I’m returning from a great week’s vacation in Skye and someone commented to me that I’m now “back to the rat race”. Even in the previous jobs that I enjoyed most, the first day back to work following a return from holiday usually felt like that. I can even isolate the ‘rat race moment': it’s when, on that initial morning of the return, the office building first comes into view. It’s hard to explain: for the past seven or eight years I worked for someone I very much like and respect yet there’s still something about large institutions of work that connect them with other large institutions. (If you want to know what that connection is you can look here.) Happily, my return post vacation to eCo doesn’t feel like that at all.
While in Skye I was less in touch with work than I’ve been since we set up eCo and I’m keen to catch up properly with what’s been going on. In a company of only a few people, there is a stronger connection between oneself and the firm: you’re a bigger part of it and, reciprocally, it becomes a bigger part of you. Also when you choose where you work you can locate yourself somewhere that you feel good walking into, and we have. We also take the opportunity to work at home on Fridays when we can, although that’s often just as easy to do when working in the City nowadays – if not easier since large employers often formalise the arrangement.
You might expect that life in a very small team without the dilution of a large encompassing workforce might become claustrophobic, or even some form of Sartrean hell. Fortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way for us. In fact, I now have contact with many more people in a typical week than I had in the past. Nonetheless, I visit my last employer regularly and always enjoy running into ex-colleagues when I do so. I especially enjoy the fact that I don’t manage any of them any more. You can never trust in the quality of your friendship with a colleague when you’re setting their pay or perceived to have influence over their career. In a start-up there’s not any of that: all of our discussions pertain directly to our business; we’re far too small for office politics.
Pay itself is, of course, different too. Cashflow matters tremendously and in drawing any salary at all you’re counting on more money coming in before the money you already have is spent. Even if the company is successful, it’s impossible to know what success will be. (It will certainly not be like getting MD compensation at a large investment bank.) It concentrates the mind in a very healthy way on priorities. If you expect to live in a bubble of luxury, unpunctuated by less cosseted experience, then the kind of start-up you’ll get involved in will be very different from ours, and you’ll almost certainly need to do a string of them. Personally, I like having to think more carefully about expenditure again, not only for eCo but outside of work. Money is a drug: if you fall into dependency it hollows you out. In Skye, we stayed in a lovely hotel for a couple of nights, but we also camped on a beach.
The start-up experience also depends on whereabouts you are in the cycle. To understand where we are right now… Imagine you have a fantastic idea for a party. You decide to throw it and set about drawing up a guest list. There’s the fun of thinking about all the people you can bring together, pulled from different times and zones of your life, and wondering how they’ll interact. You send out invitations. You book caterers, buy alcohol and dress your house. Everyone is excited by your idea and expresses themselves keen to come along. Now, the first few guests are here but you don’t know who else will make it – some of them tend to flake out if the weather turns. You wait, wondering who will actually come, and how it will go…
If no one shows up to our party I can’t imagine returning to a regular J-O-B: I’d rather take myself off on a long bike ride and listen to special songs. Anyhow, we’re excited and optimistic about how things will go, and it’s a lot of fun committing all of our energy to making our new venture work.