I guess these few months of absence from publishing were caused by my yet another painful burnout from fighting with the windmills. Nobody likes to admit failing or rather not-succeeding, and no work-in-progress without tangible results is stumbled upon. So we cling to what we know, what can’t hurt us (more than it’s doing already) and do not openly share messed up puzzles of unmaterialised goals.
We embrace big visionaries and men of action. We willingly share blunt headlines of latest tech inventions trying to take credit for other people’s bravery like those proud beer-pouring football fans who proclaim “WE won”.
Yet, most of us don’t have the balls to follow the same path. We fear being ridiculed for our unsuccessful attempts.
We only write what we’ve succeeded on, creating delirious, incomplete image of how the ‘success’ is made and how do you arrive there. Stories about struggling are welcome – but only if you can conclude them with the happy $$ ending. We want to sound and look smarter than we actually are. But this is not how you encourage first-time entrepreneurs shyly putting steps into their new ventures. Raison d’être of our existence should be embracing the unknown and celebrating everything what comes with it.
“If you don’t have a self, you don’t want to be aware of that, […] You always have to stay busy.”
We believe we need other environment/tools/people around to start creating, while the main problem lays within us. We perfected finding excuses. When we are occupied by something we’d rather not have been doing, we plan on how much we are going to do in our spare moments. But when this moment arrives, we look again for distractions.
I will call you
For the last few months I’ve been on the quest of changing the state of Polish startup scene and building – what I call – a tech bridge between the UK and Poland.
Yes, lots has been done over the last few years. Eliza, Bartek and rest of the team from Startup Poland are doing an extraordinary job in lobbing for positive changes for small companies and startups. But it’s not enough. The hype of startup thrills reached and slowly saturates Polish tech scene, but we are still insignificant in the European VC scene. We have little know how and no healthy schemes allowing investors to offload some risk. The current political situation does not help either as all the progress Poland has made so far seems to be scrupulously erased.
Between us, there is London, Berlin, then looong, loong nothing, nada, niente… and then there is Tel Aviv (yes, I know, it’s not Europe but it’s very interconnected with it) – these are the centres of innovation and VC cash splash. In the international arena, Poland is not known for the innovations (but we DO have them, look e.g. at Olga Malinkiewicz and her brillant inventions with use of perovskite!) but rather for cheap, reliable workforce and our outsourcing capabilities.
Britain, however, has been brilliant when it comes to introducing incentives (think EIS, SEIS but not only) for the first-time and more mature investors and market players. It is easier to calculate risk here.
I’ve been living in London for more than 8 years now, I’ve had many chances to see how big things are done – hence, Jan last year I left comfortable (a.ka. autopilot) employment in order to do something about it. I decided to create a 6 months acceleration program for Polish startups, focused on FinTech & IoT (something which UK is great at) which would enable for know-how exchange and increased investment in Polish startups (batch 1 would take up to 7 pre-seed stage startups). The whole program was based on open innovation between startups and corporations. The major part of it was supposed to take place in Poland (cost-efficiencies) with UK mentoring and Demo Day being held in London. I’ve chased and managed to partner up with some of the prominent business people in the FinTech scene, who helped me to carefully plan over the structure and budget needed.
In the end, everything was down to the money – money facilitates starts and this was no different.
I had two routes on getting investment for the program – private investors or partnering up with Polish government. In the beginning, I wasn’t considering the second option at all, but some circumstances (“StartInPoland” scheme and some connections) and promise that the program could be easily and fully sponsored – made me change my mind.
My London advisors told me that there is no chance UK-based investors would invest in companies registered in Poland. No surprise, despite great tech talent we have, the complexities of regulations and lack of tax relieves do not make a tasty investment opportunity.
The costs for running Amuse acceleration program were very reasonable (90k-110k GBP for one batch), I’ve got on-board amazing international mentors who specialise in FinTech and IoT, but it still wasn’t enough. It was still too risky for the investors (some of whom I was chasing for ~5 months). I had one investor willing to match the fund but I was on my own on raising the total sum. I must have used all my cheating codes for getting LinkedIn Premium in order to freely in-mail the very BUSY people of finance. I constantly felt like a fucked chick after one-night-stand – in the morning hearing I will call you!, only to never hear from the person back again.
After getting fed up with constant rejection, I’ve turned into the gov route (which I previously crossed out completely). I’ve reached to my friends and acquaintances who could help. I’ve met with Polish Embassy (Trade & Investment Chamber), reached out to the very Minister of Trade & Development and his colleagues from the cabinet. I’ve flown to Warsaw and met with one of them.
