It’s been a while since the last time I wrote an update for my blog. Not because I didn’t want to, or didn’t have anything to say. Quite the contrary. I have more than enough stuff to write about. It’s only a bit difficult for me to find the time to write about it.
In the past few months I’ve been actively looking for a job. I received my Bachelor degree in biology somewhere in May, which you can read here. I had always thought that finding a nice job would be fairly easy. Well, was I wrong! I have sent so many application letters in the past few months, I forget how many. Too many, that’s one thing I am sure of.
I have said before that I was working on a business plan, which would ensure me of a basic income and a nice project to work on and develop in the coming years.
So how did I end up applying?
I always thought that having a degree would ensure me I would find a job quickly after I’d be done. I even hoped for people to come to me… In my dreams! It used to be like that, though. In the past many people have asked me to come and work for them, some even tried to convince me to stop studying and work for them. I followed my heart and kept aim for my goal.
No regrets though! I loved my study and still love the field of biology. When I was a little kid I just dreamt of being Steve Irwin or Sir David Attenborough when I would grow up. In some ways I have become somewhat like Steve, and of course there was that one second last year that I wrote about here.
|Passion, enthusiasm, belief in his 'product' Steve had it all - Never swim with stingrays though...|
I just imagined I would be the biologist that would go on field trips to the tropics, finding new species of orchids or ants. Being gone for days or weeks on end. Apparently, those days are over for biologists. Some have survived, but most have died out… These days it’s all about production. Writing, writing, writing, more writing and editing and reviewing and reading and literature search through the big pile of journals.
Let me be very clear about this, I love scientific research. It’s just that I don’t like to be narrow-minded and focused on the tiniest molecule in a part of an organelle in a particular cell in a particular organ or tissue in some animal or plant. I don’t want that. I don’t want to spend my life working on that. I like to know a little bit about a lot of things in stead of a lot about just one topic. I do like to solve problems and have used my hobby’s in an entrepreneurial way in the past as well. I like every day to be completely different. Diversification!
I thought I was about to start a dream when I created a business idea with a friend, last year. We wrote a beautiful business plan around an old tropical greenhouse, formerly used by the university I was studying at. Due to some budget cuts and a shift of taxonomic research to molecular research and biotechnology, this old greenhouse was due to be demolished. It was still in a fairly good state, though! We used to go there in the early years of our studies. The thing was filled with beautiful exotic plants from all over the world. Teachers would passionately tell beautiful stories about each plant in there. For one day, I felt like I was on a jungle field trip! For me, this was the closest thing to being Steve Irwin, so I liked this building from the start.
When we heard about the plans, we felt that something had to be done. Several others had tried to save the greenhouse, mainly by putting more pressure on the university by emphasizing the importance of this building and the research that had been going on in there for the past 25 years. We decided to have a go at it in a different way.
I will tell you the freaking short version of the story. It took months to get there, so, as you can imagine, I won’t be able to tell every detail without writing a book about it (which I would have done if we would have built the business, now it would feel like an anti-climax, I’ll come up with something else to write a book about someday )
So, why a greenhouse, and more importantly, why us, 2 students in their early twenties, not having finished their studies. Well, to put it simple; my friend has a tropical seed business, a webshop offering a wide array of plant seeds from every corner of the planet. As an experienced gardener/designer and employee at a plant nursery for many years, I own specific skills, necessary to work out the practical part of our plan. I filled the gaps in his knowledge, and he had the connections to make the dream come true. We were the basis of a team that had a chance to succeed. On top of that, we had similar ideas about what the actual business should look like.
|The greenhouse - I love this thing!|
We would make the greenhouse grow again. Open for public, with a nice place to grab a cup of coffee and a little shop with plants and seeds. Part of the greenhouse would be used as a nursery. A small part would be used for scientific research as well. Some people in the entomology department were interested in conducting tropical malaria mosquito research (don’t worry, their malaria mosquitoes don’t contain the parasite).
