I was at an event in San Francisco in 2014, when I heard a piece of advice that stuck in my mind ever since. At the time, when I considered the advice, I really wasn’t sure whether I was actually following it. However, since then, I have come to understand the significance of it. The speaker said, in relation to choosing what you work on:
“if you’re going to climb a mountain, make sure it’s the right one”
You spend much of the best part of your early life trying to understand yourself well enough to find the right mountain for you. You look for indicators; subjects you like at school, mentors whose advice particularly resonates, which exams you do well in, the clubs you join at university, the career paths of those more senior than you in our first job. But it’s hard – I rarely come across people who really have the conviction to absolutely know their mountain to climb through forward looking indicators alone.
I started my career as an engineer. I joined a world leading Engineering and Project Management company which took me to projects in London, the US and the Middle East. I worked on some of the largest and most cutting edge mega-projects in the world. I quickly became a chartered civil engineer and project manager and it seemed like I was destined for a long and successful career in the industry. However, I wasn’t happy. Despite all the indicators pointing in a positive direction, I knew something wasn’t right.
It was then that I got a call from my brother, to ask for help on a little project he was working on with some teacher friends of his. Fast forward a couple of years and I had left the Middle East, left my career, and founded a company called Pobble that would go on to change the lives of thousands of children all over the world.
Now, every indicator would have told me that this was a risky, even crazy thing to do! In fact, the next 6 years that bought me to now, have been the most wonderful, painful, challenging, and rewarding years of my life. Entrepreneurship is truly a rollercoaster ride! When I reflect on that decision point 6 years ago though, it would have been impossible to have rationally decided to leave everything and start on a new path – I just knew in my gut that I had to do it!
4 years on I look back on that piece of advice and realise that I did pick the right mountain to climb. And there’s one indicator that I see above all else that convinces me that this is the case. The fact that I didn’t give up. When you are working on something that truly aligns with your passion, every challenge is just the next one to overcome as you progress along your journey to achieving your mission, giving up just isn’t an option!
I’m often asked about the secret to successful entrepreneurship and I say two things; focus and resilience. When you are doing something that you love and that you believe in, no matter what the challenge, you keep going and make it happen. You keep going, when others would just give up. Also, despite all the chaos and challenge, you find the way to focus on taking the next best step forward in a sea of uncertainty. When you have the clarity of knowing where you are going on your journey you are able to focus on the right things.
When I meet with new ideas and startups, it’s relatively easy to verify the market, the need and the solution – but much more important in my opinion is the reason for the founding team to be doing what they are doing. If this project aligns with their life’s mission, their “mountain”, then no matter how hard the challenge is, they will find a way to create the best path forward. Maybe they’ll fail for the many other reasons that startups fail, but they have the best chance if they have that personal commitment and passion to achieve success.
Pobble has won many awards, gained significant investment, and continues to attract fantastic partners. However, at the end of the day all these things are by-products of one thing; every member of our amazing team has an incredibly strong belief in our mission and is passionate about giving teachers tools that will make their life easier and inspire and engage their children to make writing ridiculously exciting for them in school! Without this passion and our commitment to climb our mountain, none of this impact or achievement would be possible.
About the Author
Jon is Co-founder and CEO of award winning edtech venture Pobble. Pobble is used by tens of thousands of teachers each day to find the best teaching resources, give pupils a global audience for their work, and to assess writing.
Pobble has global acclaim, gaining endorsements from famous authors such as Michael Morpurgo, partnerships with organisations like the BBC, OUP and Microsoft, and investment from some the world’s most prolific education focussed angel investors.
After graduating with a Masters in Engineering Science from Trinity College, Oxford, Jon because a chartered Civil Engineer and Project Manager. Jon started Pobble with his brother and two other teachers in their spare time. They then went on to incubate Pobble whilst Jon studied for his MBA at London Business School. The fifth co-founder (technical) joined Pobble from Jon’s stream at London Business School.