Growth & Customers

Sound Advice podcast: Run a business that doesn’t run you

Author of Do Start and Unbound co-founder Dan Kieran explores how you can neutralise your fears and anxieties to become a more successful entrepreneur.

Dan Kieran

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Who’d have guessed that clearing out a rat-infested basement would have led Dan Kieran to his light bulb moment?

After realising he had sold 300,000 copies of his books, he wanted to create a way to give publishing power to authors and readers, so they could communicate directly about what they wanted to read and cut out the middleman.

Running a business is stressful and like many others, Dan turned to the use of alcohol to console himself when things went wrong or celebrate when the company was doing well.

In this episode, Dan explores how you can become a more successful entrepreneur by ditching alcohol and ensure a better company culture by creating team outings that don’t revolve around the pub.

He discusses how to neutralise your fears, anxieties and weaknesses to run a business that doesn’t run you.

Here is his unfiltered advice below:

Bridging the gap between authors and readers

Kate Bassett:

I want to go back to the beginning of Unbound. You came up with the idea for it back in 2009 while clearing out a rat-infested basement in Bognor Regis.

Tell us about that light bulb moment.

Dan Kieran:

Well, so to go back a little bit before then, I spent 10 years writing books. I had a very successful career. My first book was a big hit called Crap Towns, it’s about the worst place to live in Britain, and it did very well.

Basically, over the years, I got closer to writing the books I wanted to write, but my sales figures were declining.

After the crash of 2008, publishers were becoming even more risk-averse, and they were basically only really interested in trying to find bestsellers.

I effectively lost my livelihood overnight.

Because I’m a double university dropout and don’t have any kind of safety net, I was back doing minimum wage jobs. The same kind of jobs I was doing before I set out on my path of trying to become a successful author.

I was clearing out the rat-infested basement with accountants in Bognor Regis, and I was on my lunch break, and I was looking out to sea, and I realised I’d sold like 300,000 copies of my books to people around the world over the last decade.

I didn’t have the name and address of a single person that’d ever bought one. I realised I’d completely put myself at the mercy of all these gatekeepers, all these people between me and the readers.

I realised that someone had to build a platform that allowed authors and readers to come together so that publishers wouldn’t decide what books were published, but that readers would.

This was a really important insight actually, that publishers don’t sell books to the readers, they sell them to shops.

By cutting out the middleman, you could not only get authors more money, but you could also massively diversify the types of books that were being published because you were going straight to readers and saying, “What do you want?”.

It was a kind of revolutionary idea, but it also felt like it was harnessing the best of emerging technologies. Twitter was quite only a few years old at the time. Authors were just beginning to harness their audiences themselves.

We were very lucky with our timing. Kickstarter was two years old, crowdfunding was hot. The stars kind of aligned, but I always look back on it, and I was so grateful that I didn’t have that safety net.

I think it’s something that a lot of entrepreneurs have is, they don’t have any choice.

That can be incredibly motivating. It certainly was for me.

Kate Bassett:

It was a case of survival.

Dan Kieran:

I think when you’ve got nothing to lose, you may as well go for your dream. That is what entrepreneurship is. It’s talked about in quite kind of macho ways.

Essentially, you’re trying to make your mark on the world.

You’re trying to, I don’t know, you’re trying to make an impact, and you’re going for the thing you believe in.

It’s so crucial that you run a business that you do believe in because it’s going to take so much out of you, which is what my book’s about, really about how much pressure you get put under and how you can cope with that and how you can handle the mental health challenges that are going to come whilst running a business.

Because as I say, the language around business and entrepreneurship is still so macho, and it can be incredibly lonely doing those things. It’s incredibly exciting, but it can be tough mentally, too.

Your own personal flaws will creep into your business because it becomes an extension of yourself

Kate Bassett:

I’d love to talk to you about some of those pressures, because I know you hatched the plan for Unbound in a pub with two of your mates, John and Justin, but you took on the CEO role.

What were some of the responsibilities of that role, and how did you earn your new job title?

Dan Kieran:

We were in the pub talking about who was going to do what. They both pointed out to me that I was the only one of the three of us who didn’t have a job.

So they were like, “Dan, you should be CEO.”

Of course, as I say, I had nothing to lose. I was like, “Well, I’ll go for it. What the hell? Let’s do it.”

I didn’t have a clue what it entailed.

