The Start-Up

From their Shoreditch über-office, four successful apprepreneurs strive to keep it real – but how close to their roots dare they go?

Image: www.phildisley.com

Jason Grimes presided over one of the sweetest legends in dotcom history. BananaTech, the start-up he had founded in his parents’ spare room while in bed with tonsillitis, was recently valued at over £1bn. The company had retained its four original employees in executive roles – but now, instead of overlooking a skip-hire firm in the backstreets of Bristol, they occupied 30,000sq ft of coveted Shoreditch office space and employed over 600 of the industry’s most talented individuals, each of whom received a weekly shoulder massage at their desk.

And yet, despite glowing profiles in Forbes and Jason’s recent MBE, there was something missing in the lives of the original team. Jason, Charlie, Lisa and Raj netted a cool £2m each when they received major venture capital a couple of years ago, so life ought to be sweet. This was, after all, everything they’d spent their early board meetings planning, back when they used to convene in their local Pizza Express on the first Friday of every month, wearing their university hoodies. Back then they would talk of a future in which they owned loft apartments and Lamborghinis, when they wouldn’t be afraid to withdraw more than £20 from the ATM for fear of venturing too far into the red.

But instead of luxuriating in the spoils of success, the BananaTech board increasingly found themselves nostalgic for the days before they had to lock the stationery cupboard – that metaphorical moment when a company is finally deemed to have made it and you no longer know and trust everyone on the payroll. Even the clusters of George Nelson lights suspended from the stripped-back industrial-chic ceilings couldn’t lighten the prevailing gloom hanging over them.

One Monday morning, Jason, who had been working on his existential angst with a therapist for a while, sent an email to his original team inviting them to a meeting in one of the more discreet back offices. Here, Jason and his architect had recreated a space with the feel of the old Bristol offices. Jason was convinced this was a good way to integrate the corporate heritage into the brand identity.

So, like Marie Antoinette at the Petit Trianon, they played at being a start-up again. Gathered round an Ikea desk, they pulled down the rattan blinds and attempted to rekindle their erstwhile optimism by going on a group coffee run to Pret A Manger. The team reminisced about the good old days when they were turned down for bank loans; they fondly recalled the humid summer when they couldn’t afford a fan for their sweltering office. And as they snacked on Tesco pains au chocolat, things started looking up.

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But alas, the real world couldn’t be held at bay forever: Lisa was due to attend an Enterprising Women reception at Downing Street; Raj was scheduled to appear on World at One; Charlie was giving a lecture at the London School of Economics; and Jason had been bidden by someone very high up at Google to lunch at Sushisamba.

Just as everyone’s shoulders began to sag once more, there was a knock at the door. Their CFO, the ceaselessly upbeat Geoffrey, entered hesitantly.

“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings but…” He wore a stricken expression and stared at the floor. “Gooseberry has just released a new app identical to ours, but with next-generation technology and epic funding.”

“I see,” Jason replied with an inscrutable nod.

“Our share price has taken a massive hit,” Geoffrey continued. “We’re in serious trouble here.” Looking up, he expected to see his grim countenance reflected in the faces of the BananaTech board. But Jason, Charlie, Lisa and Raj were sitting upright in their seats, smiles spreading slowly across their faces, eyes glinting with something they thought they had lost forever.

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“That’s it,” Jason said in a moment of Damascene clarity as he recalled the words of one of his heroes. “As Churchill said, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’ Now, let’s get back to work and make a fool of these Gooseberries.”

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