It definitely feels weird writing this as my first Rogue Events blog post, however, it also makes total sense. After finally being able to quit my regular job and take Rogue Events to the next level I am liberated into being able to do all the things I’ve wanted to do for a long time and plan the things I never thought I’d have time for. It’s also an insane, crazy risk but one year on from our first ever event, Bothwell School of Witchcraft, it feels right.
So, what’s this blog post all about? Well, I simply wanted to share my thoughts, journey, tips and general musings, for those who want to read them, on the adventure of quitting that regular pay-check and what got us to the current position we’re in with Rogue Events and maybe a little snippet of the future.
Quitting the Rat-Race
It is a dream for many but a reality for few, although, I don’t think it’s as hard to achieve, in most cases, as some people feel. You don’t have to start your own business to quit the ol’ 9-5 either, there are tonnes of options out there when you start to look. From new remote working opportunities to negotiating a new deal with your current boss to allow remote working, there are things you can start doing today to undertake your own epic journey to liberation. I highly recommend Tim Ferris’ “4-Hour Work Week” for more information and advice on the different ways you can achieve that. However, for the purposes of this blog post I’m going to talk about the starting your own business angle.
Okay, for me, it was an easy decision, I wasn’t satisfied in my job; I’m a big ideas person, a creative, a risk-taker, a people person, a leader and all of that was quashed by the oppressive amount of paper work, red tape, corporate structure and dreaded spreadsheets of the engineering industry (if you think you know spreadsheets, you’ve barely scratched the surface until you’ve seen one created by an engineer). Sure, I worked on some cool systems, but the reality of being an engineer and designing things on paper that go on ships and helicopters is that you’ll never ever touch the final product, let alone see it used. All of this was great motivation for me to get out and do my own thing. I think people need that push to jump into the unknown, despite all the authors, vloggers, bloggers (*gasp* blogception) and even friends telling you just how easy it is. I held off for a long time, I wanted Rogue Events to have my income ready when I jumped ship.
"The reality is, it doesn’t often work like that, well, not quite."
As hard as we tried, working in our spare time, we could only achieve so much. Inclusive of our regular jobs; me and my co-founder were already working 80+ hours/week for over a year, more if you include spending time promoting, listening and answering questions on social media. We sacrificed our weekends, personal lives, health and time with family to grow to where we are now. I now have a much-increased BMI and white hair count as a result. However, even to just keep the whole thing going, we’d basically need to keep that pace up and still only grow very slowly. So, the decision ended up being as clear as day: quit and focus on my day job or go pro? If anything, I held off too long, telling myself if we did this one thing differently, or this one extra thing, we’d be in a better position.
Like most millennials I live pay-check to pay-check, and I was worried about where my rent would come from. If I miss even a single payment I’d be putting myself and others (who’d be required to support me) in jeopardy. Not only that but I have all my other payments and bills to meet, I simply couldn’t exist without my pay-check even for one month. However, in the end, it wasn’t as hard as I imagined; we are securing ourselves funding and that’s that. Now I work from home and have what feels like unlimited time to expand on ideas, improve our current events and processes and simply create. I have no savings, average credit and in general, am relatively unremarkable; yet here I am. If you have an idea that’s worth investing in, or has promise and you have evidence of such, even if you can’t secure investment, with a good business plan you can secure a loan to be given the chance take your idea to new heights.
Just think about it for a second. With no commute, no rush to get ready for work, no decompression at the end of a long day required, suddenly, the world becomes your oyster. With all that “dead time” reclaimed and no middle manager on your back, you can work an 8-hour day on your own terms and still have time to pursue your hobbies, prepare healthy meals in the comfort of your own kitchen, visit that nice coffee shop or spend more time getting to know your neighbours and local community. Whatever your goals are, quickly, when you drop the 9-5, the world becomes a land of opportunity, rather than spending your time stewing in your own road-rage during rush-hour traffic.
I do recommend though, validating your idea before jumping off the cliff edge. For Rogue Events that was a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for our first event but there are many different ways to get feedback on an idea. You can view our first ever Kickstarter here.
Becoming a CEO
Going from Systems Engineer to CEO of an events company may seem a very strange transition, but in some ways the roles are not without their similarities. My experience as an engineer working within high-tech, high-performing teams has taught me so much when it comes to managing complex systems and teams. An event is just another complex system, it has a number of variables of things that can go right or wrong and need managing. When you find a problem, a thorough root cause analysis is my bread and butter! A good metrics dashboard, with meaningful outputs – you got it! All this, though, would still probably be nothing without complimentary skills. There are countless examples of engineers and inventors throughout history who’ve created intricate, beautiful things only to realise there is no market, or they can’t sell, or they have no people skills. Whatever your skillset is, or your goals are, everyone can benefit from continuing to learn and grow.
It's why I’m incredibly satisfied with my ‘choice’ at University to not get bogged down in studies. Sure, I finished with a 2:2 instead of a first, but was it worth it? So far, yeah! Pretty much! That’s not to say completely flunk your degree for those of you still out there studying… It’s important to remember that Engineering is an extremely tough degree with a lot of hours required. My choice was just to move up other things on my priority list and take time for my own growth outside of my degree subject.