I very quickly learned that in every walk of life, other than being an entrepreneur, your job title is a of confirmation of status that you’ve already achieved in the eyes of the people around you, hence the promotion.

Obviously, as an entrepreneur, you get called the boss long before you’ve proven you’re capable of being one. I think this is when I started to realise that I was going to have to find a way to make sure my abilities progressed beyond the demands my business was going to make of me.

I had a huge problem with mental health in my late teens. I had terrible panic attacks and was agoraphobic for years. I was aware that I had issues I needed to deal with.

There’s something about being an entrepreneur and all of your weaknesses are put under a spotlight, and you have to face those issues, or you will fail, not least because you will put them in your business.

That’s what entrepreneurs don’t realise, that you’re going to put all of your flaws and your faults in your company because you effectively build it out of yourself. You have to do that in the first instance.

Because before you’ve built a business anyone can believe in, you have to make people believe in you.

This is why it’s so exciting, and it’s why you push yourself to such extreme lengths to make it successful.

Of course, the flip side of that is that it means that if anything happens to the business, or it fails, that becomes an existential threat to you personally.

I think this is what the highs and lows of the entrepreneurial journey are. I hadn’t read that in many places. I hadn’t heard that from lots of entrepreneurs.

That was my challenge.

I thought, “Well, I’m going to have to evolve myself as an individual while the business grows and that’s what will keep me ahead of the challenges I’m going to face.”

That is what I learned, and it worked. That’s the thing I’m desperate to share with other entrepreneurs now because I feel like that second journey of your own development is actually the one that determines whether or not you’re successful.

That’s not widely discussed, I don’t think.

The mental health of your CEO will determine the success of your business

Kate Bassett:

As a double university dropout, someone who was thrust into this position of boss with no prior experience of running a business, how did you get over that initial feeling of imposter syndrome?

Dan Kieran:

I think, well, to be honest, I drank a lot.

I did all the things that you do when you’re stressed, which you think are going to help, which don’t. I also made tons of mistakes. I learned very quickly that you can’t throw your weight around.

I think part of the problem is the models of leadership that we’ve come to see in the media and certainly, in the entrepreneurial circles, the ways things are discussed. It’s all about toughness, being hard, when actually, if you actually look at genuinely brilliant leaders, they’re all soft.

They may do things which are difficult, they won’t shy away from tough decisions, and they’ll be fierce if they have to be, but they do it from a position of gentleness and softness inside.

I was doing therapy around that time to help me overcome those challenges and looking at anger, getting frustrated.

What I realised was that if you show your emotions, if you get angry with people, you just immediately lose them. Lots of entrepreneurs think, “Oh, I just have these character flaws that people have to put up with because I’m the boss.”

But that’s not effective leadership.

I think that’s the challenge is, are you prepared to do what the business needs but also, look in the mirror and are you prepared to work on yourself? Because ultimately, if you’re the boss, that’s the primary driver of whether the business is going to be successful.

I always say this to investors, the one thing all your money is dependent on is the mental health of your CEOs that you’re investing in. It’s not technology, it’s not the internet. It’s how well they’re able to cope with difficulties and unforeseen situations.

I was lucky early on to realise that my weaknesses were things that would have to be dealt with. I also, I hadn’t flown for 20 years, I had a flying phobia, things like that. I mean, I was lucky in that, that was an obvious thing I needed to engage with.

Which, guess what? Turned out to be nothing to do with flying.

But that process of learning about myself made me curious and excited about genuinely leading people. Because it’s such a privilege to do it and to see people grow and to nurture that growth and give them what they need to succeed for you. It’s a strange thing.

You do it out of self-interest, but it’s in everyone’s interest. There’s a way of aligning the business’s interest with the self-interest of the people in the organisation.

I think the truly great CEOs are able to make sure those two things are aligned and articulate why that alignment is so important.

Giving up alcohol will make you a more successful entrepreneur

Kate Bassett:

I know that you also made the decision to give up drink, even though the early days of Unbound were spent in the pub.

At what stage did you make that decision, and how did it change you as an entrepreneur and CEO?

Dan Kieran:

It’s one of those, as I say, at the beginning, I always say starting a company, a startup, is like being in a rock band. You’re all one big gang, and you’re all in it together.

You do work crazy hours, but a lot of those hours are spent in the pub, because you’re socialising and the work is mixed into that, and I think that’s a really exciting component of the startup culture.

