This is a common question most people get asked when they’re meeting someone new. It’s not a difficult one for most people to answer, except when it comes to entrepreneurs. When asked “What do you do?”, I find myself struggling to contain all of the exciting, new and varied things I do on a daily basis, all into a single sentence. The businesses I'm bootstrapping; the ideas I'm validating; my various co-founders and the multiple hats I wear every day. It’s rarely less than a decent sized paragraph… and as you blabber away you can watch the person’s face slowly sink into a how-can-this-possibly-be-so-complicated look. ‘I wish he just said he worked as a cashier at the bank’. Alas, it’s never that easy for us pioneers…
“I'm an entrepreneur… but a web developer by trade. I don’t just build websites though (please don’t give my number to your aunt), I also own an agency called Bad Dinosaur that helps people turn their ideas into working businesses on the web — mostly within three weeks… oh and I'm a co-founder of Munch Together — we’re trying to solve the crisis in the middle east one meal at a time through sharing food and space with each other... think of it like the airbnb of food [cringe]! There’s also this other side business that I built and co-founded called TweetLiker… it’s a growth hacking tool… um… it’s basically a thing you use to grow your followers, I guess — people pay a little each month for access. Crap, I forgot about Tutlings. So Tutlings helps parents and students find tutors in their local area, chat to them and arrange tuition sessions with them… all with no charge. Well, to make money I then created another service called Tutlings for Universities which is a SaaS product [confused look] that universities can use to manage all the private tuition that happens between undergrads and postgraduates in their institution. I'm trying to grow that one but I'm not great at bizdev. There’s also a booking system for an English school… it pretty much runs their entire business but I won’t get into that.”
“So what do you do?”
I can’t be alone in this. Many of the entrepreneurs, in the co-working space I rent in, have a similar problem. How can you possibly contain all of an entrepreneurs’ ventures into a single sentence whilst not sounding like a crazy person with multiple personality disorder? We are people who are void of titles under our names in email signatures because writing “Entrepreneur” just feels wrong and non-specific — a heavily overused word these days, similar to “Start-up”. For me, depending on the business you’re contacting me for, I vary my title — the chameleon adapting to it’s environment.
Wearing different hats is the name of our game. We change them multiple times throughout the day depending on what is calling us most urgently. Perhaps the pile of accounting that you need to get through to make sure all your businesses are in order with the tax man. Don’t forget about the Google Ads that you have running on multiple accounts depending on the business it’s promoting (a hat I personally hate). Then there’s software development (the most comfortable hat unless it’s a morning of bugs) and working through that backlog of issues. Business development! I really need to invoice some people to pay the mortgage! Life admin… the list goes on.
So what do you do again?
Next time I'm faced with the question I may just invent something new, something so mundane and middle of the road that they’re left with no recourse for further inquiry and we can move straight on to the weather! An entrepreneurs worst nightmare… “a cashier at the bank”.
As I was driving down from Edinburgh to Meesden to attend Power of Youth’s (POY) 2 day RICAP event I started thinking about life, as you do. About my family; wife, wee boy, parents, and my siblings. How I grew up, where I am now and where I’ll be in years to come along with my loved ones. The drive was 6.5hrs. Plenty of time to ponder and plenty of time to enjoy some Formula One like speed and a couple of pit (McDonalds) stops. Refuelling is important but efficiency is key especially if you’re wanting to shave off 30mins from your estimated arrival time.
The plan was to be there in 6hrs but average speed cameras thought otherwise. I never managed to shave off anytime. 6.5hrs it was. I was still pretty chuffed taking into account that this was my longest car journey with me behind the wheel. Good going for me and for my 2003 plate Vauxhall Corsa.
26 purpose driven entrepreneurs living together for two days in a lovely countryside home - thank you, Hannah, the Dimsdale family and POY team for making it happen. There is nothing better than spending time with driven people who are changing the world for the better through business. I never experience this anywhere else.
The 2 days involved a programme of workshops, activities, challenges, team tasks, private reflection, sharing of stories, food, fun, and general silliness and banter. One activity that has stuck in my head and will stay there forever is the ‘90 year calendar’ exercise. Given an A4 paper with small boxes in grid form. Each box represents a week of my life right up to the age of 90. We got to populate it (colour in the boxes) highlighting our achievements and milestones.
There it was. My life staring back at me. A big chunk for childhood, a bigger chunk for education and highlights - moving to Edinburgh, marriage, becoming a father, first job, starting Munch Together. I continued to plan out how I see my life from now (age of 27) to the wise age of 90. There it was again, still staring back with bigger eyes and a bigger smirk as if to say “Mo, who are you kidding - you’ll never live to 90...too many McDonalds”.
