Letter to my younger self: you will have to put friendships aside

Startup life is hard, Bonnie Chung tells her 25-year-old self, and many challenges will dent her creative spirit – but it’ll be worth it

Bonnie Chung: ‘This is a tough, adrenaline-filled ride that you can’t get enough of.’ Photograph: Bonnie Chung

Dear Bonnie,

You have no idea how hard you are about to work, how much you will need to sacrifice or the resilience that you will develop to cope with the journey ahead.

Forget the comparison to roller coasters; think about the most addictive box-set you have ever watched and add trapdoors and parachutes. This is a tough, adrenaline-filled ride that you can’t get enough of. Each day, you hit “play next” and even when you are enjoying the highest of highs, you know that there is a monster waiting for you around every corner.

Retain and nurture the rose-tinted passion and excitement that you have for the business you are about to launch – and don’t let the bumps get you down. Along the way, you will be faced with countless challenges that will slowly chip away at your bubbly, creative spirit, but this is your most precious asset.

It will take three long years before you will be able to transform your idea into a real product, and another three years to get it properly trading in the market.

That first time you sell your first product to an unassuming customer, shopping in Selfridges, when you secretly follow them to the check-out to watch them pay for it, will make all the hard work worth it.

Outside of your products, the most important thing will be your team. You will put together a motley crew of talents, before nurturing them into a tight-knit family that will propel your creations to successes.

But I need to warn you of one of the hardest things you will have to deal with. You will find letting anyone go from your team absolutely excruciating. There is nothing entertaining about sacking someone, despite what The Apprentice has shown you. It will stress you out and make you doubt yourself.

On the day you sack them, you will fear how they’ll react. You’ll wonder if they will be able to find another job; if you’ve made the right decision. There will be tears, and you will feel terrible. You will feel responsible for their sudden loss of security and wish you could give them another chance.

In the back of your mind, you will feel like you have failed in some way; like you’ve failed in your decision to hire them, like you’ve failed the whole team. When you took them on you will have felt so sure about your choice.

And while it is one of the most awful tasks of being a business owner, it will be vital if you want to grow a strong business.The decision will be far more defining than you could imagine. It will be the coming of age of your business.

In a small business, you can see very quickly if someone is struggling in a role. Of those staff that do go, many will continue to be friends with you and you will remain a mentor to them in their careers. Just because they are not compatible with your company doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be perfect somewhere else.

Finally, be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for making the wrong decisions; these mistakes will happen constantly in the early days, and recovering from them quickly and moving on will be key to your success and enjoyment of the path that you have chosen.

Keep going, be honest with yourself and find time to smell the roses in between.

Bonnie, aged 31

Bonnie Chung is the founder and director of Miso Tasty.


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