I recently got involved with a tech start-up because I saw great potential in their product and believed in their vision. I knew it would be a huge risk because there was no guarantee that they could pay me, but I wanted to flex my entrepreneurial muscles as I work my way through the ten director attributes underpinning the Westminster MBA programme.

I won’t go into too much detail about the start-up or the breakdown of the relationship because I don’t feel like it’s fair to just hear one side of the story. I will talk about the lessons I learnt because even though the outcome was far from favourable for me in terms of financial compensation, the experience I’ve gained is invaluable.

When I first met the owner of the start-up I was desperately looking for a new challenge and the opportunity to apply the things I am learning on the MBA. She told me about her platform and their mission to inspire a generation. It seemed like a perfect fit, and although I knew it would be massive risk, I handed in my notice at my current job and told the owner of the start-up that I would need a contract before I started.

During my notice period, I spent time getting to know the owner, I liked her and her sister, we got on very well and believed we would make a brilliant team. I allowed my better judgement to be clouded and trusted that they would not take advantage of my good nature. However, a month later I started working for them and still there was no sign of a contract. I was told that a substantial investment had been secured and once the funds had cleared they would have a contract drawn up. Two months passed, still no contract and I started to have concerns about the owner’s level of knowledge about the industry, their competition and strategic vision moving forward. I saw an opportunity to help them by suggesting that they allow the MBA group to complete a consultancy project for them.

My consultancy team produced an extensive proposal containing practical, cost effective solutions to develop their brand, establish more effective marketing channels and examples of content that could be created to give more value to their users, thus encourage them to come back to their platform regularly. Knowing that I did not yet have a contract in place I asked them to sign an NDA to protect both parties  before handing over the proposal and that is when they simply stopped communicating with me. I sent them messages, emails and tried to call but they did not respond.

Perhaps the owner felt like I was overstepping, and maybe I was; failing to provide me with a clear job description meant that we were both unclear about my position in the company. Maybe they felt insulted because I found holes in their business plan and understandably their emotional attachment to their product prevented them from seeing the issues. Perhaps the NDA reminded them this this is not a game and there would be legal implications if they failed to financially compensate me for my ideas. Either way, ignoring the person who dedicated time and knowledge to developing their business is not a constructive way to deal with it.

Although the whole situation has left a very bad taste in my mouth, it has also taught me three valuable lessons; I am certainly capable of running my own business, my time is valuable and ALWAYS insist on a contract before investing time on a project. This experience has been great in developing my entrepreneurial skills, I’ve learnt a lot about myself, how I would run a business and developed the confidence to create my own. Yes, in the short term my bank balance suffered and I’m learning to love beans on toast, but I know that taking this risk will ultimately pay off in the long run; not because I’ll spend another second with this start-up, but because I’ll use the lessons learnt to build something better in the future.

Thank you to Janine for writing this honest and personal account of her experience in business consulting, definitely a valuable lesson to be learnt from this blog. Find out more about the Westminster MBA program.

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