Planning what’s ahead was a reality check. It got me thinking about where I want Munch Together to be in 5/10/20 years time and where I want to be in relation to it. My 5 year old boy will be finishing off school in 13 years time (I’ll be 40). My parents will be +70/75. Stuff like this just does not get thought about much. I wonder why? Maybe it’s just me. Maybe Formula One speed is blurring these things out and there is not enough pit stops to sit down, reflect, and plan without the pressure of efficiency, for both business and personal life. Refuelling is important but efficiency might not be key all of the time.
My estimated time of arrival is unknown and there is no urgency to shave off any time. More POY pit stops are needed.
P.s. My Corsa has had two visits to the mechanic since the trip but it is still hanging in there.
I just fetched a friend from a residential community in the North of Scotland. In the main hall, there was a group of much older people engaged in a heated conversation. I walked past them and overheard them talking passionately about the idea of home. I listened to their theories and views while slowly making myself a cup of tea.
It reminded me of when I heard a group of elderly ladies talking about diets at a coffee shop in Cape Town once.
Both times elicited the same response, “Am I really still going to be talking about these things when I'm older? Diets. And Home.” Diets, no. Home, perhaps yes.
I have always loved listening to ideas about what home means in the same way I have about what love means, but it was difficult to accept that the question of what home means was going to have power over so much of my life. I wanted some kind of answer so I could be free for a new question.
There have been so many beautiful versions of 'an answer' collected over the years. To name a few:
Home isn’t a place, it’s people.
Home is where you feel safe.
Home is where your heart is.
Home is family.
Home is anywhere you are happy.
Home is where you put your mask down.
Home is inside us.
We are our own homes.
Home is where we belong.
Home is where love is.
The list goes on - with safety, love, belonging, peace and comfort being the main themes.
Everyone I ask, says something slightly different. There are those of us who feel terrified to be in our own houses, but are at home with strangers. Those of us with our own beautiful place to live, but who don’t feel at home anywhere. Those of us who are home wherever we are, but always lost. Those who have grown up in the same family house - and so that is home. Those who have moved around the world and so everywhere and nowhere is home. Those who are at home with ourselves, home with others, home when traveling, home when at home, home when there is change, home when there is stability.
With so much change, globally, technologically, politically - this question of finding home keeps breathing in me.
With all of this in my head, I went to hot yoga for some relief. I was really dizzy after sleepless nights of endless thinking and wondering. I could barely follow the simple breathing instructions, let alone any of the actual poses. After 10 minutes of a gentle warm up, I fell over while doing nothing but standing up straight. I left half way to get my balance and find sugar. I made it to the bathroom, but couldn’t stand up. I just started sobbing in the bathroom from pure exhaustion and disorientation. For a moment, amidst it all, I heard this voice in my head quietly saying, “I want to go home, I want to go home”.
Then everything was quiet for a while.
My flat is a 10 minute walk away and while I completely love, I knew that it wasn’t it. All of my childhood homes were moved out of over a decade ago so it wasn’t those either. I’d just seen my mom and dad, both of who are in new places, so it wasn’t them or where they live. My brother is far away with his wife and son, and so I knew it wasn't him. So I watched myself, sobbing from my gut, wanting something that doesn’t exist.
What is that place? And where? And who? And what or who am I calling for? I may as well be calling out for Bradley, and for people to ask “Who’s Bradley” and for me to say, “I don’t know”.
I headed home, to the place I live. Was I looking for something outside of myself or inside of myself? Was it someone or something I knew, or someone or something I was hoping for?
I did what I usually do when I get curious. I turned to Uncle Google, wanting to know what others were thinking and saying. It was an endless search, there are uncountable articles, theories, quotes, questions, films. There was so much, but it didn’t bring me any closer to that voice going away. The closest I got to home that day was watching Friends on repeat until I fell asleep.
The next day, I decided to just look up the simplest definition and got this, “noun: the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.”
So there it was, home as just a word, a place, a thing. So uncomplicated and so overwhelmingly unsatisfying.
It’s like the word love. The definition of love is “a strong feeling of affection”, as if love can be so limited. At least love is defined as a feeling, not a thing - and at least feelings are known to be unlimited. Love is not a thing, but nor is home. Love is a feeling. Perhaps home is too. This idea is on that extended list of ideas. If I could feel love in any moment, could I feel home in the same way? Are they related? Are they the same?
More questions. Not what I was looking for.
Love, I thought, is also a verb. I can love love. I can love home.