A few years in, my wife, Isobel, got pregnant, and she obviously gave up booze as part of that, and I decided to give up to just share her T-total pain.

Very quickly I felt like I had a superpower.

Every morning I would wake up feeling amazing. I was probably getting drunk two or three times a week as I had done my entire life up until that point, pretty much.

A few months in, I stopped and looked at it and thought about it. And I realised that this was the first time, I was now 40-odd, this was the first time since I was 15 that I was learning what I was like as an adult, without regularly ingesting a depressant.

It just seemed like a stock piece of information that I’d never considered that all this drinking was actually making me feel worse about myself, in myself.

It was damaging me physically, but it was damaging my ability to be a successful leader and run a successful company.

I stopped, and I didn’t drink for a long time, and I ended up developing rules around drinking, which was that I don’t drink as a consolation because something’s gone wrong and I don’t drink as a reward for things that have gone well.

What I found by deploying those two rules of drinking was that I didn’t drink, which was quite instructive, that actually it was a crutch for when things were difficult.

Then I woke up and was in a worse frame of mind to deal with whatever had caused me to drink in the first place.

Or I was taking a moment of success, celebrating it by ingesting huge quantities of a depressant, which made me feel terrible the next day.

I think it’s just something in the culture in the UK, we’ve all grown up with it. Alcohol and fun become synonymous in our minds. I think it’s really important to disconnect them and to just make sure whether you’re doing it, you’re doing it consciously or out of habit.

It’s single-handedly the best thing I did in terms of my chance of being a successful entrepreneur, was giving up booze without question.

Simply because every morning I woke up, and I felt great, and I just felt more able to handle the difficulties that inevitably arose.

Don’t revolve all your team outings around alcohol—it will improve your company culture

Kate Bassett:

It became a way for you to get to know your own self sober. Did it also change the culture of the company in some ways?

If so many of those early days had been spent in the pub, did you have to stop socialising with employees in that way?

Dan Kieran:

Yes, I did. That was another part of my evolution as a boss.

I think in the early days I felt like I needed to be there. I wanted to be there. I mean, we are all friends.

As we got further and the business became more successful, I realised that my role was taking me away from the rest of the team socially.

That was a really important moment too, because number one, the team need time when you’re not there, so they can moan about you, which I think is really important to give them that space. I would always go for a drink, one or two, but then I would very deliberately leave.

Also, if you stay in the pub all night, people start telling you how to run your business, and they get a bit more confident with the more they’ve had to drink, which can be less helpful.

Also, it creates the perception that there’s a clique around you. Like people that go to drinking with you are closer to you than everybody else. It can just start to cause problems if in the culture of the company if you are perceived to be more available to some people rather than others.

To be fair though, the younger generation, I mean I’m 47, but our employees in their 20s seem much less focused on alcohol actually than I was when I was that age. I do think there’s a shift around that, which is interesting and very positive.

We were having just as much fun, I should hasten to add. It wasn’t that we were lacking, in fact, we were having more fun, I think, as a team.

The culture got much better because there wasn’t this default expectation that team things had to involve going to the pub or alcohol, so we became a bit more creative about how we did those things, which was welcomed by lots of the members of team.

Alcohol’s a tricky one, but it’s something to just become super conscious of when running a business. Because it can very easily get you into difficulties when it doesn’t have to.

Fear of fundraising can come from having to change your lifestyle if the business fails—so come up with a plan B

Kate Bassett:

Of course, some of your other big responsibilities as CEO was building the brand and telling the Unbound story, but also of course, raising money.

I wanted to talk to you about pitching, because you’ve said the smell of fear repels investors.

How did you get rid of your own feelings of fear and inferiority around investors?

Dan Kieran:

I became so fascinated by this. Again, because I spent so much time on my own evolution, I had by this stage realised that fear drove a lot of my decision-making.

I think that happens to a lot of us, whether we’re aware of it or not. Very, very often, we act on the basis of the fear of something that may happen.

Fundraising is such an exposing exercise. You’re basically going to someone and saying, “Hey, here’s this beautiful thing I’ve made.”

You are asking them to judge you and then prove how much they’re interested in your idea by giving you money.

It’s potentially toxic. It’s bad for your ego, it gets caught up in it.

It’s a bit like standup. You’ve become like a standup comedian that raises money instead of gets laughs. It’s incredibly exciting because of that.

