The idea of setting up a business has been sitting in the back of my mind for almost ten years, but I’ve always found excuses not to do anything. In late 2016, after a trip to Kenya, Diana and I finally decided to give it a go. We gave ourselves a deadline till December – going to startup events, exploring different ideas. Somehow, we were just gravitating towards creative activities. As we got too distracted to run any creative event at home, we started looking for places to do it.
We’ve never taught a creative class before. We had some basic ideas, but to host a group of people and to teach them a craft that you just learned yourself a while ago – that is scary!
We could have said to ourselves: let’s wait for a few more months; let’s practice more. But we didn’t. We believe that the magic of a creative process is what matters the most, and everyone should experience it!
For the first session, we invited family and friends. We charged a symbolic price of 5 pounds so that their feedback could be more genuine. We then charged more appropriate prices as we felt what we were doing was worth paying for. We went from one night a week in April to over six nights a week in October, and we are now running more than 10 different creative classes!
We still get nervous before the classes, which can be good as it keeps us on our toes. But, we must remember that we are partly in control of the atmosphere. If you are nervous, everybody will feel nervous. Contrarily, if you are open, admitting that you are still learning but you will do your best, everybody just becomes part of the experience and journey.
I’ve always thought I’d pursue a career in something like accounting or finance. That’s what I’ve studied, what I’d been trained to do. But it just didn’t really feel like me. Not for the lack of intellectual challenges, as I did learn a lot. But, if I ask myself: do I really want to be doing this every day – that’s 75% of my week – and then, for the rest of my life? The answer is no. So, there is a gap between what you spend a lot of time doing and who you really are. Sometimes they can be totally aligned and that’s amazing; but sometimes they are not. As stressful as quitting was for me, I realised that, in the end, it all just came from my head. I learned that I can rely on my ability to learn, rather than what I already had or knew. After all, we are learning so much by doing. It’s worth trying out lots of different things and seeing what you really like. I think if we can live authentically and do what we feel is the best for the world, we are in a more natural state of being. So, why fight it?
Funding is always a challenge, especially when the business is self-funded and is growing very rapidly like ours. Cash flow is king as they say. We are at the stage of needing external funding pretty soon, but we will figure it out. We try not to waste any energy on the things that have not yet happened, because it is just a distraction from what we are doing and achieving. If you believe that this is the thing you are meant to be doing – this will give you the energy to solve whatever problems you have.
We set up goals and break them into three month cycles. We focus on executing what we agreed over the three months, then we re-assess them and go again for the next three months. Our dream is that one day we can have big creative studios in major cities around the world. Like an ‘art gym’ for your creative muscles, but with more. They will be spaces for creativity and well-being. You can be in the quiet room if you just want to be in the zone; or you can be in the social room if you want to mingle with people; or you can be in the mindfulness room to practice yoga. In the “art gym”, people can have access to all kinds of materials, and can disconnect from this hyperactive world simply by creating and making.
Start small, but dream big! Break things down into small simple steps, and leverage the bounty of technology tools that can help you. Surely you need to evaluate and to minimise the risks, but if the downside of doing it isn’t that bad, then there’s more of a risk not doing it. Enjoy the ride and the learning process as much as you can. Even if it doesn’t work out, at least you gave it a good go!
Samuel Lehane & Diana Muendo, founder of M.Y.O