I kept scrolling down reading definition after definition until I saw something at the very bottom… and time stopped for a moment. I stared at the screen. It said, “verb: move or be aimed towards with great accuracy.” Yes. Of course. Home is also a very. I'd forgotten. Something was calling me and I was calling it and I want to home towards it, even though I don't know what it is. I have to use the only tracking device I know, feelings.
Nouns and verbs are cool. We get to love love and we get to love home.
And more than this, we get to home love and we get to home home.
So for this moment, I get to feel peace. As if the search for home, can rest - because like love, home is feeling - and like love, home is a verb.
Being involved in a startup is fun, exciting and challenging. It is also stressful and the lack of capacity (the lack of people power) can be frustrating at times.
October 2015 was when I announced the idea of Munch Together to the world. It was me with an idea and a blurry vision of how it can be turned into a living thing. Emphasis on blurry. From the first minute, I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. I needed people involved in getting Munch Together off the ground and growing. That was my head speaking.
My heart was on a slightly different wavelength. “How can you share your baby?” It kept saying. I struggled with this for 3 months. I just couldn’t allow myself to let go and get others involved. During these 3 months, however, I created a ‘sounding board’ around me - mentors/advisors, whatever you want to call them. I didn’t feel as lonely. They helped me, and still are, by sharing their experience, expertise and their listening ear - what a difference it has and is still making. Thank you Linas, Evelyn, and Tim.
Operationally they were not involved and I started to realise that the lack of hands and brain power (operationally) was limiting Munch Together’s progress. I couldn’t do everything and I didn’t know how to do everything. I didn’t have all the required skill sets to get this off the ground. That is when I asked for help and realised it was never a heart v head thing - it was all about timing. I needed 3 months on my own to work out the direction of Munch Together before involving more people. I needed co-founders.
I first bumped into Kyle during the interview stage at ESpark acceleration programme (around October time). He had his Tutlings hat on (you should see it - a thing of beauty). We briefly chatted, got to know a bit about Tutlings, and he got to know a bit about Munch Together. We connected on Twitter & Facebook (I don’t do business cards) and that was that. A South African with huge technical skills that stuck in my head. It turns out he was on the lookout for exciting business ideas to get involved with and a couple days later he approached me. Back then it didn’t feel right and I promised to get back to him in January 2016. We did meet a couple of times in the meantime to get to know each other more. I liked him a lot.
January 2016 came. The timing was right, I hooked up with Kyle a few times to discuss Munch Together and see if our visions for it aligned. We pretty soon realised we agree on where we want to take Munch Together and how we’re going to do it. We agreed equity investment is not the way forward and we will be a customer focused, self sustainable business, focusing on organic growth. This was on top of discussing skill sets and finding out we complemented each other really well. He is a technical genius with bags of experience in a similar sharing economy business idea. My skills lie in engaging with people and sharing the idea. My head and heart were happy. Kyle became a co-founder.
I’ve known Ilana for a couple of years. A human being like no other. She has been Munch Together’s biggest supporter from the word go. She truly understands and has a burning passion for it. She’s been working with entrepreneurs, social change makers and communities for the last decade, facilitating leadership programmes and leading a number of businesses and teams in social innovation and systemic change, most notably for Power of Youth. When the discussion moved to being a co-founder, I was over the moon. A brilliant communicator (the best I know) who’s spirit, ideas, behaviour, tone of voice all personify Munch Together. Happy days. Another South African!
In the month and a half of working together we managed to launch our Minimal Viable Product (MVP) website, get 300 users on it. We have had 9 Munches (Edinburgh, Brighton, Javea) and are progressing well. I could not have done all of this on my own. During our mini-launch last week I reflected on all of this and struggled to get the words out to communicate it and thank Ilana and Kyle for the value they bring to the table.
One of my most important responsibilities in Munch Together is to build a great team, make them feel valued, challenge them and allow them to express themselves. Progress and success will follow.
I read an article a couple of days ago by Chris Marr - Founder of the Content Marketing Academy. He started with..."What frustrates me the most is entrepreneurs who think they are better or of higher value than employees". Chris goes on to say that the lines are blurred between entrepreneurs and employees and entrepreneurs both need one another to be successful.
I agree. Without employees or a team, you are not an entrepreneur - you are a freelancer/self employed. Entrepreneurship is about creating, developing and leading a team to offer a service/product solving a pain point for the users.
He continued to talk about his own take on entrepreneurship and how he is still not 100% comfortable in calling himself an entrepreneur (which I can relate to).
And here is where I can share my “What frustrates me the most is entrepreneurs who...” - are only in it for themselves.
