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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

‘No-One Ever Hands You a Permission Slip To Do Your Own Thing’: How To Start A Business, By Capsule and BNZ

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In partnership with BNZ

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ is the thought that came to us, over and over again, in the early days of starting Capsule. In the 15 months since we launched our digital platform, we’ve gone from starting a business that was born out of panic into creating an independent digital magazine that now matches the salary we were paid at our previous jobs.

It’s been a time of chaos, joy, panic, creativity, inspiration, crisis and satisfaction – a peculiar mix of emotions that any other business founder will no doubt agree with. Somehow, things got moved from the ‘too hard’ basket into the ‘everyday’ basket without us really noticing and we wanted to present to you our biggest key learnings from our first year in business. They’re not always pretty learnings, but they are honest ☺ 

1. Know your niche

Aka: Where is the gap in the market, who is your audience, what is your product and most importantly, what are the values you want your business to reflect?

Between the four of us that launched Capsule, we had a combined almost 40 years of experience in working in women’s magazines. When Bauer shut down, it was the loss of a place to tell women’s stories which we felt was the biggest loss of all. None of us had worked for the kind of cool, hip or male-focused magazines that were getting a lot of attention in the think pieces that were coming out in the media. Firstly, this made us mad and secondly, this put us to work (righteous indignation never really gets talked about as a form of motivation but, honestly? It is extremely effective).

When we created Capsule, we felt scared, lonely, sad, wired, overwhelmed and in need of comfort. We figured others felt that way too. And we were right.

We wanted to create a space to keep doing what we’d always done: write about women, for women. We were in level 4 lockdown, so we knew that space had to be online because we couldn’t leave our houses. There was a sense of carte blanche freedom to this set of limited circumstances, on top of us needing to create our own incomes. After deciding to launch Capsule and then launching it, we had about one month to get our brains into gear and learn how to use all the new tools. We had to do two things quickly: a) Trust ourselves to create a good product in a way that was new to all of us and b) Trust our gut instincts that if we were interested in a topic, chances are other people will be too. When we created Capsule, we felt scared, lonely, sad, wired, overwhelmed and in need of comfort. We figured others felt that way too. And we were right.

Courtney Manning, a BNZ Business Partner, agrees that planning it out is a great first step. “A business plan sets you up well and ensures that you’re all on the same page, if you’re part of a team. It should cover things like: what’s your purpose? Where are you going, short term and long term? Who are your customers, what are your products, how are you going to achieve that? As a business banker, what I really love to see – especially if we’re lending money – is forecasting cash flow and really getting you thinking about the future, because that keeps you on track.” 

2. Know that there is no perfect time to start

Aka: Feel the fear and do it anyway.

A couple of months into starting Capsule, we began to hear the same word over and over again: brave. Now, being called ‘brave’ is a mixed blessing, particularly when you’re not actually feeling that brave. It can make what you’re doing seem a bit scarier. We felt like we were desperately trying to create some stability in an industry that had none and we worked so fast and so hard that we were only focusing on the short term, rather than what it all ‘meant.’ We knew that the gap in the market wasn’t going to stay a gap for long, and we knew there was a lot of value in being the first out of the gate, even if our product wasn’t perfect.

When we launched, in level 3, half of our then team of four were in full-time parenting roles, so any writing they could do came after doing a full day of home-schooling (aka not the most creative or flexible environment to work). All of us were in full whiplash mode after dealing with redundancy and a pandemic for the first time. But at the very core of our stressed, tired and overwhelmed selves was the belief we had in our idea.

Bravery very rarely feels like bravery at the time – it feels like survival. But with a healthy dose of hindsight, we can now acknowledge that it did take some guts to go boldly into a new field, armed with more enthusiasm than you have experience. It is hard to do something different. We know this all too well; all of us had wanted to try going freelance/starting our own business, none of us had the nerve to throw in the financial safety of a 9-to-5 until we literally had no choice. If you are feeling the fear but you have a good idea, know that no-one ever hands you a permission slip to do your own thing. You have to either make that space – or take that jump – when the opportunity comes up. There is no such thing as perfect timing. 

Communication is key when you hit upon the hard times – and there are always hard times, particularly in a world like this – and you are a stronger team when you feel like you can be an honest team. A resilient team means being a flexible one able to weather the good and bad together. 

3. Know that you’ll make mistakes

We were afraid to take ourselves seriously for a really long time as business owners and even now, it can be very easy to fall into the self-deprecating trap that a lot of new business owners – and in particular, female business owners – get into. We didn’t make a formal business plan, we didn’t get an accountant early enough and our first proper business meeting with bank managers came about when we teamed up with BNZ – one year into running Capsule. When you bring the professionals on early, you build your team of experts around you and you future-proof your business by having other people to ask. A good business plan can help keep you on track in the short-term as well as giving you goals to aim for in the long-term.

Hilariously, although we didn’t have a business plan, we did draw up a ‘Capsule Constitution’ (yes, as if we were starting a new country), where we wrote down the values that were important to us in our new business. It covered some fun stuff – ‘Loungewear will always be suitable office attire; dogs are always welcome’ – but it also signalled the values of communication and honesty, with rules like ‘There shall be no guilt if a member, for whatever reason, cannot perform her duties due to legitimate personal or professional issues, e.g. sickness, finances, PMS, family obligations, etc’, or ‘All members enter into this agreement in the spirit of openness, wishing for the company to succeed as a whole, as well as each individual in their personal and professional dreams, endeavours and goals.’

Communication is key when you hit upon the hard times – and there are always hard times, particularly in a world like this – and you are a stronger team when you feel like you can be an honest team. A resilient team means being a flexible one able to weather the good and bad together. 

“Managing expectations of those early years is key,” says Courtney. “A business would be doing pretty well to operate for a couple of years and not make mistakes.” In her experience, it’s a lack of planning at the beginning that can make things difficult down the road.  “Not having a focus or a vision of ‘this is where we’re going to go and this is how we’re going to get there.’ Whereas if you create that plan and then get advisors involved, and connect with like-minded people, that’s a stable place to start building a business from.”

4. Use the resources and tools available to you

When you start a business, it’s very easy to get caught in a situation where you don’t know what you don’t know (this is a position Capsule knows very well). To get a better overview of your early steps, check out the Business Moments resource from BNZ, which covers aspects like tax, marketing, technology and finding the right people.

Any views expressed in this article are the personal views of Capsule NZ, and do not necessarily represent the views of BNZ, or its related entities. This article is solely for information purposes and is not intended to be financial advice. If you need help, please contact BNZ or your financial adviser. Neither BNZ nor any person involved in this article accepts any liability for any direct or indirect loss or damage arising out of the use of, or reliance on, all or any part of the content.

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