Laurence McCahill spent 12 years running Spook Studio, a successful digital agency in London, building product, strategy, brand and user experience for early-stage startups. After working closely with many companies, helping scale businesses and learning from products that failed, Laurence recognised one commonality: happy founders build successful companies. Armed with a decade's worth of startup lessons and this striking realisation, Laurence shut Spook Studio and founded The Happy Startup School in 2012 to steer “entrepreneurs and changemakers globally to build businesses differently – that place people, and happiness, before profits.” Laurence says,
"It's really not about startups, it's always about people. As a founder, if you're happy with yourself, you create happy teams who make better products and create brands that are honest, authentic and transparent. Such companies naturally delight their customers and tend to be more successful.”
Introducing happiness among entrepreneurs
Over a year, there are three events that empower and connect entrepreneurs around the world – Happy Startup Summercamp, Alptitude and Ashram.
Summercamp is a curated three-day event of inspirational speeches, workshops and well-being. Some of the topics include 'Leading with an open heart', 'Telling your story so the world listens' and 'Thriving in uncertainty' among others. By bringing like-minded people together, Summercamp shows entrepreneurs ways to alter their existing company culture, in a tangible manner.
In one edition, Laurence invited Jack Hubbard, founder and CEO of Brighton-based Propellernet, an online marketing agency. Jack operates from the Alps and his philosophy is simple - the better Propellernet performs, the more it enables its employees to achieve their travel adventures and ambitions. By making the workplace worthwhile, Jack keeps his employees fulfilled. Jack's business plan is "simply a bucket list of employees' dreams." Propellernet has been recognised as the ‘Great Place to Work’ by Great Place to Work Institute, for the last three years consecutively. Jack, also a mountaineer and an adventure enthusiast, suggested the idea of Alptitude and that’s how The Happy Startup School found its next calling.
Inculcating the mindset of happiness
Alptitude is a week-long event that brings together 25 purpose-driven entrepreneurs from around the world in the mountains (the Alps in 2017), giving an opportunity to collaborate with inspiring people, learn and share new skills and knowledge. It isn't a conference, or a networking event, or a retreat. It's all of it, yet, none of it. Alptitude doesn’t have a fixed agenda. Its core is to bring together a carefully selected group of entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and then conversations flow effortlessly.
As a blogger and Alptitude’s participant puts it,
“You know how, when you go to a conference, the speakers might be inspiring and good, but how the really interesting stuff happens in the in-between-bits? Basically, the great conversations that happen over over-roasted coffee, shit croissants, and cups of fancy-labelled mineral water? Yes? Well—Alptitude is what happens if you create a conference that consists of only in-between bits.”
Ashram is also a week-long learning adventure that brings together 25 changemakers to exchange game-changing ideas, endless inspiration and form new friendships. Ashram introduces elements of well-being - yoga, mindfulness and meditation along with activities that help unwind - visiting permaculture farms, birdwatching and fishing, cooking.
Laurence says, “We don’t want to assume that all people want to hear a particular session. We try to understand why entrepreneurs are here and what are they hoping to achieve. And the sessions are automatically in place. We act as facilitators and often shift to being mentors.” Explaining the impact, he talks of Dream Explorers, an organisation that encourages children to explore world outside the modern-day schooling system. At Ashram, a few participants came together to help with the website, content and vision for Dream Explorers and it was born. Laurence has only two criteria for selecting entrepreneurs, “Firstly, the person – we strive to create a diverse background of people and experiences, because different inputs are so valuable. Secondly, the mindset of the entrepreneur. We don’t want people who are all about I, me and myself. Ashram is about open-minded people who are willing to learn and contribute.”
Finding and practising happiness
Laurence helps outline three things every entrepreneur must practice -
- Look after yourself - "Entrepreneurs burn out, working too hard. It's important to take out time to unwind, do things one loves because it only helps to declutter the mind."
- Find your tribe - "You don't need 500 contacts, you just need few great people that get you and share the same view as you. There is immense power when like-minded people inspire each other."
- Why are you doing what you're doing? – Based on his wealth of experience, Laurence lists 10 questions every entrepreneur must ask himself/herself to find their purpose and passion –
- Why I am actually doing this?
- What can't I do?
- What will I never do?
- What would I love to serve?
- Who will be watching my back?
- Do I really want this?
- Would I do this for the next 10 years (aside from the money)?
- How can I be proven wrong?
- What pain do I want to make my own?
- How am I going to look after myself?
It’s a little too late to ask what happiness means to Laurence, but is a great way to sum up what The Happy Startup School really does, “Happiness isn’t about a fleeting emotion, but a deep fulfilment that comes from living with purpose.”
Images- Dipti Desai