There are two kinds of entrepreneurs. Ones who serve themselves and ones who serve others. And that is a fundamental difference that I notice time and time again the more I engage with ‘entrepreneurs’. Becoming an entrepreneur is the new sexy thing to be/do and it’s true meaning has been lost as a result.
Entrepreneurs serve. They identify a problem, create and lead a team to solve this problem and serve the people. It is as simple as that. And it is a long game not a ‘what is your exit strategy’ game. Too many entrepreneurs in Scotland (and worldwide) create businesses to sell 5 years down the line to the highest bidder and have the famous words next to their name “I want to retire by the age of 35”. To do what? Drive fancy cars and own fancy houses...this irks me.
To end on a positive note - Scotland and rest of UK are changing and to see the likes of Power of Youth (who have been instrumental to me and Munch Together) and SALT magazine leading that change warms my heart and makes me realise it’s not just me that is frustrated by this.
Am I comfortable with the ‘entrepreneur’ label? The more I see and feel the impact of Munch Together the more I’m starting to welcome it.
I chatted to some great people while I was there - digital nomads they like to call themselves. The idea of them talking about ‘home’ got my attention straight away.
Being digital nomads it was not a surprise they were not able to name a place where they call home but could relate to certain characteristics and feelings that if evident, regardless of where, can provide this sense of being home.
“Home is where one is physically safe, warm, cosy, and with like minded people, be it friends, family, or complete strangers”. I nod my head in agreement. Another thing that stuck in my head was said by the lovely Tina - “home is a place that touches your soul”. That stuck in my head real good.
My soul was touched in Javea. The smells, the colours, the people, the palm trees, the balcony filled alleyways, the street markets. It touched my soul to an extent it felt like I was walking the streets of Palestine - the only part of this world where I am unable to visit/live (for many factors and political chess). At that moment I realised, subconsciously, one of the reasons for creating Munch Together was to help me and others find a place/places that touch one’s soul.
The journey beings for me to find a place where I feel closer to home. Thank you Javea for touching my soul.
The front door opened and we were greeted with warm hugs. Warm. From the very start I felt this….ah Linda you wanted it to be cosy and down to earth and it certainly was.
This was Edinburgh’s first Munch hosted by the beautiful Linda, an avid supporter of Munch Together and someone who I’ve known since the age of 9 – being friends with her two sons Chris & Sean.
Linda had 3 guests. Viktoria (who hosted the Munch in Frankfurt. Travelling specifically for this Munch!). Samantha (living in Edinburgh, Melbourne born) and Denise (Linda’s friend. Edinburgh born & bred). I could instantly sense a colourful evening ahead.
The night started at 7pm and ended around 11pm. What happened in between was so pleasing and rewarding that it was difficult to contain my happiness. To see and experience 4 human beings who have never met before yet interacted like they’ve known each other for years was beautiful.
We all loved the food but my highlight was learning a bit about Frankfurt/Germany, a bit about Melbourne/Australia and even a bit about The Inch/Edinburgh (p.s. The Inch is the name of an area in Edinburgh where the Munch took place).
We really enjoyed each other’s company and it felt like being at home. The ability to take your shoes off and put your feet up (encouraged by Linda) made me feel all cosy and it personified what Munch Together is all about. Down to earth ‘real’ experience between human beings from different parts of the world/different communities.
I’ve definitely never felt like this in a restaurant.
I went to sleep that night knowing that Munch Together has facilitated the creation of new friendships/connections – whatever you want to call it. Munch Together’s impact is starting to show. Happy days.
In other news – there is another Munch happening in Edinburgh on 22nd January. Check it out, 1 space left.
I’m currently working with Noble Ox on Munch Together’s brand definition – you’ll hear and see of this in the coming few weeks.
The timing is right to explore the possibility of involving a co-founder. Again, you’ll hear all about this in my following blogs.
A German, an American, and a Palestinian walk into a German’s home…
No, this is not a joke, it is Munch Together’s first ever Munch! (pilot). It took place in Frankfurt on 28th Novermber, 2015. A historic day that will stay with me forever. A big thank you to Viktoria (our amazing host) and Udo & Luke (amazing guests).
As this was the first one, I wanted to be there, to take part and live the experience to get as much first hand feedback from everyone involved. All of the following certainly happened – the feedback, the great hospitality & food, the getting to know the guests & hosts and the friendship that has formed. Leading up to the Munch, however, things didn’t look as promising…
I want to go back 3 weeks before the Munch to tell you how I went about making it happen. I was introduced to Viktoria (a friend of a friend). She loved the idea of Munch Together and wanted to be the first host in Germany. We liaised together, confirmed a date, created the copy (text) for the Eventbrite page (I am using Eventbrite for this early stage as it does the job for idea validation. Investing in a website will come later) and we went live!
