Money and me podcast – Josh Winterson – Discovering the hard way that there’s no such thing as work-life balance for entrepreneurs

MONEY & ME
PODCAST

Episode #8: Josh’s story

Discovering the hard way that there’s no such thing as work-life balance for entrepreneurs

In this episode, Caroline chats to Josh Winterson, the 28 year old founder of recruiment start-up Alinea.

Josh opens up about how it feels to lead a fast-growing start-up, what happens when your industry is badly hit by the pandemic, and the responsibililty you feel towards your employees in a crisis.

Plus we talk about the impossibility of achieving work-life balance as an entrepreneur, and how it impacts our relationships with friends and family.


TRANSCRIPT

Caroline 0:00

In this episode, Caroline talks to Josh Winterson about the pressures of trying to hang on for dear life as your startup takes off, and the inevitable effects it has on your relationships with family and friends.

Hi there, thanks for tuning in. Today Iā€™m joined by Josh Winterson.

Josh is a father and startup founder. He founded Alinea, a Talent business built specifically to help scale early stage Tech startups. Alinea itself was recognised as one of the Disrupters in the recruitment industry. Josh also represents the UK in the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance, one of the largest communities of young Entrepreneurs in the world.

Caroline 0:03
Hi, Josh, welcome to the Money and Me podcast. Great to have you on.

Josh 0:07
Hi, Caroline. Good morning. Thanks for having me.

Caroline 0:09
Oh, it’s a pleasure. So you and I were introduced by Lola, who was a guest on this podcast last year. I think she was episode six. And I remember at the end of recording with her, we just started chatting about family staff, and what happens when your career takes off and all of these things. And she said, there’s somebody else I want to introduce you to, because I think you’d have a lot in common, and that was you. And I think we met last year, Summer 2019.

Josh 0:43
Yeah, it was warm, and it was normal. So yeah,

Caroline 0:45
We didn’t have masks on. So it was definitely pre-pandemic. And at that time, you are in the throes of really growing your business. And I remember things were moving really fast for you. It was all really exciting. Tell me a bit about the trajectory that you were on at that time.

Josh 1:03
Yeah, it was moving extremely fast. I probably wasn’t all that aware of it at the time. I look back on it now, I think. Yeah, that day, I remember quite well, because I think our meeting was like meeting number three of the day of, I think about seven. That wasn’t uncommon.

We were very much kind of coming out of that early forming stage and really starting to gain some momentum. We’d made some awesome hires. And I think I kind of got to that point, as a founder, which having spoke to a lot of other founders in that year, realise we all kind of get to where, in a good way, you got to step back a little bit.

I think up until around that point, you were involved in everything, every interview, every HR meeting, every marketing meeting, every sales pitch, everything you were involved in, and you’re kind of like trying to find the room to do the job. And at that point, because of the new additions, I’d been able to step back a little bit and focus almost on that role. I think we just been recognised as one of the disruptors in the recruitment industry, which was just awesome. Yeah. And everything was good. Everything was going really well.

Caroline 2:04
Tell the audience a little bit about what the business is.

Josh 2:08
Yeah, absolutely. So I was the founder of Alinea, a talent solution, specifically for early stage tech startups. What we were trying to do was create a talent solution that would allow early stage startups to scale cost effectively and time effectively. So I’d been in recruitment for nearly a decade. I really wanted to work with startups when I was doing recruitment, normal contingency recruitment, because I was just thinking like, these guys are so exciting. Like, I love the passion when you speak to a founder or CTO and every hire makes a huge difference. And I just love working with them.

We set Alinea up as a kind of in house recruitment team on demand, if you like. And just gave all of the flexibility to the client in terms of it was a fixed monthly fee. So there was no kind of unpredictable spikes in cash and 15,000 pound fees for this. We were working with a lot of companies in that sort of Series-A stage in the tech space: from fake news companies to health tech companies, ad tech companies, and really fun, really good stuff.

