LIVE ON TOAST

Just over eight years ago I lost my house, my car, all my savings, and I had to close down the agency that I had spent five years building. Along with many other people who were hit hard by 2008, I was mostly consumed by two thoughts:

 

  1. How am I going to survive?
  2. What am I going to do next?

 

I can even remember taking a photograph of my last £10 note, weighing up whether I should buy food, or use it for petrol to go and meet a potential customer. (I thankfully drove to the meeting and won the business). I spent some time living on a farm in the middle of North Wales, two miles from the closest shop (but 200 yards away from the pub!), with just a puppy basset hound to keep me company.

 

I ended up  writing a book, which happily started a chain of events bringing me to where I am today. I don’t have to worry about food anymore, but having lost everything and lived to tell the tale, I am not afraid of failure either.

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Me and Lettuce. (Manchester, 2008)

One of the main reasons I was able to get through some of those tough days, was because I clung onto a piece of advice I received from the wonderfully brilliant punk musician, Jon Robb. We were celebrating the life of the recently deceased broadcaster Anthony H. Wilson, at a 24 hour event in Manchester. We got onto the subject of failure and why many creatives and musicians in the city were not willing to put in the effort needed to become successful. I’ll never forget it. It was about very late, I’d had a lot of whiskey, and John suddenly stopped talking at the speed of light, paused for what seemed like ages, and then thoughtfully said,

 

“Sometimes you just need to live on toast”. John Robb

 

It’s a great quote and I’ve thought about it hundreds of times since that all-nighter at Urbis. I was reminded of it again yesterday when the FT ran an article about many tech entrepreneurs not willing to put in the effort needed to be successful. Feeling like they have some kind of entitlement, or their ideas deserve to turn into unicorns at some point, FT journalist Michael Moritz reminded readers that many of the tech superstars of today had to live on toast at some point in their career.

 

  • Jan Koum (Founder of WhatsApp) queued with his mother for food stamps when he came to America from the Ukraine.
  • Jerry Yang  (Co-founder of Yahoo!) could only speak one word of English – “shoe” – when he arrived in America from Taiwan as a 10-year old
  • Sergey Brin (Co-founder of Google) fled anti-semitism in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s.
  • Andy Grove (ex-CEO of Intel) walked across the boarder from Hungary to Austria in 1956.
  • Steve Jobs collected bottle caps to make extra money.
  • Bill Gates started Microsoft with a single-board computer and a handful of pocket money.
  • Travis Kalanick (Co-founder of Uber) lost all of his money on his first major venture, was sued for $250 billion, and went back to living at his parents house, taking no salary for 4 years and living on a diet consisting mostly of ramen.
  • Jack Ma (Founder of Alibaba) failed his exams at school, was rejected by Harvard 10 times and turned down for 30 jobs. At one point, when KFC came to China, he went for a job with 23 other people. They were all hired. Jack was the only one turned down.

 

“Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine”. Jack Ma

 

Even one of my favourite people, Christian Dior, started out in business by selling his sketches on the street for 10 centimes to raise money for material. Failure stories always seem poetic and fascinating in retrospect, but they are pretty grim for all those involved at the time. There is nothing romantic about failure, and courting it (especially with other people’s money) is sadly seen as a rite of passage these days. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be afraid of failing, especially failing fast, but we also shouldn’t be afraid of hard work and rough diets.

 

Sometimes you just need to live on toast.

 

 

  • [If you’re interested, John Robb did a few TEDx talks that are worth a listen]

 

Evangelist @IBM • IBM Watson • Travel Around Talking about AI, Big Data and the Future of Marketing • Lover of Old Business Books and Good Bourbon • Based in London, UK.

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