Lessons learnt from 2020
2020 was an eventful year, to say the least. I’ll share the full details in another post, but in a nutshell:
2020 started well, Confido revenue was growing as planned.
Unexpectedly, in April the two other Directors exited, and I became the sole owner of Confido.
The team shrunk, then grew again.
We made over 55 hires for 10 different startups.
We rebranded and launched our new website.
We refined our positioning to working exclusively with Tech for Good startups.
Confido had its best revenue year to date.
I laughed, I cried, I celebrated, I reflected, I improved.
For everyone, 2020 was a year of change. Having to react to a constantly evolving situation caused people to reflect and evaluate what really mattered to them.
After a year of non-stop work, I finally managed to get some time to recharge over Christmas which naturally led to reflection on the lessons I’d taken from the year and how it had changed me.
My lessons from 2020:
1. Trust your gut when you have to make tough decisions with limited info available
Last year, everyone was put in a situation where they had to make difficult decisions that would impact their life and the lives of others around them. Whether that be a company making redundancies, a person giving up work to care for the kids or deciding who to form support bubbles with.
Most of these decisions needed to be made with little or no warning, and no time to properly think through the options.
As an entrepreneur, making decisions comes with the territory, but you normally have a little bit more time and information. Trust your gut. Speak to people for advice if you have the chance, but make a decision based on your intuition, what feels right and what aligns with your values.
2. Things will work out in the end
No matter how bad things are, how dark the way forward may seem, things do work themselves out. Keep going, keep doing the right things and trust that everything will work out eventually. Like everyone, I had my fair share of personal and business setbacks last year, but by the year’s end, I wouldn’t have changed anything.
Over the last few weeks I’ve connected with a few people that had a really tough 2020, but they’re in a better place now. Most are thankful for the hardship, it pushed them to grow and adapt.
3. Control what you can control
Being in and out of lockdown, moving into different tiers, your work environment changing, becoming a part-time home-schooler – these are all things that you have no control over.
Focus your time and energy on the things you can influence, such as:
Setting up a new routine at home that allows you to fit in everything you need to.
Having a work set-up that works for you.
Making plans that’ll help improve your work/life balance.
Picking up new hobbies if your normal ones are off-limits.
I’ve been working remotely for three years now, so it was more about my routine away from home. I’ll discuss in more detail below, but for me, it was making more time for myself and being more aware of what I needed.
4. Make business decisions but execute them with people in mind
From a Confido point of view, my world turned upside down in March last year. One week we were growing according to plan, the next my two business partners exited and I was unsure if the business would survive. Personally, I had a family to support with two young children that I couldn’t let down. I had to make a call on what to do with Confido and the team, knowing I couldn’t take too many risks.
The decision I made was a business decision. I had to strip the business back and prepare for the worst. I couldn’t be playing with the livelihoods of my team and my family.
I made sure the decision was communicated and executed with a people-first approach:
In communications I was 100% transparent about what was going on and why I was having to make these decisions, nothing was hidden.
Everyone was able to ask questions and suggest alternatives solutions which we’d explore.
Everyone was given as much notice as possible and treated fairly when it came to redundancy agreements.
This meant everyone had clarity and could make plans on what to do next. Thankfully, everyone ended up lining up new jobs before finishing with Confido (it all works out😉).
5. Understand where your priorities lie
This is the big one that I think most people will reflect on when thinking about 2020.
If you were going to die tomorrow, what would you want to be known for? Who are the people you’d want to spend time with? What activities/hobbies/interests would you prioritise? What really matters in those final moments? A bit extreme, but I think COVID brought a bit of this type of thinking to everyone.
COVID forced us into a situation of isolation which cut out a lot of the artificial things in life that people thought they needed. People realised that it’s the simple things in life that matter the most; physical and mental health, family and friends, living with purpose, supporting one another, enjoying your work etc.
Personally, COVID helped me realise my priorities as:
Being the best father and partner I could be.
Making more time for my family and close friends.
Focusing my efforts at work to do what I really cared about (Tech for Good).
Generally giving more and taking less.
No longer remaining passive on matters that seriously impact others.
6. Make time to take care of yourself
Life is short, and with so many distractions on offer, it’s easy to forget to look after yourself. 2020 was the first year I’ve wanted to make time for myself and take an active role in my personal wellbeing.
Physically, I’ve always been an active person, but as I get older I want to look after my body. This has involved exploring activities like breathing, yoga, stretching and better nutrition.
Mentally, I’ve tried to be more self-aware of my feelings and take preventative measures. Last year, up until December I’d taken 1.5 days off from work. It had also been the year I’d worked the hardest and longest. I didn’t realise it, but I was burnt out. Taking 2 weeks off over Christmas and properly switching off from work instantly improved my relationships at home and I just felt better in myself.