Caroline 3:06
And you were having to kind of shuttle back and forth, weren’t you? So you were in London how many days a week and then you were back in Bristol? Because your schedule – I remember when you told me your schedule – and it sounded punishing!

Josh 3:16
I think it was my own doing in the sense that, so I’m also a dad. And so Bristol is certainly home, although I was spending more time in London at that point. So I was in London about four days a week. And because I didn’t want to miss too much time away from Jude, I was making a decision to kind of go up and come back on the same day. I mean, in hindsight, the intent, like a lot of things I’ve learned last few years, the intent was great. And I was probably doing myself more harm than I did good.

So we had a really, really good recruitment team in Bristol, kind of set out the way if you like from the pace of London, and they were doing all of the recruitment from there. And then we had some people based in London who were on site with our partners. So they were almost like this Head of Talent role. And the CEO and all of our major reports were also in London. So I was in London, yeah, three or four days a week, every week without fail.

Caroline 4:08
To have I’ve done all of that, you’re young. How old are you now?

Josh 4:11
I turned 28 two months ago. So when we met I was 27.

Caroline 4:15
Yeah, I mean, that’s a lot. That’s a lot to pack in, by that age. So you know, amazing stuff. I remember though, when you and I talk, we got onto the subject of how entrepreneurship can actually sometimes be quite a lonely path. Particularly if you’re you’re going at a pace and you’re doing things that perhaps friends and family have no experience of or don’t understand. They may have more normal jobs (whatever those are). Particularly for you being away from your family and a lot of your friends I imagine so they don’t even see a lot of it. You just disappear for days at a time.

Josh 4:52
100% The irony as well is the family element was always the key driver. I’m from what I would consider a normal background. Running a business wasn’t something that we talked about in school, going to university really wasn’t something that was talked about in school all that much. So it’s not like I was surrounded by people that had run businesses. I didn’t know anybody that ran a business, it wasn’t even an option to me growing up. So it wasn’t like I come out with the intention of doing this.

But what I did know is that I grew up in this family where we had everything we ever wanted, apart from anything to do with money. So like, all the love and time in the world. But as (I’d like to think) a relatively switched on child or teenager (some of the time), you could see that the one stress was financial. And if you pinch the financial stress, everything would have been okay, you know.

And so that was the one thing I was growing up looking at going, if I can maintain everything that I’ve got from my existing family, but just add a little bit less financial pressure, I’d feel like I’d made a success of things. And so you ride this wave, if you like, of starting this business and it growing and the pace quickening. And as the pace quickens more opportunities come. And so there’s not one business, it’s two or three things that you’re involved in. And then it’s four, then it’s events and meetups and things like that. And it just it spirals.

And the irony is, all of that stuff was for the family anyway. So that becomes like quite the fine line to walk, which I don’t think there is a right way of doing it. And that’s the one thing I have learned is: some people, for example, would would say to me “take the time to stay in London, because when you go back to Bristol, you’ll be more present”. Which makes a lot of sense. Some people were in agreement with me that I’d try and keep the balance and make sure I go home every evening. I don’t think there’s a right answer. It’s hard.

Caroline 6:42
So I know as an entrepreneur, and I think my situation is a little bit different (because Nick, my co-founder, is also my partner, and our house, particularly now during pandemic is also HQ). We never escape the business. Most of my waking thoughts, and probably most of my subconscious when I sleep, is processing things about the business. So if I’m really honest with myself, even when I try to be present with people, or other things: for enjoyment, for family time, for other things, I’m probably not. So did you find that even with your best efforts to be back, to be with the family, were you actually present?

Josh 7:24
No! And I’ve learned to try and always look at the root cause. And I think if you go further than that, I wasn’t really present in myself. So there’s no way I was ever going to be present with other people. And actually, I’d just become numb. I was just stuck on this, I will say rhythm, and it really wasn’t that much of a rhythm. It was just getting busier. And it was almost like, the harder you try, the faster it got.

