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How have my mindset and my opinions changed since I started my own business

Veronika Nesverova Workshoppa

About one year ago I have decided to do some bubble-hopping. Bubble-hopping as of trying to at least for a while leave my social bubble of the scientific community and trying to enter the social bubble of the startup community.

I guess I don’t have to tell you that it challenged all I thought I knew about business. Actually, it was a real eye-opener. In this post I wanted to share with you some of the main changes in the way I think about business and entrepreneurship now that I myself have tried to build something from scratch.

Taking the leap

Starting your own business is scary. It’s actually super scary. Maybe it becomes less scary over the time or if that’s the only thing you have ever done. But coming from being an employee to becoming self-employed is a massive step. Experiencing this fear first-hand I have developed a DEEP RESPECT and admiration for anyone who decides to take the leap and start from scratch. Even more if that someone invests his/her own money into the business, taking the risk and believing it will pay off. And even more if that someone comes from somewhere else than Sweden.

I deeply admire for example Rowan Drury from Gram, the guys from The Mandioka Company or the people who have renovated and opened a new beautiful café Zeituna where café Mondo used to be in Lund. Never before have I considered how much courage does it take to start your own business. Now whenever I walk down a busy street in Malmö, seeing all these tiny shops and cafés I realize that this world is full of really brave people.

Why does it cost so much?

If there is something that starting my own business made me really understand it’s why things cost what they cost. Especially when it comes to the cost of people’s labor. When I first entered the business bubble I was absolutely shocked to learn about a freelancer who takes 1000kr per hour. Without VAT! I was perplexed. Now I know, however, that that person will have to give half of that amount to the state on taxes and fees. Now I know that this person will have to do so many other things that aren’t directly paid – like book-keeping, like marketing, like building a personal brand, like networking, like contact with clients – all that just to land a couple of paid hours. (And now I also know that it can be much much more than 1000kr/h.)

When I think about my salary from my employment at Lund University it’s like a whole different kind of money. I cannot imagine how many years would it take to be able to get a salary like that every month, without any fluctuations, without any worry. Starting my own company really taught me to appreciate my salary and acknowledge the power and stability of big institutions.

Pat my shoulder and I’ll pat yours

I always knew that a lot one can find on social media is fake. We try to show only the best side of ourselves and sometimes even more. We only post the one sunny beach photo, but we don’t mention that the rest of the week it was raining like hell, we got into a fight with our partner and our luggage was lost on the way home.

I knew all this. What I didn’t know or realize is how people are consciously branding themselves on social media. Just to be clear – I have nothing against personal branding! It’s super important for all who want to profile themselves as experts on something and I do it too. I just wanted to mention that it adds another thin layer of fakeness I wasn’t aware existed before. And now I’m part of it. Let me give you some imaginary examples:

  • I just gave a talk in the public library. And now I’m posting the picture of myself in front of the audience to Facebook. And I write “Thanks to everybody who came to listen to my talk!” What I really mean is not to thank the people who came, it’s to show the rest of the world that I gave a talk and that I’m awesome. (I’m going to do this in a couple of weeks, check my Facebook.)
  • My friend who came to my talk replies in a comment “Thanks for a fantastic talk, you are so awesome!”. Well I hope she really thinks I’m awesome but this comment actually has a different purpose than telling me that. She actually helps me to get my post more visible and add some extra credibility. Since she commented on my post, the Facebook algorithm is going to show this to more people. She also wants her audience to see that she is active, she goes to talks, she meets people, she is awesome too.
  • In a Facebook group for female entrepreneurs supporting each other I would write. “Thanks to this amazing community! I have really learned so much from you, bla bla ba, your stories have inspired me so much that now I have finally launched my company xxx.” This is a post that is designed to get likes (because it’s emotional) while subtly promoting my business (which I of course don’t forget to tag).

I guess I knew about these practices even before. But now that I myself try to make myself visible I notice it EVERYWHERE. Facebook and LinkedIn are full of people patting their own shoulders, massaging each other’s egos, helping each other being visible for the rest. This happens through writing posts where what they write doesn’t match the purpose of the post. And I am guilty too for one simple reason: it works. However, now after I stared my own business I’m much more careful with drawing conclusions out of whatever I see on social media. I always think: “What’s the real purpose of this post or comment?”

Have you experienced what I have? It would be nice to hear that I’m not alone in this!  How have your mindset, thinking and opinions changed since you started your own business? Please let me know, I’d be so curious to hear!

My 2017 in review

Hobbies

  • Started some serious orienteering, joined Lunds OK orienteering club, attended countless trainings, 15 competitions including a 25 person relay and a 1-week long O-ringen, the mekka of orienteerers, competing with 20.000 other orienteering nerds in the beautiful forests around Arvika.

     

  • Grew plants, expanded my collection of green home companions until the point when I had to call it a stop for now, including 3 new avocado plants. Was donated 5 orchids from 2 different people and made all of them bloom in just couple of weeks.
  • Grew my own vegetables. 10 minutes cycling from my home is a small area with growing patches. A friend of mine kindly let me grow stuff in two rows of her patch. This year we were munching on own-grown red beats, radishes, onions, spinach, sweet peas, strawberries, fennel and a few tomatoes. Next year the plan is to ditch the fennel (didn’t have much taste) and grow potatoes and carrots instead.