Like many at that ripe and tender age, I had my share of existential crises and I didn’t want the word ‘engineer’ to define who I am. So, I went out and did lots of great things, but generally I just lived my life and said yes to more things. I joined the Officers Training Corps and got some hard-core instruction and lessons in leadership. I became a residential mentor in student halls, providing pastoral care for over 100 students. I joined the American Football Team and got introduced to lifting and just generally had a blast. It all blended together to create a varied and eventful university experience. There were a few like me in engineering, but most joined the ale society or the robotics club and generally reinforcing the nerd stereotype that is a cross to bear for all engineers. The ale society has some fantastic beers! But it didn’t help anyone in coming out of their shell… everything they did was within the same circles. While I’d like to say all of my decisions were based on increasing my own competencies and mindset, they weren’t, I was just trying to do me. In retrospect though, it was the best thing I could’ve done.
All of that, coupled with a spell in a call centre and an amazing experience as a sales assistant for Lego, to teach me the importance of customer service, came together to make me the varied person I am. I am an engineer, and despite my teenage- self rejecting the term, I’m proud that it is a part of my history. In fact, I wouldn’t be here without it. I fully believe engineering is still one of the best degrees a person can do and will continue to be an ambassador for STEM subjects. Now, though, I am that and much much more.
But what’s the point of all this? Why is Cam just not-so-humble bragging about his skillset? Well first off, I had no intention of writing this blog with so much of my personal experience, but secondly it provides a narrative for the point I want to get across which is; whatever your skills, whatever your limitations, you still need to get out of your comfort zone, live your life and do new things. There’s no better place than university, however it starts at any age.
Becoming CEO is only part of the journey for me. I’m still young, and this still feels like a destination at the moment – who knows what’s next? Branching out and doing this role is another new thing, a new life experience and I’m totally out of my depth. But that’s good! The only way to get here was to say yes to more things, get out of my comfort zone and be open to new experiences. Best of all, everyone reading this on your own individual journeys, you can start doing it today! Got invited hiking but not a hiker? Do it! Who knows who else you’ll meet on the trail or down the pub afterwards!? Worst case scenario you get some fresh air and a good walk under your belt (damn it, I sound like my Dad!). Don’t just wait for invites to come your way either, seek out new adventures and new experiences, look for things to do within your local community or take a trip further afield! Especially if you’re going to gain new skills, meet new people and increase your strengths.
While starting a business is viable for pretty much anyone, my message here is, being a CEO is different. It does require a skillset and a state of mind that includes making decisions and taking risks. I’m still new to the job, but I’ve been doing it part-time for over a year and even founded some other companies. Developing all that takes time, but it’s still achievable and hey! Even I’m still learning on the job, I am by no means the complete package, far from it. Education gets you part of the way, but that isn’t where learning and development begins and ends, those all-important experiences are also a huge factor. Some of you will already be in a good place, some of you will have to work at it. But, there’s also a third option: partnerships! Whether you want to remain CEO or whether you hand that over to someone else, strategic partnerships with people you trust and complement your own skills can give you a full deck of cards to play with and create your business.
And the moral of the story is…." So, what’s the point of this meandering, long, and admittedly slightly self-absorbed story. Well, first of all, it’s to encourage others to do the same thing. We’re entering an extremely fast-changing and dynamic world brimming with opportunity. Whether it’s completely new business ideas popping up or simply doing the same things the corporate giants are doing, but doing it better, more local or more customised. The lifestyle goals we want to achieve are within reach if we only stretch out and grasp the opportunity.
What I’m about to say will directly contradict my next point, but here goes; anybody can do it. I’m not particularly special, gifted or rich. Granted, there are places in the world and groups in society where opportunities come few and far between, but chances are if you’re reading this you live in a developed country with access to education, resources and skills. In the past, starting a business required some capital to get the whole thing going, if you didn’t have an office or a degree, you were not taken seriously. Now though? Start-ups are treated with a degree of excitement, no office is labelled as smart-working, and funding options are vast. The time has never been better for aspiring entrepreneurs!
Now, here’s the contradictory part; I didn’t get here by accident. I still worked hard, and I still developed my skillset, knowledge-set and general life experience. I also took risks and did things outside of my comfort zone. A good idea isn’t enough. Everyone has weaknesses and limitations. But here’s the upside, self-awareness is probably one of the greatest skills anyone can possess. If you have a great idea but none of the skills to implement it, market it, or sell it, guess what? You can partner with someone who does! By partnering with someone, you’ll learn from them, gain new skills and start to do those things yourself (so long as you don’t just sit back and let them do all the work). But to find the ideal partner or partners, you need to know your own weaknesses first.
The only way you’ll gain that self-awareness though is by trying things in the first place. The best way to meet your next business partner? Get out there! Do new things, with new people, share your ideas. Don’t live in an echo chamber with only close friends. Depending on your friends, they’ll either tell you your idea is great (even though it's awful) or give you a good ribbing for it.
The moral of the story? Go for it, get out there, be active, do things and embrace all the contradictions of life. Here’s one last one for you; go your own way but also sometimes just go with the flow!