You know, I always talk about it now looking back as a treadmill. And I liken it to being on a treadmill blindfolded and someone every 10 minutes just putting the speed up half a kilometre an hour. And you don’t notice the increments. But after 15 minutes, you’d notice you were really sprinting. If someone really pressed stop, you know, you’d notice well actually I was running, I was running quite hard there. And that’s kind of how that period felt for me, as I had no idea how fast I was running. But actually, the faster I was running, the further away from success I felt like I was getting. So it’s kind of like, what am I doing wrong?

And last year, I remember quite vividly a couple of things. I remember being in Longleat for my son’s third birthday. You’re getting emails about a potential deal, and you’re trying to like, sneak to the toilet to take the email, you know. Or last July, we were in Lake Como, and you’re like, I’d always want to go to Lake Como. And we’re on the boat going from one side to the other. And I’m on the phone trying to speak to a client!

I find it really strange, because (and again, I don’t think there’s a right answer), because you’re kind of looking at it going: if I’d not pursued the life that I pursued, I wouldn’t be in Lake Como. You know, so what’s the trade off? And where’s the line? That conversation is an endless conversation that could go on, and on and on. And I think the only conversations I was having at the time were with people that weren’t in the same position. And I know myself if someone talks to me about a position that I’m not in, it’s always easy. It’s the person not in that situation to be like: “well, that’s the right answer”. And so you’ve got these people around you with all the best intention in the world, whether it be friends, even colleagues, family, saying these things to you. And you’re trying to try to convey these feelings of your own good intentions. And I’m doing it with you guys in mind. You know, none of this is for me. But yeah, I mean, how do you get the answer? Right? I have no idea.

Caroline 9:33
I agree with you. A lot of my friends are quite successful in different areas. And when I look at each of them, the one thing that stands out for me is just how hard they’ve had to work. Just how much of other things they have sacrificed in pursuit of the thing that they are successful in.

Josh 9:55
Oh yeah, 100%. I have read a book this year, actually that was just really, really poignant when I read it, and it was kind of, and one of the quotes in it was every time you say yes to something, you say no to something else, even if you don’t know what you’re saying no to. And since I read that book, that’s kind of been like, a really relevant thing that’s kind of stuck with me. You know, it might feel like you’ve got nothing on that night, so you say yeah to going to that event. But then you’re saying no to spending the time at home, or you’re saying no to spending a night with a book, doing absolutely nothing and getting some rest. So you might feel like you’re not saying no to something else, because there’s no choice, but it takes the choice away by saying yeah.

Caroline 10:37
Honestly, as you said that that like hit me that like, that was like a little gut punch!

Josh 10:42
It’s one of those quotes, it hit me like a train. And I kind of I remember reading it in lockdown, I put the book down and I was like “oh, okay” you know. And it’s really interesting, because somebody else reading the same book, that quote probably would have landed okay, and it would have been a different quote that really hit them. But that one for me, really stuck out. And I just think also, going back to your point about the kind of loneliness, I think where the loneliness came from, for me, was this like hollow feeling of always feeling that there’s something else to do, because you’re always trying to get the next thing, whether it’s, you know, the next great hire or the next client win or the next personal thing, like, there’s always something else. And so it’s almost like you don’t I never gave myself time to sit back and go, I’m doing relatively well. And you’ll have people tell you this all the time and you just don’t feel, I mean, I don’t know what you feel but, I didn’t feel it once. I didn’t feel it once where I was kind of like, yeah, this is great, or look how far you’ve come! Yeah, that was quite hard.

Caroline 11:38
So I suffer from the same thing, I actually think is probably an entrepreneur’s curse. I think the type of people who become entrepreneurs and give up sort of safety, put their financial health, their physical and mental health at risk to do all of this are people who are probably naturally quite restless, and are always striving for something else. And I think one of the kind of areas of beauty of being an entrepreneur is seeing what’s possible, or seeing what you hope is possible. But the curse of it is that as you tick stuff off as you make things possible, so it reveals more things that are possible. So it’s, it’s never done. It’s never, ever done.

Josh 12:24
Yeah, that is the best way of summarising it, there’s always something like I said, the trade off. So it’s just constant.

