Embrace your ideas, fail fast, then go 100% all in. The crazy journey to spectacular success
** My five-stage filter process guides you to success **
When I was young, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
It really worried me that I didn't have a plan.
But I did have a passion, which was music.
As a teenager I loved playing my bass guitar in a group with my friends. We were a band of brothers, banging out tunes in our spare room.
We went on a journey of discovery, writing songs that got us excited, and then playing them at gigs for our friends across the small venues of London.
Back then, playing our own tunes on stage in front of a few hundred other young people was the biggest rush ever.
We were at the centre of our community, helping define our own culture, surrounded by cool people.
It was the best of times.
But when it came to turning my passion into a career, things didn't go so well.
I was 18 and living at home. I decided not to apply for university, but to pursue a career in music full time.
I spent the summer after finishing school busily helping to build our timetable of gigs and practising hard to be a better musician.
But as the summer progressed, I could see that becoming a super famous band wouldn't be easy.
As aurtumn neared, and I worried about how I'd survive financially, I hedged my bets and got accepted into a local university at the last minute. This meant I could continue my music at the same time as studying.
And then I got fired from the band.
They didn't want me unless I was 100% all in.
It was a hammer blow.
I was devastaed, as I hadn't seen it coming. The band had been such a brilliant and fun time of my young adult life. It was a terrible rejection.
But I soon put together a new group.
My new bandmates were cool with my dual life - study and music. They all had other things going on in their lives too, so had no issue with me being part time.
We had a blast, loving building a new set of songs and setting up a great run of gigs.
In the end, our front man decided he didn't want to continue, which came as a shock. That was the end of that!
I was pretty sad that my dream of being a successful music player and producer had come to an end.
But it taught me a great lesson.
If you want to be seriously successful in any trade, you have to go 100% all in.
Despite their commitment, the first band didn't become famous. But the musician in that band who demanded band members committed 100% to music? He DID become successful.
Just a few years later, I watched as he played on stage at the Brit Awards, dressed head to toe in a brilliant while suit in front of thousands of screaming fans with millions of people watching live on TV.
And this was also true of the other bands we used to know that played the same venues as us. The musicians who were completely dedicated did incredibly well, eventually starring in world famous acts.
Those of us that were 90% committed didn't achieve anything close to that.
This taught me another super valuable lesson.
If you're 100% all in, willing to be flexible and prepared to keep going no matter what, you WILL succeed.
It became clear to me fairly quicly that university life wan't for me. I certainly wasn't 100% committed to it. So when I got an opportunity to do some part time work at a press photo agency called Rex Features, I jumped at the chance.
As a youngster, I had got my first SLR camera at the age of 12. I loved shooting pictures of landscapes, and then loved photographing my friends' music performances.
So being able to work in a building full of amazing news photography was incredibly exciting.
I started off on £3.50 per hour, re-filing the thousands of transparencies that had been returned to the agency by magazines and newspapers.
It was incredible to be surrounded by the buzz of a news-led environment, seeing photographers arriving back from assignments around the globe with handfuls of film, top quality photographs of world changing events ready to be processed.
At first I only worked day or two a week. And I kept up my studies. But I was hooked.
So when it came to summer holidays, I was happy to work pretty much full time.
And when I got to the end of the summer, I decided to leave University and accepted a full time job at Rex.
A few of my friends told me I was mad. Why would I ever stop a university degree for a full time job earning just £9,000 per year?
But I didn't really have to think hard about it.
I saw a graduate come in to Rex at pretty much the same level as I had got to already. She had done three years at Uni, whilst I had left after just one.
So, I figured out I was two years ahead of a graduate in the same position, and working somewhere really stimulating in an exciting industry.
I loved working there - it was such an interesting and positive environment to be in, and I was learning non-stop.
I was 100% all in.
After an amazing year I had left Rex Features and got myself a staff job on the photo desk at a national newspaper as an assistant picture editor. Aged 20.
So by the time my colleagues at university had graduated, I was an experienced photo researcher and was working full time in Fleet Street. A job a graduate couldn't get without singificant job experience.
I was ambitous, I worked incredibly hard, and I said yes whenever I could to whatever task I was offered. I ended up getting a coveted job in a competitive industry which set me up for a successful career in top flight media.