Our plan was to find an investor, who could buy the plot. In our vision, this plot had enough space to place another building next to the greenhouse. The plot and the building costs would go in the direction of millions of euros. We needed a steady source of income that would be interesting for investors to get a nice return on their investment. In a town filled with students and with a shortage of student dorms or rooms, what else would you think of than student housing?
Since eco and bio are significant topics in our home-town and at the university (University for Life Sciences), we wanted a sustainable building that could use the heat generated by the greenhouse to save on energy expenditure in the eco-building. Together with a project management agency, we looked at the possibilities, before our architect made a first sketch. The final drawings were incredible. A 4 floor building, housing 72 students.
Everything went really smooth, the university liked our plans. We even found an investor willing to spend big bucks on our project, there even was room for a budget for renovations. Even City Council were very positive about our plans, ensuring us that we would get all cooperation we needed. The mayor even gave us his personal thumbs-up. What could we want more. The big guys seemed to like our plans, so all we had to do was wait for the formalities.
The perfect plan!
Yes, there is a but… Just when we were about to get our building permits ready, City Council scheduled a meeting about student housing. This meeting ended it all, well, at least for me… Together with the major student housing service in our town, City Council decided to cut down all the new initiatives for student housing projects, except the ones built by this major housing company and two other temporary projects. Our project, and all the affirmations and positive feedback we had received in the past 8 months seemed to have disappeared…
@(*$@(*%$!!! (to say the least!)
For me, this meant the end of the project. The project management agency had a bunch of other ideas to get our plans through City Council. None of those plans sounded very convincing to me. The other option was another source of income. In other words, other residents for our building. For me, this took the ‘flair’ out of our project. Our plan was to build something for students, by students (because we were still students ourselves, at that time). Not to put random people on a random place. Financially, I think it would have been less attractive as well, but that doesn’t really matter. There would probably have been a way, some way.
I spoke to my friend about it. For me, there had to be a source of income. I couldn’t live on student loans for another year. That would put me in unacceptably high debts. The greenhouse wouldn’t be that source. We spoke about the future. He wanted to go on with this project. I think he is still in. Even though I see him almost every day, I don’t hear a word. It’s no longer my project, but I put quite some efforts and ideas into it. Feels strange. I guess that’s part of the game. You win some, you lose some.
Still, I don’t feel grief for either starting or quitting this project. It has taught me so many valuable lessons.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! It sounds cliché, but our society revolves around perfection. We are taught from an early age that making mistakes is bad. Perfection doesn’t exist. Without making mistakes, you will never learn the right way to do things. When you learned how to ride a bike when you were a little kid, you probably fell many times. You got up, you gained knowledge and experience about the do’s and don’ts of biking. It’s the same when starting a business. 9 out of 10 times you will fail. 99 out of 100 ideas are bad ideas. This doesn’t even matter. You will gain knowledge and experience. You will improve. If you persist, you WILL learn how to ride that bike!
- I am easily scared. I know that sounds crazy from a guy who kept and bred hundreds of snakes, lizards and insects. YES, I am scared a lot. Not for animals or monsters or ghosts. I tend to panic a lot. I wrote about it here. Anxiety was one of the problems I bumped into when developing this business. But here’s what you should know: Anxiety only exists in YOUR head. Don’t be afraid to do the things you fear most. I know it seems scary. I have been there! The first time you face your fears you want to die right there, on the spot! The second time, you just want to get out (that already is a 500% decrease of fear, probably). When you consistently do what you fear most, the fear will slowly evaporate. You might even get good at the thing you fear most. My biggest fear was going to all the meetings. The last few meetings I had, I felt pretty confident. I never would have expected that! Persistence, again, is the key to success!
|Don't let yourself stay in this circle! Get out. Break it! Start NOW!|
- If you have an interesting idea, GO FOR IT! The idea won’t build itself. Nobody will do it for you. Of course there is enough you can delegate to other people, but you should be the force behind the execution of your plans! Delegating stuff is something to think about in the later stages.
