then offered me the chance to join him and make the vision a reality. I’d spent many years helping deliver the visions of other people. Business “X” wanted to develop their brand in market “Y” and needed a digital platform to do it on. Business “Z” wanted a range of tools that could be used by their online customers. Someone else’s vision, someone else’s budget, and someone else’s decisions. But it might be the time for me to start delivering more of my vision. Why not be the client myself for once? The exciting new business developed, the team grew, the countries multiplied, and the awards and recognition came in, and then came changes in funding and priority and the strategy changed, and the team has changed to match it. We’ve lost some key people in the business and the loss of the MD is amongst those. For now the strategy is up for grabs. We’ve got thousands of paying customers but there are opportunities to head in different directions and we’re in control of our own destiny, without our original skipper to guide us. Our shareholders are relatively active in the business so can support and advise, but all team members, not just me, need to step up and start charting our own course, rather than that of our old captain. It’s like we’ve been practicing our tightrope walking for the past few years but we’ve finally had the safety net removed and we’re out on the wire. We need to feel our own way along and make the necessary adjustments ourselves to ensure that we don’t wobble and plummet. But we’re up for the challenge. That’s what being in a small business is all about.
This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.
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