But how can you be sure that the thing you are passionate about is what people want?
Entrepreneurial thinkers have a lot of ideas, most of which never see the light of day.
But they know that most things fail, and the best thing to do is to junk the bad ideas as quickly as possible.
- When my second band came to an end, I knew it was time to move on from music. So I stopped.
- University was a bad idea for me. So 8 months in to a 3-year course, I junked it.
Many people stick with bad ideas come what may - they feel that if they have committed 100% to something, they must see it through, come what may.
And that can be a very useful approach to life - as long as you are prepared to sit in a sub-optimal situation for long periods of time. Many things come good in the end.
But life is short, and I can't bear sticking in a dead end project when I know there is the opportunity to twist!
Once I know something isn't for me, I get out. As fast as I can.
Successful people tend to have a few ways to figure out which ideas to get behind.
And once they decide on their next adventure, they go in 100%.
Here is the way I filter the opportunities I find myself considering:
- I question them. Does this idea get me excited? Does it keep coming back to me? Can I see myself doing this in five years time? Is this idea new? Is it different from what others are doing? Why might this fail? How great could it be if it succeeds?
- I analyse them. What is the competition doing in this space? What advantage would my idea have over others? What is my timing like? What do the numbers look like? What do people I respect think of this idea? How could I make this work?
- I test them. Using the Minimum Viable Product approach, I figure out the smallest way I can try out the opportunity which will deliver meaningful data. This means you commit the smallest amount of resources within the shortest period of time required for excellent data and feedback. Then I run the test as positively and energetically as I can.
- I assess them. Using the data from the test, I figure out the likelihood of success if I go 100% all in. This can only ever be an estimate, but its usually fairly obvious if a MVP test looks promising.
- I'm in or out, 100%. This is the key - once you decide to commit, you need to give it absolutely everything you have.
In my experience, nine out of ten ideas fail at stage one, and then the same at stage two, etc. Hardly any get to stage three, and of those, 9/10 dont make it past stage four.
It's usually really obvious that something is likely to be sucesssful if you have run a test and feel excited by the results.
And then its time to take a very deep breath and commit 100%.
Of course, that doesn't have to be forever. If you commit to an opportunity and it isn't working for you, its right to change things.
But in any endeavour there are significant ups and downs, so it is a good idea to work through problems before pulling the emergency stop cord.
Adapting and changing is usually a better approach than a hard stop.
And what most people get wrong about opportunities is that they usually take far longer to come good than expected.
I have seen a great many business performance projections in my time. With start ups, I haven't seen many that hit their numbers in the time frame that they first projected.
The good ones often exceed their forecasts - just much later than they expected to.
So it is usually worth sticking out initial challenges in new businesses as long as you feel they still have a chance of working out well over time.
When I ran Barcroft Studios, we built an impressive YouTube channel that was getting tens of milions of views a month. But it was costing us more per video to make each film than the money we were receiving in revenue.
Back then, YouTube was the only large video platform which was sharing advertising revenue with its producers.
But we had bet long on the idea that Facebook, Snapchat and others would soon do the same thing, and that we would get a fantastic new revenue stream.
So we started sharing the same videos across multiple platforms as well as YouTube, in the idea that we would eventually get far more revenue without spending any more money per video.
We raised money from investors to enable us to survive long enough for these new revenue streams to come good.
Many people in the trditional media thought that publishing expensive content on social media was madness when there was no immediate return.
But, eventually, after a very stressful couple of years, both Facebook and Snapchat launched partner schemes which was transformative for our business.
Our 100% commitment to this opportunity paid off really well. We kept going through a lot of stressful times.
We succeeded because we had a clear plan and ensured we had a long enough runway to survive until it played out.
It is why so many legacy companies failed to succeed in social media - they simply weren't 100% committed to it as a primary part of their business.
There are so few people who are highly successful. And there are many factors that determine outcomes; luck, timing, market conditions, demand to name but a few.
However, most of those are outside your control.
Commitment? That's all down to you.
So, once you've figured out what you want to be the best in the world at, get stuck in and commit 100%.
You'll never look back.