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How to Set Up A Creative Business

What we have learnt on our M.Y.O Journey

We were lucky to be asked to speak at a Virgin StartUp Event, hosted by WeWork Aldgate, about “How to set up a business”. By we, I mean my M.Y.O co-founder and partner Sam Lehane. On the panel was Co-founder and ex- COO of the furniture brand many of us love - (started 2010), as well as Frankie Fox, founder of delicious beetroot ketchup The Foraging Fox (started 2015)! It was such an honour to share our M.Y.O experience (started 2017) along with these guys, as M.Y.O was by the far the tiniest company and we are newbies to the start up game.

Virgin Start Up Meet Up Group shot

Quick intro to M.Y.O

Sam and I set up M.Y.O “ Make Your Own” to help everybody explore their creative side – think of it like an art gym for your creative muscles! As charted accountants with backgrounds in finance, we regularly felt that we wanted to do something creative but we didn’t know what, how or where. Once we started exploring our creative side, we found that the benefits were enormous – its fun, perfect for mindfulness, you can make some cool stuff and is tech-free! We just had to find a way to share it with all adults across the city. It is crazy to think where M.Y.O is at now, compared to this time last year when it was just an idea…

So how do you set up a business? Our Story

Difference between being creativity and imagination

Following from the above, a business idea remains a piece of your imagination without action. As is often said, the value of an idea is in the execution. How do you create something meaningful to a group or groups of people?

1. Pre – Idea: Commit to a process and timeline

Once you decide you really want to set up a business (whether or not you have an idea), the first step is to commit to a process and a timeline, whilst controlling the controllables throughout. In Sam’s case, he gave himself 3 months to:

  • Save and pay down any debt
  • Get life in order – move to a cheaper house, get bills in order, pay insurance. All that jazz. If you’re jumping into the startup world, with all its uncertainty, get your personal life in order so you can stay focused.
  • Get healthy – eat better, exercise, get enough sleep. You’ll need the energy you generate from this.

The next 3 months were to:

  • Give up his full-time job, but go freelance to have income to cover the bills – so he had time and runway to explore startup idease.
  • Meet new people, talk about ideas and try to be helpful to others. 
  • Read and get informed. Follow influencers on Twitter and Linkedin, go to startup events, buy books around your start up idea(s) (and actually read them!). Go deep on ideas, to quickly find out if you are actually passionate about them or whether it’s a no. 
  • Reflect. Understanding what he was naturally passionate about by thinking back over the years (helping others, organising activities for friends, helping organise events like Tedx Canary Wharf, physical spaces!), he could eliminate start up ideas and ultimately landed on M.Y.O - which appeared to be a blend of what he was passionate about.

2.. Commit to an idea and get going – don’t overthink it!

So, the next 3 months we:

  • Researched the space, went to creative events to see what others were up to.
  • Mapped out the idea on the Business Model Canvas and saw how we worked together.
  • Got a plan to launch, a timeline (another 3 months) and went for it!

The key to getting going for M.Y.O was finding a suitable premises, which we did through a magical lady called Sara who let us use her studio space as it had excess capacity. Worth considering this option. We quickly learned some crafts, arranged the first night (with friends, our first paying customers below - Andy & Caz!) and got focused on the job in hand. There was no over thinking, just action and getting organised. 3 months whizzed by.

3. Get better, day by day and week by week

The next 3 months was a period of firsts:

First hen, birthday, big corporate client (Diageo). Once you get one, you can tell everyone you host big groups, reputable corporates, hen parties and birthdays .

We kept learning the business, speaking to our customers, adding more classes, meeting more artists and teachers, and making sure the quality of the product (creative classes) was improved and maintained. We also shared the M.Y.O story and kept...

Getting better, day by day and week by week.

Life drawing for beginners class group shot

4. Take a break, reflect and ramp it up baby!

We took a break to rest, reflect and ensure life admin (which can quickly slip out of control) was in hand. This might not be the preferred approach for everyone, but we found it useful in giving us the space to digest the first 3 months and strategize for the next 3-6 months: how to go about the business, what funding may be needed (we decided to bootstrap – get a profitable business model, then consider getting investment in the future to push it even more!) and listing more creative sessions to see what our customers (guests) liked.

The next 3 months (Oct – Dec 2017) went by in a flash. 6 nights a week (sometimes 7!), 2 mornings a week, creative team building classes during the afternoons and more classes than ever! Birthdays, hens, big companies, startup of the month, Evening Standard recognition, being interviewed on a startup podcast, more partnering and more! Getting better day by day, week by week. Most importantly, we fell more in love with the idea of providing the place for guests to get creative.

Sam finished with some final thoughts on starting up a creative business:

  • You don’t need to know everything in advance! - The best and deepest learning is through doing and learning along the way
  • Persistence and patience – It’s going to be a long journey
  • Simplify – keep processes simple
  • Grow, day by day for the future – growing everyday with take you 365 steps closer to your goal
  • Momentum breeds momentum. Share through various channels any shred of decent momentum you get
  • Existing customers! – don’t focus on the next customer all the time, cherish your existing ones, they already know you and love you, but don’t ever take them for granted.
  • ‘How I Built This’ NPR Podcast – give it a listen, it will inspire you. Screw Just Do It, is the UK equivalent and is great too.
  • Have fun, and...
  • ALWAYS BE SELLING your dream, your mission and your product. Every encounter helps.

What we learnt from the other speakers

Julien Callede Co-founder and Ex-COO of

  • Find co-founders you get along with and who have complementary skills – in a start up two heads equal 3.
  • Find an idea you truly love and are passionate about – you’ll be working on it for years and there will be lots of ups and downs.
  • Don’t forget the vision, but be flexible with your business model if it needs be.
  • Don’t get investment until you really need to, will allow you to keep a little more control and know the mechanics of your business before going BIG.

Frankie Fox, Co-founder of The Foraging Fox 

  • Find a co-founder if doing it solo. Sharing the journey (and the workload) is very helpful and helps you tackle things you might be scared to face alone.
  • Be demand led. See what the customers want, provide it and grow from there.
  • Try to think a couple of steps ahead to ensure that enough time is devoted to getting new products developed.
  • When you hire, it doesn’t have to be a full-time hire. Part-time could work too and reduce the overhead of a full-time hire.

All in all, it was an inspiring evening and we left feeling pumped for the future.

In Summary

  • If you don’t quite have an idea but want to get something up and running in 2018, get a process and timeline going, believe in the process and be flexible! Keep an eye out for trends too.
  • If you just have an idea, start scratching it. Dig a little deeper and try to take the first key steps to get up and running. Don't overthink, act, learn on the job, reflect, then ramp it up as you go - your startup doesn't have to be a fully fledged 'thing' straight away, build it up over time.
  • If you have started, keep going and get better – day by day, week by week! In a year you'll look back and see how far you have come.

It’s damn hard setting up a business, but it is well worth a try to change the world (or your country or your town) in one way or another, for the better!

Diana Muendo

Co-founder of M.Y.O

Thoughts and comments? Tweet me @MYO_London, on instagram @MYOLondon or email me at - I would love to hear from you.

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