Lessons for start-ups

Lessons from the Boot of a Car for Entrepreneurship, and for Life, by Reg Lascaris

BROADLY, there are three valid reasons for spending time reading a business book, in no particular order.

One is to obtain insights that change your view on how businesses work - what makes customers buy, how the economy functions, and so on.

A second is to learn a skill - how to design an organisation, formulate a strategy, build a business model, and so on.

The third is to obtain or retain the motivation that is required to start or to keep going.

In each category there is the good, the bad, and the ugly. The “good” makes you more capable, the “bad” misinforms you, and the “ugly” leaves you deluded.

Reg Lascaris, one of the founders of the hugely successful advertising, marketing and communications firm Hunt Lascaris TBWA, has written a “good” motivational book.

This is a rarity. To me there seem to be so many books in the motivational category that are simply “bad” in that they are misleading.

For example, there are many books asserting that successful people have high self-esteem, and failures have low self-esteem. (That is true.) Therefore, to succeed you need to build up your self-esteem. That is misleading. It mistakes the effect for the cause.

The truth is that if you succeed, you will have higher self-esteem. Many good pieces of research demonstrate this, as does observation.

Then there are motivational books that are “ugly” in that they delude. They typically set out to show you how you can become richer than Warren Buffett, or how to be the next Google, or the secrets of Lady Gaga's success and yours.

That there are formulas for success is a delusion. There is no such thing. Every success is unique, a function of a unique set of circumstances, at a unique moment in time, that required a unique set of relevant skills.

Lascaris’ book is good because it is an inspiring account of how one man participated in what became a huge success. It is a saga. It started with many failures, and the inevitable ignorance that plagues every new venture.

It goes on to the glorious moments when effort, energy, and luck collide to produce a single success.

When the young firm realised that they needed to keep books and that they did not have the necessary skills, they hired an accountant. Well, he said he was an accountant and he wore a jacket and tie. It was only when he disappeared about the same time all their money did, that the folly of the mis-hire became apparent.

Many years later, when the firm was in full stride, they again looked for a suitably qualified accountant. This time they left the search to the experts and only picked up the process after the screening and shortlisting was complete.

A superbly qualified candidate had been identified. Lascaris interviewed him for the aspect of the work he knew best. He looked for a fit with a creative, energised firm. 

He loved the accountant’s passion for and knowledge of, of course, milking goats and cows. He loved how the accountant saw the connection between milking and getting clients to pay, which was a concern for the firm at the time. (The connection? The calf that sucks the hardest gets the most milk.)

Lascaris and Hunt had great aspirations. They intended to be a first-world agency despite coming from third-world Africa. This aspiration never seems to have left the firm; they have produced and still produce work that is among the best in the world.

The awards they have received from international bodies attest to this.

To produce great creative work requires attracting and retaining great, creative people. The culture of a company has as much to do with its success as do the people in it. If the culture does not support creativity, the people will not produce first-world work.

The culture of Hunt Lascaris TBWA seeps through the accounts of the firm’s rise, missteps and successes. The company has a driven culture, with extremely high standards for their creative work, fierce deadlines, and a love for partying.

There are many lessons to learn from this frank account of the company’s rise to greatness. Each reader will be inspired and enlightened by different parts of this story, but there are some universal messages for start-ups and their entrepreneurs.

You do not need to have everything in place to start a business. Hunt Lascaris TBWA didn’t. They didn’t have premises to invite clients to, money to attract the best people, or even business smarts. They did have plenty of drive, enthusiasm, determination and creativity.

How do you see clients if they cannot come to your premises to see your work? You tell them that your firm is so client-centred that the firm will always come to them.

You do not have to resign from your paying day job to start a business. You start where you are, with what you have.

You must be clear about what you want, not specifically, just generally - a first-world firm. Then never compromise, never take your eye off the prize. Do everything you possibly can to make it happen. Learn fast.

This is a great holiday read. Enjoy and be inspired!

Readability:    Light -+--- Serious
Insights:          High -+--- Low
Practical:         High ---+- Low

 - Fin24

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy. Views expressed are his own.

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