We help you turn your startup idea into a happy, thriving business

10 things we’ve learnt (that we wish we’d known back then)

Earlier this week we did a talk for the Etsy community here in Brighton – and what a lovely bunch they were to.

We shared our story and some things we’ve learnt over the last 10 years since we set up Spook Studio (and 2 years into our journey with The Happy Startup School). We posted some of the slides online yesterday and they got a great response so we’re sharing them here for you too, with a little extra context.

Enjoy :)


Too often we’re told that we need to get to market quickly, be the first past the post. But there are very few overnight successes in businesses – it can take years to build a great company. We’ve found doing things the long, hard, stupid way has worked for us and we look to companies that have made the distance as inspiration, not the fly-by-night startup success stories you read about in TechCrunch. Whilst we’ve not had exponential growth, we haven’t crashed and burned either – unlike many other companies we know that were around then.


This should be the starting point for any startup founder, but it’s generally overlooked. Too often people dive straight into their world-beating solution ideas without considering why they’re doing what they’re doing. We’ve had way more awareness about our work since we’ve started with our mission – our why – as opposed to what we do. As Simon Sinek says ‘people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’. Having a clear purpose can help to give your brand real weight as it has a reason for being, so it’s worth spending time understanding and articulating this to the outside world.


Only when we really understood our values as a company did we better understand the decisions we’d made up to that point – and have a framework for making better decisions in the future. Umair Haque, the renowned writer and economist recently stated that ‘we’re on the cusp of a values-driven revolution’. He highlighted that consumers now are much more careful about who they buy from and whether they align with their values. Therefore it’s important to pin down your values and what you stand for. Think of your core values as those that, when the chips are down, you believe in so much that if you didn’t adhere to them you’d be just another company – as the saying goes ‘live them, don’t laminate them’. 


When you have a new idea it’s too easy to build it into something bigger than it is. Whilst it’s great to think big, there’s power in starting small. So think about how you can take the thing you want to do, the change you want to make and actually make a small step that you can take tomorrow. That might be a phone call, it might be an email, it might be going to an event. From there you could meet people that can help you, get to share your idea and get valuable feedback, and who knows, weeks or months later that one step could lead to greater things. We’re as guilty as anyone of building things up into something bigger than they are – but our greatest wins have come about from turning ideas into action sooner.


It’s not as easy as it sounds but as your business takes off you’ll get more things coming your way than you can cope with. Often you don’t know what’s around the corner, so saying no to a potentially good opportunity can seem scary, ludicrous even (usually when money is attached to the decision). But it can also feel good, liberating in fact, if it doesn’t help you realise your vision. Become comfortable with saying no – whether that’s an offer of a project, a new feature request or a coffee with someone– and understand that by saying no to this, you’re saying yes to something else. You just don’t know what it is yet.


Marketing is dead. Now’s the time time to build a community around your product – a community of passionate advocates that believe in your mission. One effective way to build your tribe is to nail your colours to the mast and create your own manifesto before you release a product. Startups like Maptia, Holstee and NOBL Collective have created their own manifestos to get people to rally around their mission. We created our Happifesto to encourage more entrepreneurs and leaders to build businesses the right way – that is, to put people first and enjoy the journey. It’s what we believe in and it helped to kickstart our movement for more purpose-driven business.


In her groundbreaking book Mindset, Carol Dweck introduces the concept of the growth mindset.  In Dweck’s words: ‘In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities’. You could argue the same point for entrepreneurs. Finding our business mojo has gone hand-in-hand with a re-discovered love of learning – it’s about finding something you’re really passionate about as learning shouldn’t feel like a drag but enriching. Learn from those that have come before, or look to an inspiration of yours that is 10 years ahead of where you want to be, and learn from them, their writings and output. Develop the mindset of an entrepreneur and you’ll increase your chances of success, and become luckier…


There’s a myth that some people just are incredibly lucky. Whilst this may be true in some cases, luck comes in many forms. While dumb luck and constitutional luck (where you’re born, who your parents are, etc) can’t really be controlled, the odds for circumstantial luck can be drastically improved. By adopting the attributes of a lucky attitude and expansive network, the chances for a lucky outcome are higher. Also a positive disposition increases the likelihood of serendipitous encounters of good fortune while downplaying the effects of bad luck. We’ve found this to be true –the more we expose ourself to different situations and build positive relationships, the ‘luckier’ we get.


Too often success is deemed to be something judged by other people – in business it’s ‘hockey stick growth’, in life it’s the big house and fast car.  But these measures of success are what society has forced upon us – they may look great on the outside, but not feel good on the inside. We believe that success is something incredibly personal. Businesses start from a need from the founders, the source of the vision – and this is always a deep human need – it can be a need for autonomy, a desire to make an impact in the world, a frustration with the status quo, a need for security or status, or something else entirely. Without understanding your own needs the journey ahead will be a challenging one. Think about what success looks like for you, and if you want to be happy in business and life, ensure that your business allows you to realise this.


When speaking at the Hacking Happiness conference recently one of the other talks that resonated with me was from Levi Felix, founder of the Digital Detox movement in the US. He whispered to the 600+ crowd that ‘you’ll soon learn that no-one knows what the f**k they’re doing’. Often the higher up you get in organisations, the more this rings true. Oliver Burkeman, renowned author and Guardian journalist, said in a recent talk that even the powers that be at the Guardian where he works, and those in the upper echelons of government are equally winging it. So the lesson learned here is this – stop worrying about your own weaknesses or doubts and focusing on other people’s supposed greatness, and just get on with it.


Hope you enjoyed this post. What have you learnt in your startup journey?

Psssst. In 48 hours we’ll be closing the doors to our Home School program until we run it next in October. If you’d like to give your startup the best chance of success, join our community and learn how to build a happy, thriving business. It takes just 2 mins to apply and we’ll let you know within 24 hours whether you’ve been accepted – visit home.thehappystartupschool.com for more info. If you’re still not sure if Home School is for you, see this infographic below.



Here’s that link again » home.thehappystartupschool.com


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