In the beginning, you won’t know what you don’t know, writes
It’s 2.30am and I am sitting at my desk trying to format a document. It’s a pitch. It has to be sent first thing. It has to look right. There’s one title that just won’t do what I need it to. No matter what I do. Even when I start all over again, it just won’t justify left.
Why am I trying to format a document at such an ungodly hour, you might ask. Well, that’s mostly because the hours from 7pm to midnight were spent giving myself a crash course in Excel and trying to make a spreadsheet work.
This is the witching hour Windows voodoo. I need Windows. I hate Windows.
As I sit at my desk, I realise the fundamental truth of the start-up. As a founder or cofounder, you are everything to the business. You are the chief accountant, the chief creative officer, the lead negotiator, the procurement specialist, the tea lady, the copywriter and the designer. You are all that. But you are simultaneously none of those things.
You will learn to hate all Microsoft products. Especially when Word insists on removing your logo from the template you lovingly crafted – for no apparent reason other than that you dared to insert a bullet point in the body text.
You will have moments of clarity in which you realise the number of things that you didn’t even know you didn’t know. This is doubly true for those of us who have led a charmed, corporate life, complete with spreadsheets formulated by unseen Excel whisperers somewhere in accounts, and personal assistants who always remember our partners’ birthdays.
The money stuff can be especially daunting. There are tax returns, VAT returns, monthly PAYE reports. The first few times you have to do these things make you feel like your head might explode, and at every turn there are the dire warnings from the SA Revenue Service about what will happen to you if you mess them up.
Basic bookkeeping skills are a huge boon. If you’re from an accounting background, that’s brilliant. If you’re not, the best advice is to get help. Pay someone to help if you don’t have a pet accountant lurking around. Then there’s corporate governance. Ignoring such things is not an option. You have to do it right if you want to survive in the long term. But getting to a point of understanding can be perplexing in the extreme thanks to the incomprehensible jargon and seeming contradictions.
You’ve got to learn what you can, and quickly. In this regard, Google is my best friend in the world. At 2.30am, there’s nothing nicer than typing “Why won’t my title justify?” and getting 20 potential answers in a millisecond.
In the beginning, you won’t know what you don’t know. As you go along, your knowledge deficit will feel daunting. But here’s the thing: if you had a true sense of what you didn’t know to start with, you’d probably never have left your happy life of secure employment. Not knowing is sometimes the best gift an entrepreneur can be given. Discovery, understanding and, yes, even the mastery of Windows, becomes a thrilling journey – one that we wouldn’t have missed for the world.