Just do crazy stuff and worry about what people think later.
As someone who’s never had a “real” job, I still find it a little strange when people ask me to talk about my philosophies as an entrepreneur. I wonder how popular a TED Talk titled “Just do crazy stuff and worry about what people think later” would be? My personal journey as an entrepreneur has always been an unconventional one, stemming from and leading to unexpected places.
I started at the age of 20 with nightclub art installations, going onto more weird and wonderful projects, including setting up North Korea’s first surf school. Today, I’m trying to tackle one of the biggest issues in the developed world — youth inactivity; by connecting tech, sports and business and also trying to reverse declining participation levels and improve pro performance in ball sports at the same time.
Despite my journey being instinctual more than pre-planned, there are still a few philosophies that can be applied to anyone else considering their entrepreneurial journey.
1. Going alone isn’t the same as being alone.
When I started my first business at 21, I had zero experience, zero resources and not even a network behind me. My current business, Fun With Balls GmbH, is the first time that I have had to deal with investors and report to a board. It’s a steep learning curve! Going alone is an advantage in some ways as it can make you more careful and considerate in your actions, since you’ve nothing to fall back on. But being alone doesn’t mean that you have to be isolated — 90 percent of my early business was brokered in social environments such as nightclubs and parties. The key is to learn how to infiltrate people at the right level, convince them of your vision and get them to travel with you.
And, perhaps paradoxically, having now had some measure of professional success in previous ventures, I am always happy to support other “loners” and people willing to think outside the boundaries of what is and imagine what can be.
2. Develop a truly international mindset.
If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, or even a good human being, you need to understand how the world works. The best way to do that is to fully participate in it. I am in almost constant motion around the world, traveling, speaking at conferences or just meeting interesting people. I treat flying to Hong Kong to have dinner with someone like grabbing a sandwich at a local cafe — I go where the wind takes me.
I like to make friends in any country and any culture and this has lead to some of my most interesting opportunities and ideas. It was a spur of the moment decision to travel to North Korea just to “see what it was like” that lead to me create the country’s first surf school. Similarly, it was an invitation to try playing squash that made me think, “this would be 10 times cooler if there was a screen to hit.” From there, I had to figure out how to do it, and how to sell it!
3. The only way to change things is to create a business around it.
Business is at its most interesting and fulfilling when it has authenticity and purpose. In my early career, I made a good deal of money, traveling business class around the world, creating cool art installations, working in advertising and visual arts and having a lot of fun.
Still, I never really had genuine purpose in business until I started FWB, which aims to tackle one of the biggest issues in the developed world — physical inactivity, particularly among the young. However, it’s no good having a noble goal unless you can motivate other people to buy into it. Building an ecosystem around a concept only works if it is profitable for everyone involved. And of course, once someone is bought-in (literally) they become more interested in helping you succeed. You also have to be prepared to pivot and shift as you develop to take advantage of opportunities, continue the momentum and build velocity — only then can you create real change.
4. Hunt the mammoth with a rock.
All my life, I’ve had smart people shaking their heads in disbelief at me and my crazy ideas. However, I truly believe that making things happen, even if other people think it’s a stupid idea, is the fundamental principle of being an entrepreneur. Your mindset has to shift from “why?” to “why not?” and then very quickly to “how?” All of the greatest achievements of humankind start with these simple but big questions.
With FWB we’re looking at the economic impact of physical inactivity set at around $2.4 trillion — many times the size of the largest companies on Earth. Imagine being able to move the dial on this through a business? The change you can affect and yes, the money you can make. Even if there is only a small chance, going for that gap in the ice or aiming for a mammoth with a rock is the only way to get started on an entrepreneurial journey.