Being resilient after failing and being fired
3 years ago, I left France and a comfortable career in Finance. I moved to the UK to chase my food/ag tech dreams and did not know what I was getting myself into. Since then, I have aged 10 years and learned a lot about myself. It took me to fail at my own startup, be denied a British visa and be fired brutally to understand the true meaning of resilience.
MY STARTUP FAILED
My food startup Sincuru failed fantastically. First, because I was a terrible Product Manager. Next, because I did not know how to hire and fire people. Then, because I faced the reality of British Immigration. I thought that building a startup was easy and, having quite easily moved from Cameroon to France, thought that settling in the UK would not be a big deal. I was wrong.
Sincuru was my first real full-time startup adventure. I was so insecure about not being a developer that I was obsessed by finding one. I was so obsessed by securing funding that getting into Bethnal Green Ventures felt like a win on its own. I hired good people, but at the wrong time. I did not know how to own and build a product.
From these mistakes, I learned that we needed to validate that we were solving a real problem, for real people. Had we done that and not succeeded, it wouldn’t have been a failure per se, just an experiment gone wrong. Lesson learned: when starting up, fuck the tech and fake the rest.*
I WAS DENIED A BRITISH VISA
I traveled to France to visit my family and in-laws last summer. I was supposed to stay only 2 weeks… but stayed 8 months, powerless, stuck in a legal fight with the British immigration. I never thought I would face the heat of immigration somewhere someday, having grown in a decent middle-class family in Cameroon. I was wrong.
Moving from my native Cameroon to France was relatively easy: I had a merit scholarship for a Master’s and found a job in Finance quite quickly after. I expected the same smoothness when moving from France to the UK… What a big mistake! Today, I have a tremendous respect for the so-called economic migrants. Because I myself am one, and had to find a way to keep things going.
I left my country for another one, in pursuit of better opportunities, like an Italian moving to Britain, an American moving to France or a Canadian moving to Australia. I just happen to have the wrong passport… As a result, I am called an economic migrant, not an expat. An extra motivation to prove “them” wrong. Lesson learned: when migrating, you are entitled to nothing and failure is not an option.
I WAS FIRED
I managed to come back and find a job at Pronto, an on-demand food startup in London. I was fired after a month because I did not have the skills the team needed to grow the business post-seed round. They needed a Head of Food Operations, which I thought I could be after running a food startup. An experienced Chef turned out to be a much better fit for the role. So once more, I was wrong.
When leaving, I told the team that I felt no bitterness at all. Business is not personal, and that was clear in my mind. I still get along well with most of the team, and many friends of mine in the London foodtech space are amazed by how big of a Pronto fan I am.
I joined Pronto because I genuinely believe in what James, Simone, Lukáš and their team are building. I happened to think I could fit a role I was simply not qualified enough for, despite all the hard work I put in the job. Lesson learned: Being fired is not personal, just a reminder that you belong elsewhere.
When you decide to chase your dreams, you’ll likely feel alone in the dark. if starting a business, be prepared to get into one of the most lonely jobs ever. Your mom will cry, your dad will wonder, your sisters and brothers will worry, your significant other will panic… It’s all on you to reassure them all.
You can’t blame your loved ones, because you’re the one who chose to stay away from the classic societal norm: good degree, then 9-to-5 job, then starting a family, getting a 30-year mortgage, and aging peacefully. You may very well become a pariah in the eyes of many, but should you care? Embrace it, internalise it, and move on.
If you have to take a bill-payer job, because we all need to live and pay bills, do it. There’s no shame in doing so. I have been penniless when working on Sincuru and went to work at Chipotle for 3 months. It was a very rewarding experience that served me a year later at Pronto… Who could have guessed that? I may very well need to do the same again. Remember the “reassuring your loved ones” part?
Jason Calacanis recently wrote a fantastic blog post about not having what it takes, specific to startup founders. Much of it can be applied to all, especially this quote: It’s really common for people to want an extraordinary outcome for themselves in this life, but it’s very rare to see folks make extraordinary sacrifices for the *chance* to get one of those outcomes.
Failing, being denied a visa, being fired… These are all experiences that nurtured me. I have not “made it”, but I learned a lot about what it takes to achieve my dreams. So from the day you’ll decide to chase yours, bear in mind that you’ll start a journey with an unpredictable end. Just never lose sight of your goal, steer your ship and be resilient when shit happens.