Ghosting: The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone.
London’s startup scene is hot.
There’s an event almost every night, with attendees ranging from those who have yet to start, to those who have started several times over, to those who are there to advise the first two. Some are budget, some come with wine and caviar. Some are talks, some are networking, some are for pitching. Some are for specific types of startups, in specific sectors, focusing on specific customers. Some of them are come-one-come-all, some are invitation-only.
I spent months trying to get into this scene, then suddenly I was on this scene, going to all the different types of events, meeting all the different types of people, and getting to know some of them quite well. Some of these people became allies and even friends, and I’m going to tell you about one of them.
David is an extremely well-connected, friendly, wise, charming Welshman who works in a mysterious job that entails him attracting investors to areas as small as towns and as big as whole countries. I can’t even remember how I met him now, I think it was though my former business partner, but it doesn’t really matter. He was always travelling anyway, at least when I knew him, and occasionally he would pop up in London, and, when he did, he would arrange to meet up with me to discuss my ideas. He was my ticket to the invitation-only scene of the startup world, even managing to wrangle me a ticket to a member’s only event where the main speakers were the former director of Mothercare and the main investor for The Lad Bible.
He genuinely cared about me and my ideas, and wanted to help me succeed. He taught me tips on how to network better, in what order I should be approaching the different tasks I needed to complete, and how to spot those people who would only latch onto me to take advantage of me (which inevitably happened, despite his best efforts). He would always try and introduce me to the right people – other people who had succeeded in the same sector, others interested in China, people who knew people who might be able to help out.
Sometimes we would just talk about life. He was one of those white men between 35 and 45 who actually gets young people, women, and ethnic minorities. He had friends of every creed and colour, probably as a result in living in so many different places and working with so many different communities and individuals. He was so genuinely interested in people and their lives, you know? He wasn’t just interested in your startup or getting money out of you – he wasn’t even an investor. He was, and still is I imagine, a good man.
I don’t talk to David anymore.
* * * * * *
You always see those statistics about how 1 in 3 startups will never get off the ground, and how around 90% fail within the first 3 years, but I guarantee you that no one who ever tried to start their own business thought that either of those statistics would ever apply to themselves. If you look into the details of why so many of these businesses fail, it’s actually quite interesting. Around 40% of them fail because there was actually no market demand for their product – failure to do proper research then. Other interesting factors that contribute to failure include loss of focus, a failure to listen to customer feedback, poor marketing, poor product quality, burnout…the list goes on.
But the second most cited reason for a startup to fail is “ran out of money.” I can’t really stress this point enough: if you don’t have any money, you will not be able to start your own business. No matter what anyone tells you.
When you’re looking into starting your own business, you think you’ve got it all set. The great idea, the passion, the organisational know-how. Personally, I made a real effort to do all the research (I even wrote an unpublished white paper which is pretty good, even if I say so myself), meet the right people, and set up all the technical/legal sides of things. I’d heard all the stories about how people with great ideas got plenty of funding, and were then able to build up a team of technical experts who helped them take their idea to the next level. Those people, however, are one in a million.
I fell into the second category of failures/non-starters. There is plenty of demand, I believe, for my product, but at the end of the day, I had no money. No piggy bank, no potential investors. Well, no credible potential investor. OK, so different groups of creepy men trying to steal my idea/youth for their own profit also sapped a lot of my energy and motivation out of my project, but the bottom line was I didn’t have any money of my own, and I wasn’t the right type of person to go round to different people asking to fund an uncertain dream for a girl with no technical qualifications.
But I’m not really here to talk about how or why my business never got off the ground, that’s happened and I’ve dealt with it, to some extent. What I haven’t dealt with is the people who still occasionally send me emails, and the people who no longer email me at all. I ghosted on my startup, the founders that I met, the investors that I networked with, and pretty much everyone else who I came across during my startup ‘journey’. Including David.
