My recent work exploring startup culture draws from my experience in this area; and several of my recent pieces of work are specifically about the dreams and motivations of entrepreneurs when setting up a business (specifically in my experience, technology businesses). I want to delve a little deeper into this to explain my work. I created 2 pieces that focus on entrepreneurship: “Build The App” and “Personal Backlog”. Both use humble post-it notes to ‘brainstorm’ a series of imagined tasks that entrepreneurs might undertakes.
In “Personal Backlog” the focus is on the things that an individual might do, or feel the need to do when starting a business, especially one with lofty ambitions or Moon Shot to give it its trendy new term. In ‘shooting for the moon’, a business owner might feel they need to become super human - not just to be a strong leader, but to be all things to all people in order to grow something from an idea into a successful business that impacts the lives of many. And there are plenty of places to turn to for help and support; from coaching and mentoring to professional development, to spiritual (mindful), dietary and fitness regimes. Plus then there are leadership tips explained and sold by articles with titles such as ‘the top 10 habits of successful people’ and so on. As someone who has set up businesses, I can absolutely recognise a desire to ‘be prepared’ a sort of clearing the decks of untidy debris, I can also empathise with a desire to ‘become a better person’ and have myself successfully achieved dramatic transformations (for example in career focus or fitness and weight loss). I recognise that many entrepreneurs just want to be good, or great at what they do and to succeed and to do that they want to prepare themselves. On this level, my work explores those honest ambitions and genuine if perhaps innocent or naive ways of achieving preparedness.
The manifestation of that exploration, in my identification of ‘the things a person might do’, or ‘things that an entrepreneur might be sold in order to achieve success’, took me down an additional route. There is now a giant ecosystem of supporting characters who sell to entrepreneurs. The startup ecosystem contains all sort of services aiming to capitalise on the entrepreneur’s dream. “Personal Backlog” looks at useful things you might do to be prepared and manage a busy workload, silly things you might think you need to do to be ‘healthy’ (which goes hand in hand with ‘successful’ nowadays), and other less tangible things you might do that fall into the ‘fairy dust’ category to create ultimate self belief.
The backlog is the list of things yet to be done; and it’s a well used software engineering / management concept. A key point in this work is that there’s a lot to do, and that entrepreneurs, whilst on the one hand feel that drive and ambition, are faced with the notion that they have to become a super human to succeed. I hope that this piece of work inspires viewers with the idea that entrepreneurs are ambitious and driven, whilst also asking them to question whether they really need to change anything about themselves. Focussing on a desire to self improve might not get the job done, actually.
In Build The App, the backlog is more organised and some of the post-it note user stories are even given ’story points’ and priority ordering - the Agile methodology in action. I also layer in the story over time, with comments, and notes and complete status as tasks get done. The story this piece tells, I hope, is that of the dreams and enthusiasm of a founding team in the early days of business startup. It shows a series of tasks they might undertake (and this is based heavily on my experience of working within and setting up my own businesses). Some of the things are easy and fun like choosing an office space, deciding on how to decorate it, defining a brand, or hiring excellent people. Other tasks are more vital to the business’ success and arguably require deeper work; defining the Financial Plan; creating a business plan and pitch deck, and securing partnerships and investment. There are a lot of dependencies; and whilst many startups need to undertake similar tasks, many also fall into the same traps. There’s always a Catch 22 situation - a business could launch a product, prove an idea, grow a customer base and not need funding; or it could chase the money at the expense of developing a product. Where to spend finite resources is a key challenge for bootstrappers. “Build The App” is only one of over 200 tasks; and with this I aim to highlight that often a really great product is seen as less important that developing an investment story, or getting caught up in the fun of a new business. I aim to share a fondness for people with ideas and their lofty ambitions; and to portray the ultra broad skills set and ability to multitask that’s required to “make it”.
I’ve seen an increasing amount of art recently that goes some way to explore technology and business; and even startups. It’s easy to look from the outside in and show how odd this world is. It’s also easy to question the desire of entrepreneurs who want to make money at any cost; other pieces I’ve made recently also do that. But with these pieces I want to explore the balance; the personal quest of an entrepreneur who craves success (just like us artists do) and the hoops they are coerced into jumping through to get there. Startup culture itself then, not just entrepreneurs as individuals, is responsible for extolling some of the myths and mysticism. Is there a way to do this or a formula that will work? No. Is there a type of person that you need to be? Of course not. Are entrepreneurs all egotistical sociopaths or are they also rather vulnerable as they put themselves in an exposed position as they shoot for the moon? Maybe.