- Don’t have a business partner, unless you really need to! I needed one, because fear was holding me back. I really thought I wouldn’t be able to cope with all the meetings. At first, I gave input by discussing about stuff thoroughly with my business partner. I gave input through ideas for the building, renovation and design. I would have a bigger role in the execution of the plans than in the road towards execution. No matter how scary it seems, be there. Let people know you’re in the project. It’s a valuable lesson I learned from a potential investor. Reveal yourself. It’ll all be fine in the end!
- If you have a business partner (which is fine in many occasions), be open to each other. Don’t hold things back. In the last part of our project, we barely even spoke to one another. It’s important to trust each other. Otherwise, the project will never ever succeed!
- Don’t chase the money! Big projects need big money, which you probably don’t have. At least, we didn’t… We thought of many many options of how to get our hands on that amount of money. My business partner went to all kinds of business meetings and hoped to find the money there. He didn’t. Eventually the project management agency gave us a good lead. Focus on your business plan. Make everything fit. No loose ends. If your business plan is good, the money will come to you. “I know a guy who knows a rich guy, who knows an even richer guy who wants to invest money in a nice project for X% return…” etc.
|If your plan is good, don't worry about money!|
- Share your plans with everyone! Everywhere. If your plan is bullshit, people will raise eyebrows. People won’t tell you it’s great if it’s really not. They will switch topics or give you a strange look. If they really like your plans, they will show it. They will ask questions. They might come up with new ideas. They might spread the word. For free! They might be potential customers as well…
- Unless it’s really necessary, don’t hire agencies to do work for you. No consultants, nothing. Do as many things yourself, as you could probably do. Time is money. Every hour that someone else puts into your project, has to be paid, one way or another. The agency we used was of great help. Great guys. We never did a big project like this before. We needed their expertise. I am convinced, though, that we would have been able to do everything on our own as well. It would have given us a bigger budget for renovations. The sums of money they charge are high, and in our case ‘no cure/(build), no pay’. It totally makes sense for them to battle on to the bitter end. Even if changes in the project setup make it less interesting for you to continue, like they did for me. Remember that YOU are the project. Don’t settle for less than your terms. Don’t be afraid to stop when it is necessary. You are not a failure for not finishing the project, you are a success because you tried! You will probably have learned a lot, like I did. Better luck next time.
- Write down ideas, share them with others, hear other people’s ideas. Let the ideas have sex (to paraphrase Matt Ridley, author of the ‘Rational Optimist’). It is when good ideas mate, that brilliant ideas are born! Make lists of ideas, train yourself to get as many as possible. I made ideas for everything. James Altucher’s blogs gave me some really interesting material on how to become an idea machine (even though I am just scratching the surface). I made endless lists of possible things we could do in the several compartments of this greenhouse. Lists of possible sources of income.
- Last, but definitely most important! Believe in your plan. Believe in your product or service. I really wanted to be Steve Irwin and run my own jungle, I wanted to show people the astonishing beauty that this world’s nature has to offer. If you don’t believe in it, how will you sell your idea to others?
For me, this project was a success because it gave me great insights. I learned that this is what I want to do. I want to create something of value and build it. I want to be an entrepreneur! I have tons of ideas which are slowly starting to mate in my head, quite often, I write them down. Sometimes I don’t… I am waiting for the
one idea that stands out in the crowd.
“So why did you send so many application letters?” You might ask. Good point. I decided to go and find an easy job (no that wasn’t easy) to make a bit of money, quickly. I told you I wanted to run around in the jungle like Steve Irwin? That’s the main reason.
I am saving money for a trip to South-East Asia from January to May, to run through jungle scenery, but also for fun, good food, writing material, ideas and inspiration. So, to pay for this, I now work at a factory that produces wet wipes. Obviously, this is my dream job! And it does pay my trip.
I already booked my flight, but did not yet get any vaccinations (fear! FEAR!!!).
More about my plans in another update, soon… (I hope)
What was your most valuable lesson in entrepeneurship? Please don’t hesitate and share it in the comments below!
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