   

  • Canoeing. I went canoeing three times this summer. One of that was a fantastic 4 day canoeing trip on the lake Immeln, camping on our own islands, fighting the winds and the waves, sitting by a fire every evening.

  

Work

  • The biggest step – out of my passion project I started my own company – Workshoppa. Since I launched in May 2017 I helped around 25 workshops to come to life and more than 300 people were involved either as teachers or as organizers. I sold workshops for 30.000 kr and paid just a little bit more to the people teaching the workshops and for running the business. It’s been the biggest roller-coaster and a school of my life and I can honestly admit that there were (are) even tears some times. Sometimes it was a lonely business too and I wish I knew the right person to start this with at the time when I was starting.

  • At the same time I lowered my employment at the university to 70% which was the best decision. I can’t imagine working full time again and not having that extra time for my passion side projects.
  • I published my first scientific article in The Journal of Biological Chemistry. My contribution to the paper was rather minor but it’s still a big step for my scientific career.
  • And I’m one year closer to finishing my Ph.D. Admitting that the thoughts of quitting were coming and going (I think that every Ph.D. student needs to go through this) I have decided to fight my way through till the end.

Protein crystals

Physical and mental health

  • I must knock on the wood and say that except for my teeth I didn’t have any physical health issues this year.
  • That can’t be said about my mental health. My company, my expectations and social media has been a huge source of stress for me. So big that I was even sometimes questioning whether it was all worth it.

Social

  • In 2017 I was not very good at keeping the old friendships. The few ones that survived me moving to another country will need much more love and attention in 2018!
  • Thanks to Workshoppa and the need to network and find customers I forced myself into all sorts of uncomfortable situations – pure networking events where you talk for 5 minutes to someone, then you exchange business cards and then you never ever contact each other again; pitching contests where everybody is there to judge you; public talks.

  • I have talked to more new people and made more friends in the past year then in the previous 2 years in Sweden. The task for the next year will be to develop these friendships.
  • One thing that hasn’t changed at all since the previous years is the one most important relationship. We are as synchronized and symbiotic with my partner as a couple can be. Lukas continues to be my life companion, my source of happiness and comfort and an amazing support in the time when it’s needed. We grow together. We have noticed that routine is sometimes sneaking into our relationships but we have so far failed to plan more date nights (or date days…).

Give me more double dates!

New skills

Ah 2017 was crazy in this respect. Thanks to Workshoppa I have learned:

  • to use WordPress
  • basics of bookkeeping
  • a lot of social media marketing
  • project management and coordination skills
  • how to talk to people when you need something
  • how to be the master of gentle reminders
  • to become more organized when it comes to my time

Personal development

  • Still can’t find the balance in my life, working too hard and feeling exhausted, relaxing and feeling guilty.
  • I will probably never stop dreaming about the perfect balance in my life.
  • Due to focusing on it a lot I believe that I have managed to get rid of most of my prejudices I grew up with in Czech Republic. I became much more mindful, tolerant and loving person when it comes to for example refugees and transgender people. I also became much more aware of sexism and the urgency with which we need to change the way things are. (Thanks Sweden for raising a tolerant human being of me.)

Sustainability

  • We have managed to do a lot in our household in 2017 to eliminate the negative impact of our behavior to the planet’s well being. We have for example completely stopped buying paper tissues and instead dug out my childhood textile hankies with princesses and teddy bears on it. Cute and practical. After this switch we found out that using paper tissues was absolutely unnecessary, it’s just a matter of habit.
  • Still a bit stuck on this zero waste thing when it comes to food. Traveling to Malmö to do my zero waste groceries is not feasible. Until there is a zero waste shop in Lund I am at least trying to not use any plastic bags for my fruits and veg.
  • I have almost completely eliminated fast fashion from my life. I bought two pairs of jeans at a second hand store in Malmö (70 kr a piece, fits like magic) and got the rest from my favorite brand of all times, Armed Angels. Still struggling to find eko/fairtrade panties though. Any ideas?

Home

  • After living in 3 different places the first 2 years of being in Sweden in February 2017 we have finally moved into an apartment where we can stay for some years. This place now finally truly feels like my home.

Note the avocado plant!

Mistakes

  • Trying to promote Workshoppa in July when everybody was on vacation
  • Joined social media again. After my 2-year break from Facebook and Instagram I made new accounts on both of these platforms in January 2017 to be able to promote Workshoppa. I survived several months without adding any friends on Facebook and using my personal profile purely to be able to manage the company profile. Later I gave in, for the good and the bad. I have made some fantastic connections, got to know some amazing people and managed to make friends out of new acquaintances thanks to social media. At the same time it’s been a tremendous source of stress. Not really from the fear of missing out, more like “everybody else’s life seems to be so perfect” even though I know they are not. Also “Should I post this or not?” I don’t want to be like everybody else, pretending that my life is perfect.

Thanks, really.

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