Comment: On the new wave of entrepreneurs

Marty Bell reflects on a new wave of experimental business owners and their light-hearted attitude to the trials and tribulations of building a brand.

Marty Bell is the founder of community platform Jacuzzi Club, online radio station Poolsuite, sunglasses brand Tens and finance app Nude.

Almost two years ago, I founded Jacuzzi Club, but without any bubbles, jetted whirlpools or hot tubs in sight. It is, in fact, a private chat room for people building exciting new brands and products in tech, fashion, food and media, with founders and creators from TikTok, Death to Stock and Product Hunt among many others.

As such, I have an interesting view into the daily lives and working practices of hundreds of interesting people. A trend I’ve picked up on recently, which has been amplified by the current crisis and coming from the majority of our group’s most successful members, is a sense of what I’m calling ‘chill professionalism’. The people that display it mostly start projects as hobbies and then slowly turn them into exciting businesses – a somewhat different approach to starting a business to make money, and which naturally leads to a more relaxed entrepreneurial journey.

The chill professionals are experimental. They like hanging out with friends and tinkering on projects rather than anything that feels too much like hard work. But still, this approach is churning out some of the biggest, most exciting companies in our community. For example, one member in their 20s, Andy McCune, just had his app Unfold, an online toolkit for storytellers, acquired by Squarespace.

These founders know that starting a business is like embarking on a never ending problem-solving mission; they are fully aware that there will never not be problems. But they choose to tackle everything head on, but with a light-hearted approach, rather than getting emotionally hung up when things don’t always go to plan. By viewing starting a business more like starting a project that you’re currently testing removes a lot of the pressure of having to succeed, both mentally and socially.

Look into the chat room today, someone’s laughing at a situation they’ve found themselves in with hundreds of units of stock having arrived in the wrong colours (and others are laughing with them while pitching in novel solutions to help); someone else is celebrating having had a baby boy and having sold their 10-year-old bicycle company in the same week; while another founder has just raised £1m in funding.

‘Being a great business operator is mastering the art of having shit permanently thrown at you and turning that into a positive outcome.’

These messages are posted in our ‘highs and lows’ Slack channel, which sees a lot of posts on both ends of that spectrum. No egos, no drama, just internet friends tinkering around with huge ideas and at the same time sharing Spotify playlists and stupid tweets.

Although it has been an incredibly challenging time for most businesses over the past few months, it has become clear that people are more likely to support you if you aren’t continuously broadcasting how much you’re smashing it. When founders believe they have to ‘fake it until they make it’, it stops them from forming genuinely helpful relationships with their entrepreneurial peers.

After all, being a great business operator is mastering the art of having shit permanently thrown at you and turning that into a positive outcome. Sure, this is a mad and rubbish time for many founders, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the most relaxed members of our community are turning out to be some of the best operators too. A ‘chill professional’ approach to starting things should stand you in good stead for weathering the bad times while staying grounded through the good ones.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 35, June/July 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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