Promotion lasted for 3 weeks or so (mostly on social media) and we had our first guest registering – happy days! Viktoria and I were ecstatic and looked forward to meeting him in Frankfurt. A day before it he cancelled. We were disappointed but I guess it was part of the learning/feedback process – the whole point of the pilots.
I travelled to Frankfurt knowing we didn’t have any guests. I intentionally stayed in a hostel as I figured the idea of Munch Together would be attractive to the majority of the people that were there (thanks to Five Elements Hostel for having me – a special thank you to Alex & Howie!). I met and chatted to really interesting people and all of a sudden, we had two guests! Back to being over the moon and buzzing. What an emotional roller-coaster. Being pro-active, and confident (even when things are not going to plan) is key.
The Munch took place. Four people chatting, laughing, and sharing stories over food. Four people who would never have met have now became friends and we all got to know more about our cultures and backgrounds. What Munch Together is all about.
More pilots are taking place in Edinburgh hosted by the lovely Linda on 16th Jan and Jeni on 22nd Jan – make sure to check them out and register. There will be 2 more Munches before then – just need to confirm dates with the lovely hosts. Become a pioneer guest!
In other news – Munch Together has been offered a place on Entrepreneurial Spark business accelerator programme. This is great news. The programme starts in February 2016 and will last for 6 months.
“To live in a world where every entrepreneur is driven by a purpose greater than profit, every business a force for good and everyone has the opportunity to contribute towards the uplifting of society, so that together we can build a better world through business” – Power of Youth (POY) mission.
That is music to my Palestinian ears. It’s what has attracted me to POY for some time so I decided to apply for #POYIndia Summit(representing Munch Together). Their mission was the bait and I wanted to find out more. I certainly took one big bite!
Spending 6 days in India with POY and 25 purpose driven entrepreneurs was life changing for me. It gave me confidence and clarity. Confidence and clarity in Munch Together’s purpose – the integration of cultures, the creation of friendships, sharing and finding common ground – through food! I don’t see the world as a ‘global village’. I see it as segmented ‘islands’. Time to change this and start building bridges.
I see too many ‘entrepreneurs’ creating startups that lack any kind of purpose. The entrepreneur and as a consequence the business only interest is in making as much money as possible and securing investment. What happened to creating a business that’s prime focus is its customers/users and having a positive impact on the world?
This was no ordinary business conference/event/summit – whatever you want to call it. I’ve found it difficult to describe what it was like. I am thankful for Evelyn for her take on it…
“#POYIndia was a cross between a business conference, a self-help retreat and a holiday with the best friends you hadn’t met yet!” – Evelyn McDonald.
This captures it. I’ll add that it was the only ‘business event’ where I could actually connect to fellow participants – human to human. A special bond between everyone involved in the Summit has developed.
All business events now feel bland and superficial.
Update on Munch Together!
My time as manager of The Melting Pot has come to an end. A 2.5yr long chapter has been completed. It’s been a rich chapter in my life. I have gained a valuable insight and first-hand experience of running a small sized business. Rewind 2.5yrs and my idea of ‘business’ was so different – amateurish comes to mind.
I thought business is all about selling whereas it’s all about developing and strengthening human relationships. Leaving The Melting Pot community did not feel like leaving my place of work. It felt like leaving an amazing group of friends who I’ve laughed with, cried, and everything in between.
I also thought that one person can do it all – be the leader, be the finance wizard, be the marketing & PR guru. How wrong was I? Having a capable team is the most important thing in running a business but the hardest thing to achieve. It’s all about getting the right people on the bus and keeping them on it.
I’m not good at goodbyes. I don’t enjoy them. They make me feel uncomfortable. I’ve left The Melting Pot but I’ve kept the human relationships.
My story continues and it is time to start writing the next chapter. My focus switches to Munch Together. Time to rock ‘n’ roll. It all kicks off in Bangalore at Power of Youth’s India Summit. I’ll be spending a few days with amazing entrepreneurs from around the world. Sharing, collaborating, developing and strengthening relationships – can’t ask for more than that. I’ll share with you more after the summit.
An update on Munch Together’s pilots – I’ve had so much interest, it’s been unbelievable. Currently liaising & planning with interested hosts to confirm dates. It’s taken slightly longer than I anticipated. However, now being fully focused on Munch Together will help speed things up!