They said our program could be financed only if startups were registered in Poland (as limited companies) to prevent – as they called it – a brain-drain. Well, they may be able to put the money to keep the nationalist glory (“We support investments in Poland!”), but in order for these startups to survive, the gov needs to change the game they are playing. No serious external investment will be made on Polish terms and all concious startups know that. That’s why instead of artificially fighting against startup internationalisation, the gov should support it and make it easy for foreign investors to source opportunities. My bad I did not want to hear that all is politics and especially politics are now rotten in Poland – which definitely did not help my position.
What I have done and how much I’ve sacrificed – it’s the subject for another time. All in all, when it came to putting money on the table, all specifics and promises suddenly became liquid and put ‘on hold’. Why am I talking about it in past tense?
I burned out.
The thousand-and-one email with rejection killed the remaining hope I had for this project to kick off soon. No great business has been built by one person, especially ambitious ones involving fighting against status quo like Amuse acceleration program. If you are reading this and want to resurrect the project – feel free to contact me – I can surely provide great advice what NOT to do and where not to waste any time.
I keep fingers crossed for Tom & Jeremi from Polish-Israeli Startup Foundation. Maybe you will be more lucky and together – you will find more strength. I truly hope so 🙂
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for – and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool – for love – for your dreams – for the adventure of being alive.
The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Maybe it was a lost fight from the very beginning, or maybe I have not tried enough. Maybe I have a masochist tendencies and that’s why I will always choose unknown over a comfy salary. No matter what, I can’t hold myself against of not trying.
But somehow, I still feel stupid for taking all this time of people who helped me and not delivering the goals I established myself. I’m especially thinking of you Stefano, Michael and Sebastian.
More than anything, I want to avoid adding to the noise, generated greatly by those who don’t look before they leap. And somehow I feel like a fraud.
Somehow having stepped back and working my way up by focusing the remaining energy on ‘achievable, measurable…’ goals didn’t feel SMART at all either. But I needed to do that so I could start thinking clearly again.
Opportunity comes but once?
Most of us never reach our full potential, never even dare to try. We see black on white. However, when we look through the right prism (e.g. by developing or rather, regaining, the natural curiosity for truly living experiences) one can see the whole spectre and the beauty of various combinations of opportunities. I myself see them everywhere.
It’s a blessing in disguise, as it takes time to learn to prioritise which ones should be undertaken and which ones passed on. You need to chose the core of your mission and stick to it.
Well, maybe it will sound ironic knowing that I’ve been involved in 3 companies, from which one has nothing to do with tech. Japana.uk is an e-commerce selling authentic Japanese knives but these beauties are too sexy product to pass on.
Oh, and a non-profit Girls in Tech, for which together with Renata Kaczoruk and Agata Turek I co-founded the chapter in Poland.
But I know what I’m doing.
I’m more careful now with choosing business partners and I respect my time more.
I used to reap handfuls of new projects, defragmenting myself by putting my priorities aside and helping many, many people, let’s call them by their name – wantrepreneurs – only to see their projects never launch or being folded up after first obstacles.
Now I get involved in new projects only if I am sure that my business partners are serious and committed. Doing the business alone in impossible, yet having a business partner is like marrying him for life (or till the bankruptcy/exit tears you apart) – sometimes you want to kill him, the butteflies quickly disappear, but you know that together you are much better off.
That’s why I’m extremely grateful to be working with amazing Anna and Izabela on Japana.uk and awesome Q on IamIN (platform that lets to collect money from a group into a default currency instantly and at the best market rates). While the first had its launch few months ago and already has orders, IamIN alpha launch is happening late May ’16. I’m very excited and can’t wait for it.
And no, I’m not done with the ambitious version of Amuse. While doing what I do now through Amuse (consulting & tech services) I will be working its profile up by matching interesting startups with corporations in need of innovation. Only this time, I will focus on startups at stages with measurable results and with meritocracy at the Amuse core model.
Don’t Lose That ‘Little Spark of Madness’
Back then I did not understand how important it is to set yourself little goals and putting them into reality with consistency. Now, I get it all and see, that it made me who I am today and defines where I am going – no matter how long it will eventually take, I will always stay as curious and hungry as I am now.
I want to live totally fulfilled, unlike some people dead inside at the age of 20-something, who do not question social stigma that life is not more than a horse-shit of struggle, survival and disappointment, mixed with a little bit of elusive pleasure, just to fuck you up a bit. I never wanted to join the ranks of corpo zombie, repeating weekly, deadly schedule of “eat, sleep, (mon-fri(work overload) + sat-sun(self-abuse))rave, repeat”.
And probably for the sake of sounding more sophisticated, one could evoke here the relative theory of time and its paradox.
This feeling, that sometimes, before you know it, few months have slipped through your fingers, working, living the Groundhog day. Yet, somehow spontaneous weekend escapes with chats till the dawn feel more full, emotionally condensed and REAL, than these couple of months of a monothematic biological ageing.
That’s why I can’t stop trying. I write my life scenario and I want it full of extremes. I welcome them.
Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.