Caroline 12:30
One of the other things you and I have talked about in the past, and it was something that Lola and I talked about too, is issues that arise when you start earning more than family and friends, because perhaps you’re on this different path. And I know it’s something that when I when I started out when I was a lawyer, all of a sudden, I went from having done sort of temping jobs or retail jobs as a student, you know, having like three jobs to pay my way through university. And then all of a sudden, my starting salary, I think, was Ā£37,500, which was just like a mega amount of money to me. At the same time, I had a lot of, I realised I had quite a lot of guilt around it, because all of a sudden, I could afford a lot of things that my mum and my sisters couldn’t, I felt like I had a better standard of living than they did. And I really struggled with it. Is it something that you?

Josh 13:29
Yeah, definitely. And I never wanted to be in recruitment, right? That was never the aim. And when I got my job in recruitment, I was working in a warehouse. And I think I was 18, I’d just stopped playing football. And I was starting in the warehouse at 4am. And I went to the interview in recruitment, and they said “it is long hours, and you know, we want you in at half seven”, and I was thinking that’s lunchtime, I was eating sandwiches at half seven last week, you know, so that’s no problem. And then I got the job, and then you start talking to people and they’re talking about money like that. But they were saying from the other way round, they were kind of saying it’s not a lot of money. And I was sat there thinking, I could have been wrong, I don’t think my parents earn that combined, that figure you just said.

But at the time when I joined, when I started in recruitment, I remember feeling quite full, because it was almost like I didn’t know the other side. So I couldn’t kind of miss what I didn’t have. And I felt like it would be nice to have more money, but I felt quite full in myself in that sense. And then you start earning more, obviously more than that. And then you kind of go through this loop and you kind of say well actually then the money isn’t necessarily about like buying things, right? It’s not necessarily about material things, but actually, the thing that’s missing is like the experiences, and with the money that I was earning, I was getting new experiences, so holidays, restaurants or days out with my son, that would have been a lot of money to most normal people, we could go and do and we were fortunate to be able to do these things. But then the gap is kind of like, you want to take your family with you. So it’s kind of like situations like a birthday, for example, where I don’t know, mum’s birthday, dad’s birthday. And so like, a normal birthday would have been, I don’t know what it was for you, but a takeaway or something like that, and you’re kind of like, well, I want mum and dad to experience these experiences, right? So I was like they would love all of these restaurants. So you book the restaurant, and you go and have a great time. And then the conversation you have with your parents after, it actually makes them feel awkward, because they don’t want you to pay.

Caroline 15:34
Yeah.

Josh 15:34
You’re kind of like, you’re back in that trade off of like, did I go wrong somewhere here because the whole circle was well intended, you know, you’re kind of like, I just wanted you to experience these things as well. But you end up putting this kind of inadvertent awkwardness on people that don’t want you to have to pay for things or, you know, would be as happy with the other alternative. And then you start questioning, like what’s right? I don’t know what I’m meant to do in this situation. Or even like at Christmas, you know with mom and dad specifically at Christmas, over the last few years you try and give back more than you would have ever received, right? And I did it with my sister and all that type of stuff, but then they feel awkward because they can’t reciprocate in the same way. So I think if you say this story to somebody, it sounds like a first world problem, or it’s a money problem. It’s not a money problem. It’s an emotional problem. It’s nothing to do with money. It’s just that this is coming out in money. What this is coming out of is balance and understanding. And it’s an emotional challenge, not a financial one.

Caroline 16:44
I completely agree. How I kind of dealt with this situation, particularly when I was younger, I had a tendency to throw money at stuff. And particularly because I didn’t have much time to give people. So I wasn’t present with family. I didn’t really have enough time for friends. And so my way of dealing with it was that I would be overly generous with stuff. But I wasn’t being thoughtful about it. So I’d sort of swap, being thoughtful and considerate and giving people my time and attention and energy, for just giving bigger, more extravagant gifts. Or if we went out for dinner, I pick up the bill. Similar feedback from my family really, which was they were embarrassed and uncomfortable a lot of the time that I picked up the tab. It took the shine off something that for me had some, like you say, good intentions behind it. But actually, it wasn’t necessarily what they wanted. Yeah, it’s really tricky.