In 2021 I want to continue exploring different ways to improve my wellbeing and relationship with myself.
7. Give more, take less. Support others.
In the past, I’ve always been happy to help but I’d normally wait for someone to ask. Now I’ve been more proactive in helping others. Whether that be family and friends, the local community, small businesses or people I happen to cross paths with.
In the last year, with relatively minimal effort other than a bit of time, I’ve been able to:
Help people find jobs by tagging them in adverts online or making intro’s
Introduce Co-Founders and advisors in early-stage businesses
Provide user feedback on early-stage products
Offer advice to other recruitment business owners
Refer people to small businesses via social
The important thing is…I expect nothing in return. This isn’t a brag, I’m just trying to highlight with relatively low effort you can really help a lot of people.
If you take local businesses, the FT wrote that 250,000 small businesses in the UK risk failing in 2021. By September last year, 234,000 small businesses had closed since the first lockdown. You can help them; buy local where you can, if it’s good – write them a review, post it on your social media, tell friends about it. It’ll take you 30 seconds but could mean all the difference to a small business owner.
In terms of your local community, there are always small things you can do.
On Facebook we found a group at Christmas set up to help families that couldn’t afford presents, locals could donate or buy presents.
I take my eldest (she’s 3) to pick up litter in the local woods.
Smile when you go on your daily walk – it will always lift peoples’ spirits 😊
This isn’t me being completely altruistic, it makes me feel good and improves my mental wellbeing knowing I’m helping others. Try it, pick one thing to help others and see how you feel afterwards.
8. Do something that satisfies your purpose or is meaningful to you
The term “Ikigai” seems to be becoming more well-known. It’s the Japanese concept of your “reason for being”. By living a life of meaning or purpose, you feed your ikigai and ultimately derive more satisfaction from life.
I was really proud of Confido, what we’d built and achieved. But when I looked back at the businesses we’d worked with, there was a clear category of startup that I felt compelled to work with. Those that were building Tech for Good, they were tacking major social issues and making the world a better place and that’s something I wanted to be a part of.
As a recruiter, I can have a substantial impact on the trajectory of a business. The people I attract to a startup can be force multipliers, especially in the early, critical stages. So, I want to make sure the people I hire are helping to build a better world. Cheesy I know, but it’s true.
9. Don’t stagnate, make time for learning.
I fell into the trap of not learning. I mean, I was learning (running a business for the first time you learn so much) but it was starting to become more of the same as opposed to expanding my knowledge.
I’d not been feeding my brain and in 2020 this changed big time. On my daily walk with the dog, I’d listen to a podcast every day. I chose a handful of podcasts that all focused on different topics. Straight away I felt mentally revitalised and realised it’s something I’d been missing for years.
To share some of the content I consumed in 2020:
My go-to podcasts:
Braincare – compact 15 min clips with experts talking about mental health (my favourite)
Diary of a CEO – Steven Bartlett sharing his raw thoughts on being an entrepreneur as well as interviewing other business leaders on their journey.
Notion’s The Pain of Scale – Notion speak to a range of experts across finance, products, sales, talent on how to scale SaaS businesses.
Secret Leaders - interviews with business leaders unearthing their journey, challenges and lessons learned.
Some of my favourite books that I read last year:
World of Good – Gethin Nadin. Gethin shares the best workplace practices and work cultures from around the world.
F*cking Good Content - Dan Kelsall. Cutting through all the BS, Dan shares his views on understanding your audience and creating content.
The World’s Fittest Book – Ross Edgley. Ross travels the world exploring different types of fitness, pushing his mind and body to the extremes.
Zero to One – Peter Thiel. Exploring how your business can become the next Apple or Microsoft.
Hung Lee – Recruiting Brainfood – a weekly dose of the best articles relating to talent
Pat Kua – Level Up – all you need to know about tech leadership
10. Take time to disconnect.
This is the one I found hardest, I’ve always prided myself on always being “online” and reacting instantly to work stuff. I love work but it can be detrimental at home if your head is always stuck in your phone or laptop.
At dinner time, phones are banned. If I’m with my kids, the phone is in the other room. I’m always present for dinner and bath time and keep working late nights/weekends to an absolute minimum now.
Although I enjoy my walks and podcasts, once a week/fortnight I’ll make sure I go out without my headphones and just appreciate what’s around me. It’s scientifically proven that nature can help with physical and mental wellbeing, so take it all in – the views, the sounds, the smells.
Without a doubt 2020 was tough, the toughest year of our lives for most people. I’m thankful for what I’ve taken from it and look forward to what I learn in 2021.
If you’ve not had the chance, hopefully this inspires you to reflect and think about the positives to take from 2020. Rather than just remember 2020 as the year where a lot of bad things happened.