Harnessing my fear – my first year as an entrepreneur

Last year's Pitch to Rich winner Carl Thomas writes on how he has used fear to his advantage in his first year of running a business.

Moving to London as an architect in 2010 opened my eyes to an array of opportunities, excitement and ambition; the place oozes the stuff! Four years later I took the plunge, quitting a career that had taken up 10 years of training and education to try my hand at being an entrepreneur.

Way out of my architectural comfort zone, I dived head first into the London startup scene to launch an app called miPic, a product I’d been thinking about for a couple of years. This was a huge risk and I was driven to succeed by the fear of failure having put a stable career on hold.

The first few months were inevitably the toughest. I had no budget for marketing and a survival fund for just five months in London, which really focused the mind. The first big break came almost two years after my original idea, whilst juggling a full time job and countless evenings and weekends spent on Skype.

Hours and hours spent networking and trying to ‘get my idea out there’ finally bore some fruit when I was asked to take part in a Nokia phone launch commercial, in which they required a 30-year-old architect to feature how we utilize our smart phone cameras in daily life under the tag “what’s your story”. How could I say no!

A week later we were filming and, despite the unorthodox filming debut, the result was amazing. What better way to promote the project than to be named in the latest big mobile device launch? This opportunity was the catalyst I needed to overcome my fear of failure, give up the security of my salary and believe anything was possible.

It sounds like a fluke, but the hard work had paid off. Add this to some savvy hashtaging on Instagram and Twitter, and the miPic website saw usage in 49 countries in four weeks – rising to 115 in month seven.

This confirmed the global appeal of the concept. This was so important because it gave me real confidence in the business at a time when I had to make significant sacrifices to grow it.

The Pitch to Rich competition

The second huge step for the business was hearing about last year’s Pitch to Rich competition, which gives startups the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to the ultimate entrepreneur, Richard Branson.

>See also: Pitch to Rich – Fuelling growth through marketing

Sir Richard himself has referred in detail to the fear of running your own business during this year’s Pitch to Rich campaign from Virgin Media Business. I can really relate to that as the first couple of years were spent wondering whether I’d made the right decision. But it was this competition which proved to be a huge stepping stone for my business and helped me to harness my fear and turn it into positive energy.

miPic was one of 450 UK startups to enter Pitch to Rich 2014, progressing through a video pitch round and then a semi-final public vote. 21k votes later, I made it to the final three.

Here I was faced with the task of a 90 second live pitch to Sir Richard and a panel of the UK’s top entrepreneurs, including Not On The High Street founder Holly Tucker, Jack Wills founder Peter Williams, Moonpig founder Nick Jenkins and Instagram influencer Dina Tokio.

Despite presenting ideas to audiences as an architect both at university and later in practice, this was a different feeling entirely. I could afford no slip-ups. The thought of being so exposed was terrifying and electrifying in equal measures, and I found that the key was not letting that fear get the better of me.

As a result, what had started as a bit of fun became a desire to win. I wanted to push myself further out of my comfort zone. I could barely sleep the night before the pitch, going over it in my head again and again. My heart was in my mouth for the pitch itself, but somehow I managed to compose myself for the vital 90 seconds.

>Related: Five business giants who failed first time around

The immediate adrenalin crash was exhausting as I’d been thinking about the final non-stop for a month. But I’d done it. I’d conquered the fear of pitching my very own business idea to a panel of experts, having the confidence to believe in its potential.

The announcement that miPic had won the Innovation and People’s Choice awards meant £5.5k in prize money, an overload of traffic to the website and the doubling of app downloads in one day. But the most important thing to come out of it was validation. The knowledge that other people also believed in the idea made the risks and sacrifices worthwhile.

Initiatives like Pitch to Rich are vital to the growth and success of small businesses like miPic in the UK. They provide great opportunities and access to funding, advice and potentially investment as well. Above all, though, the competition provided much-needed support and feedback, reducing the feeling of being scared and alone.

Winning Pitch to Rich was the catalyst to move miPic forward and a life-changing experience. Dreams do come true, and with relentless hard work, determination and belief in yourself, you can make your own luck.

Further reading on entrepreneurs: Are entrepreneurs cool?

Carl Thomas is founder of miPic, a social platform, app and marketplace monetising mobile art and photography as printed art and fashion products. Last year he won Pitch to Rich – a competition which is being run again this year by Virgin Media Business. Below, Carl talks about the fear that has propelled him on his journey.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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