Josh 17:47
I completely resonate but I think, if it was money that you wanted, I actually don’t think entrepreneurship would be what you went for. Like when we talk about, if you’re aiming for the stars in terms of finances, then you know, you probably need a successful exit or, acquisition to start seeing it, but the chances of that, as we all know, are slim. So if you want really, really good money, that top 1% bracket in the UK, you’ve got a much more chance of doing that in the corporate ladder. So you actually wouldn’t be an entrepreneur, if that was the actual intention. And I think, like I said at the start this conversation, being an entrepreneur wasn’t something I intended to do. I wasn’t like, I’m gonna go run my own business, this is my life path. It wasn’t that at all. But in this pursuit of this kind of financial freedom, then I kind of realised it, as I said there about like taking parents out, actually it was experiences that I was after. And that was what I realised, actually, it’s not the money that I want, what I want is experiences because, you know, we didn’t have a lot of holidays not as a kid or, you know, I’ve not been exposed to a lot of things and when I’ve not been exposed to it, I couldn’t miss it. But actually now I wanted to be in a position where I wanted to try new things, or I wanted to travel and I wanted to go and experience things that I would never have experienced before and also do the same thing obviously with Jude. You’re kind of like well actually I don’t have the time to these experiences because I’m working flat out all the time and it’s a real kind of difficult position to unravel.

Caroline 19:18
What you were driving towards effectively wasn’t that you wanted particularly to be an entrepreneur. It wasn’t that you wanted to run a mega huge business. It came from a position of wanting greater financial security and greater opportunities for you, Jude, and your wider family.

Josh 19:41
Yeah, and actually as well, to be honest even before that, the money I was earning as a recruiter was more than I would have earned anyway. So the financial pushes of that was kind of ticked for an extent. Obviously you’re always trying to get more as humans but I was already like, it wasn’t a lot of money, but it was already more than I thought I could earn anyway. But actually, the entrepreneurship piece was just really, I actually really did care about the mission. You know, because I’d already felt that the money thing was ticked off, I didn’t need to earn half a million pounds a year to be like, oh that’s my money goal. It was nowhere near that figure. So I’d already kind of ticked it off. And I was kind of like, okay, if I’m going to tick it off now, I might as well just go after the thing that I would like to try and change. And I was just super, super mission aligned. And I think I had a lot of faults as a founder or a lot of lessons as a first-time founder that everyone i’m sure goes through. But I think one of the things, if you ask the team, I was okay at was that I really wasn’t interested in being a founder. So it was almost like we were a team of friends in the majority, you know, that were aligned to this mission. There was not a lot of chauvinistic traits from me, it was never about me, it was always about the mission, you know? And people used to say, that came out of me quite clearly, it was like, in the world of recruitment that’s probably not so common. And I think that was one of the things that did me well.

This has been a really interesting few years in terms of the lessons of being a founder, because you don’t get taught to be a founder, right? I feel like I’ve just gone through the school of being a founder and learning all the things not to do and I came across this quote, again, it was this year, which says a lot really about this year. The quote was “how you do anything is how you do everything”. I keep using it now. And my other friend Layla, is using it a lot as well, and she said that it really hit her. I think when you say it, initially: how you do anything, is how you do everything, it makes you feel like I’m saying I do everything great. But actually, it’s quite the opposite. When I read it, I was like, I’m doing nothing great. And that was the problem. Like, whether it was myself, being a dad, being a partner, being a founder, being a ned, being a co founder, there wasn’t one of those areas that I could be like, I’m doing that brilliantly. Instead of me trying to say yes to everything and fitting in the call at half seven at night, and being on the 5am train to get there for a half seven breakfast meeting. I’ve learned, I feel, and I’m sure I’ll probably get to the point where it gets tested again, but I’m now really trying to be better with my time so that I can be better in the things that I’m doing. So I can stop giving half or half of Josh to each of those areas.

