This is a post from a few years ago, but it's a fitting story of why I pivoted from building a high-growth VC-backed tech startup to becoming a lifestyle entrepreneur & indie maker while travelling the world.
Two months ago, while warming a pot of chicken soup over the stove for lunch, the room suddenly began to spin as if I was riding a waltzer after two bottles of Buckfast.
I scrambled into the next room in a haze and lay down on the sofa, my heart pounding so hard I could hear the blood pumping in my ears.
Everything suddenly went black.
After a few moments, I managed to stand up and look in the mirror; I was whiter than a corpse. For a second, I thought I'd died; I turned around, half-expecting to see my dead body lying on the sofa.
I told myself it was probably low blood sugar, grabbed a can of 7UP and went for a nap.
Upon waking, I felt fine. I had a quick shower before getting back to work but the minute I stepped out I vomited a strange, thick, black tar.
I'd only eaten chicken soup that day, so alarm bells started ringing and
like any self-respecting nerd, I Googled my symptoms. The results encouraged me to seek urgent medical attention, so I went straight to the doctors.
My doctor anxiously explained to me that the black tar was clotted blood, I was bleeding internally and had been for days.
I arrived at A&E and was admitted immediately. The doctor asked me a number of questions, and as I was talking everything suddenly faded into a hazy white mist and reality disappeared.
I regained consciousness to find numerous wires and tubes attached and inserted inside me.
"The ambulance is on its way for you" the doctor told me.
"But, I'm in hospital" I muttered in my confused state.
"You're being transferred to a special unit at the Royal Hospital, they will look after for you"
I was wheeled out to the ambulance and transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where I was poked, prodded and then plumbed up to a drip. It was around midnight at this point, so I had to wait until 7am for the specialist to see me.
As I lay there throughout the night, unable to sleep; all the things that I worried about on a day-to-day basis began to melt away and were replaced with paranoid and crippling worries about my health. I contemplated the various outcomes of my situation over and over in my mind and I started to seriously re-consider what was important in life.
Wake Up Call
I'll spare the horrific details of what happened next but to cut a long-story short, I escaped hospital a few cups of blood lighter and with some damage to my stomach, but nothing that couldn't be repaired.
My experience was caused by a nasty bacteria (Helicobacter pylori) that had been living in my stomach for several years, and that compounded with years of stress-related issues (mostly from work). My stomach had had enough and the lining ripped, pouring blood into my stomach.
My front four teeth also began to disintegrate due to vomiting daily for 5 years, and I had to pay for expensive treatment to have them fixed (but I have lovely Hollywood teeth now 😂)
I immediately stopped drinking coffee and fizzy drinks. A week later I cut out tea, meat, dairy (almost) and eggs and adopted a plant-based diet.
In addition, I started to give serious thought to my work-related stress levels, and I began to realise...
The Startup Delusion
There is a wonderful delusion about startups, usually peddled by people who have never built or been involved in a startup.
If you listen to the media, you'd be lead to believe that it's all very sexy and exciting to build a company but the truth is – a lot of the time, it's actually really shit.
Startups are glorified everyday and entrepreneurs are encouraged to build big companies and aim for the unicorn valuation in the hopes that some day we'll exit and make a small personal fortune.
However, cold-calling thousands of people, raising investment, pitching to investors, building spreadsheets, dealing with rejection on a daily basis, managing people problems and the constant stress and sleepless nights worrying about running out of cash and how you'll fund your company that spends more than it makes, is anything but sexy. It's soul (and health) destroying.
No matter what you do it's never good enough, you never quite get there. You reach a milestone and then minutes later it's obsolete. It can drive you insane.
Don't get me wrong, the first time you do these things – it's really exciting and you learn so much, but unless you absolutely love the process, you will quickly get tired of it. Especially if you're a creative person who likes making things.
As a designer/dev I started spending all of my time chasing investors and building spreadsheets while the new team were working on all the fun stuff (like the product) that I used to love.
After a while, I started to lose my way. I never talked about it, but one night in San Francisco, I lay in my hotel room seriously questioning what I was doing and asking how I ended up so unhappy doing something I was supposed to love. No matter what I did, it was never enough.
Now, I'm not against venture capital or high growth startups, we're very lucky to have two incredible investors who have supported Get Invited from the start and who continue to support us in everything we do, and will be doing. I wouldn't be where I am now without their support.
I have, however, realised there are other options for entrepreneurship. You don't have to build a billion dollar company with 500 employees and raise hundreds of millions in funding in order to be a successful entrepreneur.
If you love the process of doing that, then great! If you don't, then don't buy into the delusion.
We need to start championing the solopreneurs, the lifestyle entrepreneurs and the creative entrepreneurs – people who are building businesses doing what they love, and who are not necessarily trying to scale to a $1bn unicorn.
What about Get Invited?
Get Invited is doing better than ever – we're just refocusing the scale of the business after a lot of soul-searching.
Upon leaving hospital, I took a step back and assessed what we have achieved in just over two years, and I'm pretty damn proud of it. We're a small team, we've built a product that is in use across the world and we're self-sustaining and growing.
We've sold tickets for events with speakers like Tim Ferris, Gary Vaynerchuk and worked with customers like Jason Calacanis and Game of Thrones.
This is the kind of thing the startup world doesn't champion. I'd believed that I needed to build the biggest company possible and achieve a $1bn valuation while never stopping to question if that would ever make me happy.
By looking at things differently, I'm much happier and so is everyone else involved. We're doing what we love – building the best product we can and serving our customers. There is also something deeply fulfilling about building a small, sustainable business.
I want to build a business that works and that makes me, my business partners and investors happy without the destruction of our health or well-being in the process.
In addition to Get Invited, I'm going to be launching some new ventures doing other things that I enjoy, too. My goal is to build a suite of businesses doing things I love and fulfilling each of my passions.
I'm Still Going to Change the World
I wouldn't be an entrepreneur if I didn't want to change the world, right?
Building a billion dollar company might change your world, but unless you're developing a cure for cancer or eradicating world-hunger then your business is probably not going to change the world in any meaningful way.
It's unlikely I'll do either of these things, but I still want to make a positive impact on the world. I want to help other people free themselves from doing jobs they hate and help them to create their own careers and businesses doing what they love.
So this month, I've started writing a book; a how-to guide on how to uncover your passion and get started as a tech entrepreneur.
I'm redefining my own perception of success; which isn't measured by how much investment I can raise or big my business is, but making sure I'm doing what I want to do every single day.
I wrote this post a few years ago, but I've stuck to my word religiously. I never took any further venture capital, am still working on the same business and have launched (and am launching) some new products too – Gravity – and I'm deeply involved with helping other entrepreneurs on our Get Started programme and have been actively mentoring entrepreneurs, especially younger kids.
I published my book – The Lifestyle Startup – last year.
Part of my realisation in hospital was that I hadn't achieved a lot of personal goals, like travel – so I decided to travel a lot more because life is fragile and short.
So, for the last two years I've been doing most of my work while travelling SE Asia and living in Thailand, Bali, Japan and Vietnam.
I couldn't be happier since pivoting from the crazy world of high-growth startups to becoming an indie maker and lifestyle entrepreneur.