How to know what business to start
It's likely right under your nose.
In the height of lockdown I quit a highly paid government contract because I had literally lost my will to live.
I was holed up in a room, stuck on mind-numbing zoom calls day after day, working on something that I already knew was heading for the scrapheap. This was the pinnacle of my design career, and I hated it. And it had made me severely depressed (I wasn’t joking about losing my will to live!)
The day I quit was a sunny one. I had given my effective-immediate notice, slammed my laptop lid, ran down stairs and sat on the lawn in the sunshine with a cold beer.
A huge weight had been lifted. I knew that was me done when it came to my UX career. And I had been dealing with a great itch to start my own business, so now felt like the right time to explore that.
But then I did nothing.
Instead I spent months wondering what my business was to be.
What was going to be fun to build?
What would I want to be known for?
What kind of business would have a huge upside?
It would be an understatement to say this “problem” consumed me. I was well and truly stuck in analysis paralysis.
So I decided to stop thinking about it, and took a break.
My son was just turning a year old. My wife was still on maternity leave. We had enough money in the bank to not worry about the next thing for a little while. So we took a trip to the the Lake District, the most beautiful place on Earth.
Spending time in nature is where I truly switch off. And it must’ve done the trick - because I had a realisation.
I already had a business, right under my nose.
I had spent the past 18 months testing, developing, branding and marketing a product. I had established all of the logistics for it to be sold and fulfilled online. And it was now selling a handful of units each week (by word-of-mouth!).
This might sound farfetched to you. But I really didn't realise I had accidentally started a business. At the time I was just following my curiosity with a little side-project that was made to help out a few colleagues. I had no great ambition with it at all.
I had previously pondered about taking Workshop Tactics as a business seriously as a form of escape from my career. But it seemed ridiculous. A card deck company? LOL come on. Honestly, I found the concept kinda lame.
But it was this time away that I realised I had something immensely valuable on my hands. I didn’t appreciate how powerful it was to have a high-margin product selling without any great effort on my part. (This is what some might call product-market fit)
This realisation was like this accidental business had finally caught up to me, panting. It had grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, still catching it’s breath and saying “right, now let’s get to work.”
And then a few months later we launched Storyteller Tactics (which has gone on to sell tens of thousands around the globe, and the rest is history).
Why am I telling you this?
I have friends who are in that position I was - wondering what will be their “thing” - and it’s consuming them.
And I want to tell you that, if that sounds like you (or you are said friend) - I think the business you’ll find yourself starting is already written in the stars. It is an amalgamation of your experience, skills, network, interests, timing and fortune.
It’s something that has to be excavated and it’s own pace.
I often wonder how people end up building gargantuan pressure-washing businesses, or building a car dealership empire - or some equally obscure and strange endeavour.
But it’s clear now. A business is just as unique as you, and it probably takes time for it to bubble up to the surface and present itself. Sometimes that might take the form of your parents handing you the keys. Or as it was with me, your career was one giant exposure to users who have a need that wasn’t being met.
So if you’re in a position wondering “what is the business going to be that I will start?” It’s likely staring you in the face. You might just need some time and space to see it.
Maybe that was useful, maybe not. Let me know in the comments or hit reply.