Do you really think that you weren’t to doing well enough in all of those areas? Or do you think that your standards are too high in terms of how you’re judging it?

No, I will be pretty honest and say, I don’t think there was anything I was doing great. I really don’t. Like I would kind of flip that sentence around by saying, I’d get some feedback, I’m a fairly clever guy, what I feel like was I was able to do more than I should have been able to do with a half percent of Josh that each of those areas were getting. So if you looked at some of those areas, to the outside they would look okay. But if there had been 100% Josh in one of those areas, it could have looked a lot different. Some of that, you know, if you look at the business area, which I guess this conversation is more focused on like, Alinea: I’d never been a founder before. So there was a lot of inefficiencies in my role as a founder, that were just a lack of experience. So I wouldn’t call that a failure, they’re just lessons, right? But what I do know is, if I had been in a better position in myself, I would have been in a better position to rectify, notice those things earlier, or do something about it. And you know, even to the point where the team were concerned, the team were bringing me food and bringing me coffees and said, you need to take care of yourself. So it was never a lack of effort. If anything, it was too much effort of trying to do everything, which is why I put so much emphasis on what am I doing and how am I doing it?

Caroline 24:02
Yeah, and that was the other thing, that was the second point really, that I was gonna bring up is, when you’re in the thick of it, it becomes very, very hard. There’s so much to do that it becomes very, very hard to do anything intentionally. You’re just doing, you’re just in doing mode. And what it sounds like you’re sort of developing now is a more intentional way of doing things instead of the chasing way.

Josh 24:33
Yeah, part of this year has been really putting pen to paper on my kind of self discovery or personal development plan. And ‘live with intent’ is actually the tagline. That’s the overriding principle: set out to do things with a purpose so don’t do anything if there’s no intention of actually doing it, and follow through on the intent. And yeah, that kind of hits the nail on the head.

Caroline 24:59
So this is probably a good time for us to talk about what actually happened with the business this year because we started off this conversation talking about the growth trajectory you’re on, the fact that you were operating at a million miles an hour, shuttling back and forth between Bristol and London, feeling like you weren’t able to be fully Josh in any one of these areas. And then of course, 2020 March, the pandemic hits. And all of a sudden, for all of us all of the plans that we thought we had for that year, carefully mapped out in projections and financials, and plans and targets and goals. Suddenly, almost overnight, comes to a kind of screeching halt.

Josh 25:47
The treadmill stopped. Gone.

Caroline 25:49
Let’s take ourselves back to March, what were those first three months from around lockdown, when nobody knew what was going on, what was that like for you? What did it feel like?

Josh 26:00
The best way for me to describe that in true Josh style, I felt like I did everything at one time, right? Most people start a business or they have a child or they buy a house, you know, and that’s spread out across probably 15 years, if not longer. Josh did it in about 18 months, and thought that would be a good idea. It wasn’t a good idea as it turned out. And it took me kind of like the two years up until the start of this year to realise that you can change these things. So this year was okay, I’m in the house, the house is settled, you know, Jude starts school this year. So the bond with Jude is at a really good place right now, and he’s grown into like a little boy, and that’ great. And it’s kind of like, okay, I can focus on this now. And let’s calm down, do more with less. And that was kind of what 2020 was meant to be. But before the pandemic that was in my notepad: do more with less was 2020. That was the objective. I didn’t realise how much less that would get but one step at a time.

