In the be­gin­ning, you won’t know what you don’t know, writes

CityPress - - Busi­ness - Fol­low @AmargiMe­dia on Twit­ter for more on the #StartUpDiaries

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.


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