* * * * * *
London’s startup scene is active, not passive. It’s full of busy people who are often working 20 hours a day, or balancing a full time job with a family with their dreams of breaking out on their own, or only out hunting for the next big thing in which to invest their time and money. So if you’re not contacting them, asking them questions, requesting a meetup, trying to rope them into what you’re doing, they’re certainly not going to email you. You may have been bosom buddies 2 months ago, but when the email chain ends abruptly, you can end up being lost in the inbox, and never hearing from them again – not even to check up on how you’re getting on with life, let alone a potential business.
Does that make you the ghoster or the ghostee?
Well, at the end of the day, London’s startup scene is self-serving. Everyone is out for themselves and what they can get – no one is an exception to this. From the above character reference, you might think that David was an exception to this. But even David wanted to be friends with those doing well – after all, he never introduced me to anyone who was struggling.
I vaguely remember having a conversation with him about how, after much disappointment, I would be pursuing academia for the time being. I still have my idea (to my knowledge, no one has come up with anything similar) and I believe that it’s entirely possible. But another thing that startups need is capital, of which I have none and no reliable sources.
And even if I did, maybe London’s startup scene just isn’t for me. Maybe none of them are. Maybe this active, ‘meet the right people say the right things’ approach just isn’t for me. Or maybe I’m just barking up the wrong career-tree altogether.
* * * * * *
I’m one of those people who feels that unless they’re doing 1,349 things at once, they’re basically doing nothing. At the moment, for example, I am: writing my Master’s dissertation, working full time, preparing to apply for my PhD, organising and writing for a group blog, taking Igbo language classes, going [read:attempting to go] to the gym 3 days a week, writing a book, volunteering on the weekend, all whilst trying to maintain a loving, committed relationship and keep up to date with episodes of Containment. I’m not a quitter either – piano lessons and club swimming aside I don’t think I’ve quit anything except bad jobs, and all of those are a in case point for not pursuing things if they’re not making you happy.
If I look back on all I’ve accomplished, and all I’ve set myself up for in the future, I haven’t done badly at all. But it’s the niggling feeling that I’ve failed at something – or, worse, quit something – that still gets me. I’m not mad that my idea didn’t take off, I’m not angry that my family didn’t support me and just wanted me to get a regular-degular job and “maybe try again later”, but I am a bit bothered by the fact that I just gave up on something that people thought I could do – that I would do – without so much as a ‘thank you’ whatsapp to those who believed in me. I just ghosted.
This was all a while back now, but it’s hitting home again now that friends, former allies, and even my mum ask me, out of the blue, “what ever happened to your startup idea?” To friends and family, I reply “nothing, for now”. To former allies, I don’t reply at all. It wasn’t easy, delisting my company and closing all accounts before they even had all penny in them. But what’s worse – much worse – is the feeling that I’ve let people down. I’m just not used to it.
When you fail at something, it always feels as if there’s a door open somewhere that will allow you to try again, someday, somehow. But quitting seems more final, it’s your own personal choice for a start. You have to consciously make a decision that you’re not doing something anymore, and then decide how you’re going to go about informing people of this decision. In my mind, if you’re going to quit something, the best way would be to be honest with everyone who was invested or even remotely interested in your idea – even if it’s just a brief email or text. The worst thing to do would be to try and disappear without a trace. And that’s exactly what I did. It feels disgusting.
I like to be honest with myself, and reflect on different parts of my life with a fair but piercing gaze. I don’t think my startup will ever happen. I’m not sure I was ever passionate enough about it. I don’t have the skills for it and, again, I don’t think I have the right level of passion to go out and get them. I think this idea also required too much from others. Not only am I an introvert, I don’t have any money or experience to persuade people to work with me. I certainly couldn’t charm them into it.
Maybe I’ll have another idea one day that won’t require so much from me financially or personality-wise. I still have plenty ideas I want to put into practice, and I think they’re all possible. They just require time, patience, and hard work. And next time I won’t shout about it before it goes anywhere again. If only to avoid ghosting on the people who were listening.