So I kind of spent January and February teeing myself up for this, right? Here’s my new week plan, had some honest conversations with the CEO of the group and was kind of like, here’s how I’m feeling. And was really working on my kind of personal network and trying to make sure that I had the framework around me to be okay. And so I was feeling positive. Like, I felt like I had already gone through this kind of personal exploration journey to get to that point. And then it came and I was like, well, that was a waste of time. I need to start that again. And I remember the real like hole of just, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Okay, this happens now, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Well, the worst thing that could happen was at the start, so I co-parent with my son, so he doesn’t live with me but we we equal share, Do I get to see my son? Because if this is going to be three months of lockdown and I don’t get to see my son, well that’s the worst thing that can happen, aside from anything that goes on. And then that was okay. And then it was well, the worst case scenario now with Alinea is, it goes. And I thought if I can come to terms with that, everything from there on becomes easier. And I felt like I accepted that like if Alinea doesn’t survive this pandemic, because no one knows how long it’s gonna last. We were working, like I said earlier, with early stage tech startups, so funding had just completely gone on pause. The funding people had had was no longer being spent on headcount. If it wasn’t headcount, it certainly wasn’t paying someone else to help with it. And it came to a point where I was okay myself with that, which if I look back, I was lying to myself a little bit if I’m honest.

But where I found it really hard was when we had to use the furlough scheme. And then there was this kind of other angle of it that I wasn’t ready or wasn’t aware of until it hit me and hit me hard was my partner been made redundant. And my team were on furlough. And then the the team that were on furlough, they know the situation because they’re smart, right? So they’re like, okay if we get made redundant, it’s going to be hard in the talent industry for us to go and get more work. Because there’s going to be very few people hiring right now. And then you’re like, this isn’t even about Alinea anymore. This is about people. This is about, I need to do more than would be normally required, because you don’t want to lose any of the team. But more importantly than that, I don’t want any of the team to be in a position where they’re scrambling for work, or, you know, they can’t find work in this current climate, if we get to the point where we have to make people redundant. And that really hit me, that was hard. And so for all my faults, effort isn’t one of them. So I was already working hard anyway. Then at that point, I feel like I’m carrying the pressure of trying to keep my friends in jobs. And so then you’re working even harder, which I didn’t think was possible. Like I already felt like I was running faster than I could sprint. Then you’re kind of walking this moral balance of, I don’t know how to solve this problem. So there’s a moral balance of how do I go and conduct my business to win the business, to keep these people in work, keep them around, keep them safe, all that type of stuff. You’re part of a group. So you’re trying to show positive momentum to a board and to a business of 400 people at the time. And it was the first situation in my life where it didn’t matter how hard I worked, it was just not going to go anywhere. And that that was hard to accept.

Caroline 30:15
There’s the enormous sense of responsibility that you feel as the leader, to the people who work for you. All of us have felt that over the past six months and continue to feel it, that it’s not about you. If the pandemic causes Lifetise to cease to exist, okay, really, really hard thing to come to terms with, after all of the effort that you put in, just how much time and energy and thoughts and everything that you sunk into it, that I think is hard. But it pales into comparison, when you think about, but I just want to make sure that everybody we’ve brought on is okay. What you’ve described is absolutely it, that you’re in a completely impossible situation. There isn’t an answer, but it doesn’t stop you grappling to try and find an answer. And every little glimmer of a possible answer, you will chase down, and you will work so hard to try and find it. Did you have any comfort from the fact that it was nothing that you’d done?

Josh 31:27
That is the one thing as, again, for my faults, and the team I think would say the same thing, I couldn’t have done anything more than I did. And it was at that point in time, we could even go outside. So how, when I’m sat down and the laptops there, and you’re thinking, I wonder what the team are doing? I wonder what the team are feeling? Is there one more email I can send? Is there one more call I can make? Is there one more thing I can do? To not pick the laptop up seems illogical, and morally wrong. So, yeah, it was really, really, really hard. But you know what, to go on to the positive side, there was a point, right at the end of the July, August period where the furlough scheme was going to change, we unfortunately lost, due to redundancies, the majority of the team. In the majority, in fact all of it, I’ve just tried to not rule anybody out. They all found work like that. And when I met them, they were like, the reason we’ve got work was because we had something that was completely different in Bristol. There wasn’t a CV in talent like ours, anywhere near Bristol. And, you know, you look at some of the people that left the Bristol team who have gone to new things, actually they had multiple opportunities.

Caroline 32:45
Wow.

