Flat 101: year one, 2013-2014: what our first year of life was like
The first year of a company’s life is critical. In Flat 101 we have been working as this brand for more than two years, but it is now, with perspective, when I think it is more interesting to tell how was our first year of life was. And…
The first year of a company’s life is critical. In Flat 101 we have been working as this brand for more than two years, but it is now, with perspective, when I think it is more interesting to tell how was our first year of life was. And that’s what this post is about, how it was our first year, with its lights and shadows.
In November 2013, on the 20th, to be more exact, we gave Flat 101 legal form. That was the day in which the founding partners created the company “officially”, under the format of an SL. In the photo on this paragraph, you see part of the team working in our first office in March 2014.
Two years have passed since then. Two years in which many things have happened, some good, some less good, but from which we have learned a lot.
Following these two years of “official” company, I wanted to write two posts relating these first two years, on the one hand as an internal exercise of recapitulating where we come from, where we are and where we are going, and on the other hand, because I believe that our experience as businessmen-ninjas-jack of all trades can be very useful for people who are in a similar situation, and on a personal level, because I believe that what I have lived in these last two years for me can be very useful to other people.
So here is the summary of what happened in the first year of life of Flat 101. Be prepared, because this is an exciting tale.
The birth of Flat 101, like that of many companies, came from need and determination. It would be fantastic and tremendously cool to say that the founding partners had this idea in mind years ago and blah blah blah … Nothing further from reality.
As a team, in 2013 we had been working together for almost 8 years and had gone from a multinational like Master-D to a spin-off like iZenius and from there to an international consultancy like MYG. We had gone from being employees of a multinational to partners of two very different initiatives.
At the end of 2013, we decided to stop belonging to MYG and, motivated by our own experience of the last years, to continue with our core activity, the digital transaction and the conversion, the work in designing and optimizing digital business models, in a company format 100% own. We decided that it was time to have a company solely managed by us, without the presence of capitalist partners who will provide economic resources, but little else. In short, we opted for self-financing and for taking a very high risk, since anyone with common sense can imagine that setting up a company from scratch and taking on all the risks of costs is not easy.
Why did we decide to set up Flat 101 as a 100% self-financed company with no third-party contributions?
I’ll answer that very quickly: for trust and commitment. There were two things crystal clear to me: one, my 100% confidence in the people I worked with every day: Miguel, Diego and Sandra; and two, I was very chastened to embark on projects in which I had been promised participation, decision-making capacity, alignment with quality, etc … and then find that all these were empty words.
And more importantly, my vision and the vision of the others was identical: to create a digital services company especially oriented to the transaction and conversion that would base its proposal on quality, detail and innovation with its own methodology and with a big differential in terms of digital product design and involvement in projects. No churros factories, no loads of commercial work but with little execution, no projects in which we did not believe that we could provide real value.
Starting from that, and disgusted with the treatment received until then by extremely toxic “partners”, I posed two options: either I became independent as an independent consultant, letting go of any structural burden, or setting up a company with people I trusted, believed in and I could go for a walk in hell. And I opted for the second.
I proposed to Miguel, Sandra and Diego to set up a company with these premises and, to my surprise, they all said “OK, go ahead”, so the 4 of us decided to leave the job, and with one hand in front and another hand behind us, ride Flat 101.
Thanks to our professional reputation from previous years and the loyalty of some customers that we already had in MYG, Flat 101 started operating in 2013. At first we were 5 people working in a 35 m2 office.
The risks that one assumes when setting up a company on which his life will depend are enormous, and you only actually value them properly once you get to them: ¿what happens if we do not do well?, what do we do if we do not get clients ?, how do we manage clients who do not pay us? What do we do to get clients? What is our position as a brand and company? Do we do the things we want to do? questions, questions and more questions.
During our first year of life many things happened, many, some very good, others less good, but all necessary. The most important, without a doubt, were:
- It is important to learn quickly with which clients you can do well, you can contribute with something, you can put a value on the table. You have to quickly identify the type of clients in which you do well and those in which, because of their needs or their typology, you are not going to do a good job. In the same way that any service is not for everyone, your services as a company are not either. The sooner you know what your customer profile is, the better. It was hard for us to learn this, we are still doing it, but it is vital, because taking any client under the pretext and the urgency of billing is a big mistake, very big. Not everyone values the same service in the same way.
- Commitment and involvement are demonstrated by working and by facts. You can not take a company forward working from 9 to 17 from Monday to Thursday and then be off on Friday afternoons. You can not take a company forward coming to work sporadically and incosistently. You can not take a company forward if it is not your number one priority. You can not take a company forward without getting involved in facets that you may not like: client treatment, collection management, contracting services, relationships with suppliers, etc … If we are not all in the same boat seeing it in the same way, boat you have to go down people. The sooner it is clear who pushes and who does not, the better, and when you know who does not push, the decision is clear: either it changes radically or that person leaves the project … or you leave it. It is hard, it is not pleasant and it generates pain, but it is very necessary.
- You need to have your own style, a differential, a market value, and you have to validate your proposal. The sooner you do it and focus on it, the better.
- Your partners are your pillar, your support, your base. If you are not aligned with them (what does not mean being equal, but being complementary and wanting the same thing, and wanting it in the same way), your future will be short.
- Your customers are sacred, they are your best commercial asset. Take care of them. And that does not mean always giving them reason. It means being able to defend their interests although sometimes that means having to raise things that they may not like at the beginning but that may be very necessary.
When we started we were 5. At the end of 2014 we were 11 people. We were not the ones who started, but we were the best team possible. Very compact, very serious, very committed.
For me, that first year of Flat 101 was very hard, a lot, but also very rewarding. I dedicate myself to something I like, I do it with people I admire, respect and love, and for the first time in my life, things, the how, was something that we decided and did not come from someone else.
Flat 101 is the best professional project in which I have worked. The reason is very simple: we have built it among 4 people at the base, and we have done it blindly believing in our proposal and value. And from there we have been growing.
In that first year, many things happened to us and we worked with many people who went through our company. To all of them, thank you, because if they had not been there, things would be different now. I do not know if better or worse, but different.
We made mistakes, we did many things well, we learned everything, we laughed a lot, we got very angry, we discussed something, we relied on people, we were disappointed, we grew up, we deluded ourselves …
But always, always, we did everything to the maximum and looking to do it the best possible, with effort, with commitment and with a brutal honesty. Many customers realized that, and many of them trusted us a lot and continue to do so today, and thanks to them that first year was very worthwhile. A lot, and it was only the first.