There are tons of routes into starting a business, here's one story. Following a redundancy, Dicky Broadhurst of chocolate gift startup Morse Toad decided there had to be more to life than working in an industry that he wasn't suited for, and so took on the decision of a lifetime. Here's part 1 of his journey, and you can read part 2 here.
Ok, so I was made redundant a long time ago. Eight years ago to be precise, and I have been running my gift business for the last three. However, it undoubtedly represents the moment that my journey began. Unlike many people, I imagine, I was secretly pleased to be made redundant.
Morse Toad is a messaging company for all those occasions that require something more special than a card or a text. Our mission is to deliver gifts that are delightful, a bit unconventional and most of all, personal. We want to combine the simplicity of mobile technology with the heartwarming experience of receiving something tangible. In three years, the business has grown consistently year on year recently achieving profitability and receiving some welcome investment. We are on our way to becoming the go-to source for innovative and remarkable messaging.
The route to starting up
After graduating university, I found myself in the US at an investment bank. I had no desire to be in finance, but in order to spend a year in the US, I accepted whatever job was offered, and this one I thought would impress my old man. This was a mistake. Rather than “blue sky thinking”, my approach was more "grey cloud disbelieving”.
My response was to panic. I returned to the UK having convinced myself that, given I held 50% of my Dad’s DNA, maybe I should try to emulate him. I implore anyone with this line of thinking to bury it in the furthest reaches of their brain. It took one Masters degree and two years at a corporate real estate firm to realise that I wasn’t cut out for that industry. During that time I struggled. I had no purpose and I was miserable. So when I learned I was probably soon to be out of work, I was excited. Of course, my nearest and dearest were troubled. I still felt enormous pressure to find another job and fall in the line of expectation. I spent the weeks following redundancy in my pyjamas looking for a job.
Well, technically, I spent about 5% of my time looking for a job. The bulk of my energy was dedicated to reading adventure blogs and books. I would then regale their tales to anyone who would listen and, as incredible luck would have it, a friend, presumably bored with hearing people’s stories second hand, shared an article in the Metro with me about a cyclist who was looking for a five month cycle ride companion.
You’re only one decision away from a different life. This was my call to adventure. I answered it immediately and fortunately, Lindsey (the source of the trip) picked me as one of her companions. Three weeks later I was on a plane with three strangers and a bicycle heading for Cairo.
I was doing what I wanted for the first time, and not what I thought others wanted me to do. In so doing, I opened up a world of potential. The only objective was to reach the World Cup in 5 months time. Other than that, we could do what we wanted. Each decision had enlightening consequences. Turn left: endure 50 degree desert heat for a gruelling 170 mile stretch. Turn right: be welcomed at 1am with food, bed and hospitality by an incredible Sudanese family. Standing in the Saharan desert staring at a map represented a suitable analogy for what was happening in my head. Suddenly I felt I could do anything.
Our first 1,000 miles of approx. 6,000
I also had a mentor. This is Yoda to Luke Skywalker, although in my case, it was just another weird dude in bright vintage cycling lycra. A mix of mad scientist, seasoned adventurer and camp TV presenter, Duncan had previously cycled west to east to Taiwan on the back of a £1 bet. I could fill a book with his various exploits, but for me personally, the main takeaway was someone who believed in endless possibility.
If you ever decide to do a cycle trip like ours, prepare yourself to spend around 6 hours a day in the saddle, day after day. I estimate we spent around 800 to 900 hours slogging through torrential rain, endless hills and week-long headwinds. That’s a lot of time to think of business ideas, and we had many. Almost all of which were wholeheartedly bad, but that’s not the point. In my view, you start with quantity and move to quality.
During this time, my mother had sent me a package. It was originally destined for Khartoum in Sudan, but the vagaries of the African postal service meant that this delivery finally reached us in South Africa having completed it’s own 3 or 4 month journey. Amongst other things, inside was a battered chocolate bar. A gesture of support from mother to son. Unbeknown to me, a little seed was planted.
Fast forward two years, I had moved to Australia and found myself having regressed back into the corporate world. Whilst this decision was motivated by the rational needs of money and visa requirements, it seemed to me that my big adventure had achieved nothing. I was back where I started and still reversing.
One day, on my way to work, I tried to send my Mum back in the UK a bunch of flowers from my phone. It was an infuriating experience that culminated in me dropping my phone and smashing my screen. At that moment, my seed of an idea sprouted. This was it. I could do this better. Why isn’t there a gift delivery service that combined the simplicity and speed of mobile ordering with the personal touch of something real that was tailored to the recipient?
Revived from my despondency, I began to research. I built a business plan, played around with numbers and scooted around for support. I pinned all my hopes on approval from my Dad during a brief sojourn back in the UK. For some reason I wanted permission to proceed, but it was not forthcoming. I returned to Australia dejected. Around the same time he told me I didn’t have the traits to be an entrepreneur. It was framed in a supportive email. He meant well, but when you choose to see the negative of something, you will. I buried my idea, and found myself at my lowest point to date. It turns out that it was that comment that utimately fuelled my future self. I had something to prove.
It took the end of a relationship to snap me into action. For the second time, I left my job and set off on another trip, this time heading home. I read an eye opening book called “How To Find Fulfilling Work” by The School Of Life. It instructs you to assess the five components of work, and the importance that you apply to each: Money, Status, Making A Difference, Talent and Passion. It also instructs you to dip your toe in as many different trades as you can to explore your interests. In a year, I shepherded sheep in Australia, taught skiing in New Zealand, wrote for a paper in India, and taught English to Chinese, Iranians, Koreans and Saudis, all of which were incredibly inspirational experiences. When I returned, I set about getting into renewable energy. My view was to do something that made ‘more of a difference’. And I also met my future wife. For the first time in a while, I surfaced my business idea to my betrothed. This time the reception was unanimous. Life’s too short not to do the things you want. Once again, I left my job. I was going to start a business.
Find out how Dicky put his plan into action in Part 2!
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