Josh 32:46
So then you go around full circle again. You’re kind of like, okay well if I started this whole thing to change recruitment, and now we’ve got a great group of people in Bristol that have gone on to great companies in Bristol with great CVs, because of what we created, then did we succeed? And then I was in that mindset of well, what’s failing? And I think I was like, well, if 9 out of 10 startups fail is this age old statistic that we see all the time, what does failure mean? Does fail mean didn’t exit? Wasn’t acquired? Well, what about if after 10 years of profitable trading, you decide to shut down but in that nine years, you positively impacted 5000 companies that you worked with and 200 people that you employed, did you fail? Maybe it wasn’t a failure, maybe it was a failure in the sense that it didn’t reach its full potential. That was kind of the circle I went in.

Caroline 33:35
And so you ultimately made the difficult decision to step away. From this whole conversation, you’ve clearly done a lot of soul searching. I can see that you’ve tried to be really objective about the areas where you did well, and the areas where you perhaps didn’t do well. And what I mean, by doing well, you didn’t feel like you were living according to your own values.

Josh 33:58
You know what, I have done a lot of soul searching and it hasn’t been just this year. It’s been like a long time. And I felt like this year has kind of been the exam to the three years of theory that went before it. But I realise everyone’s a founder of themselves, in the sense. And I feel like, I was more of a founder of Alinea than I was a founder of Josh. And that was the wrong way around. And I think if I draw my own little solar system, Alinea would have been at the middle of it, which is not the right way of doing it. This wasn’t a case of Alinea’s existence. It was more of me looking at it going, first and foremost we’re a people business, right? The people that we lost, we were a family in that sense. So now we’ve got this business, a people business without its people. I don’t know. It’s like, can I be that sentimental as a founder? I don’t think, maybe not. But I am so I’m not gonna try and change that. Like, I know these people. They’re like me, right? It wasn’t just me putting in this effort. They did. There was people that were doing way too much in that team that we’ll be forever grateful for. So doing it without them was one thing. But then it was kind of like, it felt like I’d gone, ran a marathon, and then got to the finish line, someone went, sorry Josh you’ve got to go again. And I was like, do I really want to go again? Or is this the opportunity to close that chapter off? What did you learn? What went well? What would you share? And close it. And now start a new chapter and put Josh back at the centre of your own universe, and start being the founder of Josh again. And so anything that you do moving forward is driven by me with more intent and more purpose. So that was a difficult decision. And it was hard, what I would say is, the support from the group was just awesome in terms of return and recognition of the situation and the effort and like, it was great, but I needed a fresh start. I don’t want to say I needed this year, because there’s a lot of negative things that have happened this year, and a whole host of unfortunate situations, but I wouldn’t have got off that treadmill, that treadmill would still be running now, no one would have pressed it for me. So it felt a little bit like the world had pressed stop for me. And it was up to me to recognise what had happened and action it accordingly.

Caroline 36:18
I don’t think you’re alone in this, you know, we’ve done quite a lot of stuff on socials recently asking people, what are the good things that have come out of the pandemic? And overwhelmingly, the response has been the amount of time that they’ve been able to spend with their partner, family, and cooking meals for themselves, and doing all of the things that as a society, we don’t really prize we put in the background, in the pursuit of something else. I think for a lot of people, this has given them that space to even just reflect and ask, but what do I actually want my life to look like?

Josh 37:02
100%. And that’s the thing and that’s what I try and say to people now, if I’d spent more time cooking meals and being at home and having a balance, I probably would have performed better in the thing that I was trying to perform better at. And I think that realisation is the biggest slap in the face for me of all because you’re kind of like, it was there, I guess, all along. But that’s the journey.

Caroline 37:23
That is the journey. And that’s a great point for us to stop. Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you for being so open and honest. I think from the moment we met I was always so impressed by how committed you are to like self learning, how open you are to feedback and how you are just I think overall in the pursuit of building the best Josh that you can for you and for the people around you. Have a great day. Thanks, everyone for listening. Cheers, Josh.

Josh 37:53
Bye.


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