Building a start-up is a marathon, not a sprint
6 January 2020
What inspired you to start eola?
eola arose out of a great deal of frustration. Back in 2016, I was in another start-up in an office complex in a pretty isolated part of London where all anyone did on the weekend was have a drink, get hungover, and go to the gym.
One Saturday early in January, I was dragged onto a train to Scarborough by my then flatmate. By sunrise, we were standing in the bitter cold, rain drizzling down, struggling into cold, soaking wetsuits, and getting the zip caught in my hair. Suffice to say, it wasn’t pleasant.
It was my first experience surfing, and I cannot describe the sense of exhilaration and joy that came of it. That stayed with me on the train back South that evening and became suffused with frustration that this was the first time I had taken part.
When I left that start-up, that experience came hurtling back to me, and over many months of research, and finding the right people, eola was born.
What was your mission from the outset?
From the very beginning, we wanted to build a company that had a positive impact on all sides of the product. We wanted to build something that provided powerful, tangible benefits to the businesses, the customers, the environment, and to our team.
Our mission was and is to build a booking and management product that becomes the backbone of and digitises the global adventure industry.
We want to bring the outdoors online, and support bringing this incredibly exciting world to as many people from all walks of life around the world as possible.
What has been the most challenging part about starting your company?
Starting a company of any sort is an enormous challenge. Every day there are battles to be won. Some big, some small. It’s a tremendous emotional roller-coaster, with as many days of euphoria as those with overwhelming doubt and uncertainty.
When we first started, we naively believed we could work away for 6 months, raise a small seed investment, and build the company of our dreams. We had our respective life savings; I hadn’t earned a salary since January 2017. My next wasn’t until 2019. We fought long past the point of no return, long past a time when we thought we possibly could. We were days from total financial ruin when we closed our first round. It was only the support of those around us that allowed us to reach that point.
Life as a start-up founder is agonising and horrendous, and incredible and wonderful. Every day could hide a moment of pure brilliance, or the next blazing inferno. Every day is a battle that has to be won.
What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned which have impacted the way you work?
I used to believe that the role of an entrepreneur was to throw everything into your company, at the expense of everything else important to you. Sacrificing your life to build something great.
During our journey so far, we have had some tremendously trying experiences, where the support of those around us has been the only thing allowing us to go forward.
Mental health is becoming more and more prevalent in conversations around entrepreneurialism and start-ups, and it is fantastic to see. We firmly believe in creating an environment which empowers and brings out the best in our team, while still allowing them to make the most of their own lives. The balance is, for us, fundamental to our ability to succeed.
Is there something unique which defines eola’s company culture?
Our culture is centred around that balance. We have very flexible working, offer unlimited holiday, ensure we have a positive office environment, try to visit our partners as often as we can. For all of our roles, we don’t specify education or years working requirements. We simply look for people who can do the job, have the right cultural values, and a keen desire to learn and grow in a place where they can put in their best.
How did you create a diverse team? How important has this been to the success at eola?
At every stage, we are deeply analytical about what we are doing and where. When we first put live a role, we see what type of candidates we get. If we found that the majority were relatively homogenous, then we identified that as a failure. It meant that we weren’t attractive to the truly diverse talent pool that exists.
We continually tweak and adjust everything to attract the right people, whoever they are, wherever they are from. Our goal is to create a company as wonderfully diverse as the world in which we live. It’s not just some metric for us, it gives us an amazing array of different perspectives and approaches, that give us the best chance to build something incredible.
A good example is in engineering, where we recently hosted an event with Codebar – an incredible organisation – whose mission is to enable under-represented people to learn programming in a safe and collaborative environment. We believe that if we want to help bring diversity into our company, we need to do what we can to help at the source.
Which entrepreneurs do you respect and why?
For me, Ben Horowitz tops that list. His book “Hard thing about hard things” has been one of the most valuable books I’ve ever read. His candour and honesty about the challenges and difficulties that he faced really helped me at numerous times in our journey.
His approach to business and investment – maintaining support at the early stages as much as for the late- and the way he gives back to the community are a great inspiration for me.
What one piece of advice would you give someone starting a company?
Find the balance. Make sure you protect your mental health, and surround yourself with brilliant supportive people who can provide you with great advice, without trying to make your decisions.
As it has been said a thousand times before, and will be a million times more; building a start-up is a marathon, not a sprint. Be prepared for a long, magnificently difficult slog, where every day could be incredibly euphoric, or dark depression, and rather regularly both. But, despite all the challenges and trials, it has been the most rewarding experience of my life, and however it ends I’ll do it all again in a heartbeat.