'Running a startup is a bit of a selfish move. Every relationship sort of takes a backseat'

This entrepreneur learned you need to pace yourself and not go all guns blazing when setting up a business.

By Evan Gray Co-founder, Laundrie

STRAIGHT AFTER I finished college, I started working for Dell and was based in the commercial finance side of things.

I moved around all different parts of finance in the business, which was a great experience coming straight out of college because you got to see how the commerce works in different areas of the world.

I started out as an assistant financial controller in Cherrywood and then I got an opportunity to go into a programme that moved us around to different parts of the business and even got a chance to move to Slovakia.

I enjoyed the work, but I always had an entrepreneurial drive and wanted to bring a product of my own to the market.

I had been in a few different roles and I always thought it was the same job with a different name and I wanted something that was a real challenge.

I’ve heard that the three things you need in order to be really satisfied with what you’re doing is creativity, autonomy and to have a challenge to some degree every day.

At my job, I wasn’t getting a huge opportunity to be creative and not a huge amount of autonomy because I was ultimately reporting into somebody. So I thought launching a business was a great way to address those three issues.

The idea for my business, Laundrie, came from my time in Slovakia actually. Because I didn’t speak the language, getting stuff done like, dry cleaning, was a bit of a hassle.

I had seen a dry cleaning on-demand service in the US and it just stuck with me that it made real sense and would work in Ireland.

Launderettes haven’t evolved in 50 years and are still keeping expensive machines on high-street property, which is so expensive. So I decided to launch a service that collects and delivers dry cleaning to your door.

Capture Evan Gray
Source: Laundrie

Dinner table

I’ve heard before that most entrepreneurs will have a parent or family member and that would have been my experience too and what put me in the mindset to set up a company.

My father had his own business based in Dublin, Cork and Belfast, selling engineering supplies to manufacturers in Ireland. I think in your head, you always have a feeling that you want to achieve something similar. So I think that is what set the bar and what pushed me to do it.

We weren’t the biggest sport family, so we would talk about businesses and assess them over the dinner table. Myself and my brother were always very similar and would discuss the pros and cons of different ideas over the table – it’s just what we liked to do.

We might chat about some new idea we had heard of and I would ask my family what they thought of this new business trying to set up, then everyone would weigh in.

They would say, “Retail locations are hard to get” or “there’s these costs you don’t think about”. My brother then would be far more up front than I would be and say that it’s a stupid idea and won’t work for reasons X, Y and Z. It was just for fun and not ever something too serious.

Naivety

I was probably a bit naive when I set up Laundrie and I’m glad I did it, but I’m not sure if I really understood the challenges that would be involved – it really becomes your life.

Every relationship sort of takes a backseat and there is less time for other people and other aspects of your life as a result.

In a way, it is sort of a selfish move, which is something you never realise beforehand. Particularly when it’s a business like this which runs up until 10pm or 11pm every night, you can’t just say, “hey, let’s go to the cinema” or “let’s go for a few drinks” because you have got to get up early the next morning to keep an eye on people.

Maybe it would be different if I had a business that was regular working hours, but it has definitely taken over my life and if you’re not actually working, you’re probably thinking about it and there is very little down time.

When you start you have to control everything, but it’s tricky because if you want your business to thrive down the line, you can’t be involved in every little detail – you won’t be able to see the forest from the trees.

So you need to learn to delegate the day-to-day operations to someone who is really reliable, which leaves you to work on tomorrow’s challenges.

You can’t just get into the habit of running yourself into the ground because running a startup is a marathon, not a sprint. You might think you can work like mad for two months and then you will be able to relax at the end of it, but it doesn’t work like that.

You need to be able to spread your energy over a long period. At the beginning I was working a huge amount and it can drive you insane almost – you’ve got to take care of yourself mentally.

Capture
Source: Laundrie

Small victories

It’s all little wins. That’s something I learned along the way.

It’s obviously great when you get good media exposure because it feels like a sense of achievement, but more so because your friends, family and other people start to understand what you’re doing.

Before that people probably think I’m working on some app for clothes and they don’t know what it’s about. So it gives the business credit if someone will talk about it.

But there’s no chance to really look back and say that was great because every week you’re trying to get some new achievement.

We’re constantly recruiting to handle the growth and my problem is always finding good staff. It’s probably what I’ve found to be the toughest part of the business.

You might find yourself in a bind and you will end up taking people on that are only around for a month or two months because maybe they are in between jobs. That’s not the best idea because you end up in the same problem a couple of months later.

Another tough, but interesting moment, to deal with this year was when paranoia struck during the summer when we saw the business go quiet for the first time since we started.

It was actually specifically when the European Championships were on. I don’t know if it was because people were on holidays, but it felt like there was a tumbleweed in the office.

I had wondered if that would be a rocky period for us because people are all on holidays and maybe wearing less formal clothes. It made me paranoid for a while until business picked back up.

But I think every entrepreneur has to be a bit paranoid and have in the back of their head that they’re only as good as their last day.

Evan Gray is the ‎co-founder of Laundrie. This article was written in conversation with Killian Woods as part of a series on business mistakes and what can be learned from them.

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