Every Friday, team Papercup receive an email from a member of the team called ‘PaperThoughts’. The email can be about anything from struggles with lockdown, interesting things someone has read that week, something they love about the company or their favourite childhood book.
We don’t pretend to have groundbreaking or totally novel ideas, but we’re proud to have a super interesting and reflective bunch on our team and we wanted to share some of their best life lessons, quips and all-round lovely thoughts. Enjoy!
Fundraising - the crucial hurdle for every startup. For us, fundraising is about telling a good story. I’m not talking about superficial storytelling - investors can cut through an ungrounded pitch - but one that shows off your pitch!. A good story has three basic components:
It sparks interest
You can break someone’s logic by explaining things that aren’t intuitive. If you can pitch how your product is different and novel, you’ll spark interest with investors.
You’re after a HUGE market
Investors typically depend on 1-2 investments to generate the lion’s share of the returns for a single fund. They need to have conviction that any investment they make has the potential to be a billion-dollar exit. If the market’s limited, then surely the company’s potential is too.
We’re the team to tackle this
More than just raw talent, you need to demonstrate why your team is so well positioned to take on these enormous ambitions. The best indicator is showcasing what you’ve achieved with limits - no funding, low resources, short space of time, small team.
We’ve spent a lot of time interviewing over the years and have always struggled with what exactly we’re looking for. What takes us so long to find someone that fits the bill? What else is there outside insatiable curiosity, authentic passion, and ability?
We look for someone egoless. We’re tackling a number of complex interdependent problems that don’t have obvious answers. The only way we can hope to move the needle on these problems is through healthy constructive dialogue. You need to be able to express your opinion and be challenged. You need to be able to counter someone’s point without fearing pushback.
The second someone enters that dialogue needing to prove their point, the conversation becomes counterproductive. The needle doesn’t move. We’re building a team without personal agendas and ego clouding us from solving these challenges. Hopefully then, we can easily make the next best step.
This takeaway is from a mouse called Frederick. Frederick is the main character in a children’s book and it explains, in child’s terms, what it means to be human (or rather, a mouse!). The story follows that all the mice are hoarding supplies to prepare for winter, yet Frederick isn’t helping! Frederick, when asked, says “I am collecting sunshine” or “I am busy memorising the colours of the rainbow”. When the winter is longer than expected, Frederick tells the mice about the sunshine, the rainbows and all the memories he collected until they all become warm and fuzzy while dreaming of spring.
This story is a reminder of the value of everydayness, especially during lockdown. All the food and toilet paper in the world can’t get us through this pandemic - our will power can. Whatever helps you or someone else go through this time (or life, in general) is essential, no matter how mindless or irresponsible it may seem from another’s perspective.
Believing an answer exists
When tackling something that’s never been done before, there are usually three kinds of people:
- The people who don’t know enough and make wild claims and predictions
- The people who know enough to know that certain things are impossible
- The people who know enough to make an educated assumption that there definitely will be a way to solve the problem
Build a team that falls in the third camp. These are people who also have expertise in the field, but they realise that perhaps you can make an “educated assumption” eventually that there will be a “good enough” solution which solves the problem 90% of the times. It takes a lot of bravery to believe that these solutions exist and working towards them, especially knowing all the difficulties involved.
This belief alone provides ample motivation to go and do everything to make it happen.
Creativity, Inc. is a great book by the founder of Pixar. For Pixar, creativity is an environment, rather than a group of creative people. A key part to the way Pixar works is the concept of a BrainTrust - a group of people in a room who have the ability to discuss and get to the emotional core of the storyline without themselves getting emotional.
In movie-making, financial and reputational stakes are high, and deadlines are effectively carved in stone. So the temptation to avoid the daunting creative journey and simply repeat / incrementally build on something previously proven to work (i.e. sequels) is pretty much irresistible. To counter this, Pixar is committed to a ratio of originals to sequels when deciding which movies to make. It’s the balance between exploration and exploitation - exploitation provides resources to fuel exploration, and exploration sustains and discovers new areas for exploitation.
We’re thinking about a similar rule our team: having a quarterly OKR or KPI that scares us a bit so we’ve always got our eye on those lofty ambitions. This is not an easy thing to do. Sometimes we avoid confrontation by not speaking up, other times we lose self-awareness and get defensive. But the important thing is that here at Papercup, we feel safe enough to keep trying.
How holidays help
Take. Holidays. Not only is it essential to take breaks for your health, but it can make you so much better at your job! Stepping out of your every day life and environment triggers different thought processes. When you travel the same route, sit at the same desk and do similar tasks, you don’t give your brain the creative kicks it needs to generate ideas.
Even just driving out of London can force your mind to hit the refresh button. When you actively process your surroundings more presently, you might feel like those things that have been on your mind are suddenly more manageable.
Another PaperThought sparked from lockdown - it’s clearly got us all introspective!
Obstacles feel unsurmountable until you manage to surmount them. Think of the last time you pulled a plaster (or a band-aid for those from the other side of the pond). The worse part is always the anticipation, never the pulling itself. We always underestimate how adaptable we are. We think we’ll never be able to do without that frequent trip to the gym, and it definitely sucks in the first few days. But we adapt and we find this new exercise routine that suits us just as well.
There are three things that’s really shaped the way I approach things now:
- Take what you are definitely ultra certain is the max you can handle life throwing at you, add 50% on top, and you’re about there!
- Be curious. Explore, iterate, understand, let yourself be fascinated with your new situation.
- We all have different hardship so we all learn different things. We could all be the young American girl on a plane who, out of boredom, learns knitting from the lady next to her and ten years on, teaches it to her (very thankful) colleagues - seriously Alexandra, thank you!!