Imagine standing in a room full of people and telling them a story and then them saying, “Yeah, here’s a million pounds to go make it happen.”

This is why we’re entrepreneurs. That is amazing privilege to be able to do that kind of thing.

To be able to show up as the best version of yourself in those meetings means you’ve got to understand your fear. You’ve got to deconstruct it. You’ve got to understand why you’re so afraid and why you’re so nervous.

It’s pretty obvious why, because in the event of you not raising the money, your business won’t exist anymore. I always say that being an entrepreneur is like go into a casino with your reputation. By the time you realise it, that wheel is spinning, and your reputation is on it.

I think the stakes are incredibly high with fundraising and that’s why people find it so difficult. So what I did was I basically tried to work out what I was so afraid of.

In the end, I worked out, I was scared of letting my wife down. Because if I didn’t raise the money, the business would fold, and I wouldn’t have a job and our lives would change radically.

The way I dealt with that was by sitting down and talking to her about it and saying, I say it in the book, I had this conversation, “Honey, I’m fundraising and if I can’t do it, and it doesn’t work, then our lives are going to change.”

We would have this conversation about what we would do in the event of that happening. It was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had.

We had it many times every time we did a raise, and it would always end in the same way with us just planning what we would do.

“Well, we’d leave London, and we’d have to sell the house, but we would maybe live closer to our parents, and we’d maybe get some more help with the kids, and maybe we’ll see you more because you won’t be working so hard.”

She was like, “Well, actually, if that happened, I would like to retrain.” And I’d say, “That would be great. You deserve to do that.”

And by the end of the conversation, we are in a position where we’re like, “Actually, this sounds great.”

Finding the root of your fears and neutralising them will be your superpower

Kate Bassett:

Plan B became very appealing.

Dan Kieran:

Suddenly you’re like, “Oh, so if I don’t achieve this thing of fundraising, we’ve now mapped out a path to a life that we both want.”

The reason that was so powerful and so empowering is it meant that when I then stood in a room with investors, I still wanted to raise the money. I still cared about raising the money. I just wasn’t scared of not raising it.

Neutralising your fear and your anxiety gives you superpowers. It’s a bit like when you give up booze, you just suddenly have this extra level of self-belief.

Those conversations with Isobel were completely, that’s why I’ve continued to raise the money we needed even in incredibly difficult conditions like the pandemic and Brexit.

Again, that became something that I became super conscious of that my own fear was getting in my way most of the time. Because that what was interesting, that the merits of investing in Unbound at that point were no different.

The story was the same, the business performance was the same, the metrics were the same, but how I felt in my own mind is what would determine whether we raise the money. Which again, is a source of huge pressure.

So learning that and learning to get your own head in the right place becomes incredibly powerful. As to your point a little bit earlier, your staff see you doing this.

They see you raising your game, and all of a sudden, this job title that you were given when you didn’t really deserve it, all of a sudden, you’re emulating that job title, and they’re seeing it in you, and they’re seeing you change.

That’s quite inspiring for people because then they do the same thing.

If you show them that, that’s valued in your business, that going on those evolutionary journeys, I mean, staff used to say to me, “How do I get a pay rise?”

I’d be like, “Well, show me you’re evolving as an individual. Show me the thing you were scared of doing that you’ve now confronted and dealt with. Whatever it is.”

They look at me like I was mad. The point is that if they were prepared to do that, they’d be more valuable to the business because I’d be hiring the people working for me would be on that journey too.

So that’s why I think it’s so incredibly powerful. It makes you so much more likely to be successful as you can imagine, because you’ve got that self-belief, and you’re just driving yourself forward all the time.

Life coaches can help you to change the limitations you’ve set for yourself

Kate Bassett:

You talk a lot about confronting and neutralising fear. You mentioned earlier that you started speaking to a therapist. I know you also started working with a business coach.

At what stage did you do that and why?

Dan Kieran:

I used different coaches at different times. The first coach I used was around very specific issues with the business. I felt like I needed someone, I met him for breakfast every couple of weeks and I would just basically use him as a confidential sounding board.

He would never tell me what to do. In me articulating the problems I was having, I would very often come up with the answers myself, which is true of the best coaches.

Then the second time as much later on when I really, I felt like I’d reached the edge of what I was capable of. This is a huge theme in entrepreneurship where you, I got away with it.

I felt like I got away with it at the beginning, and we were growing, and we had multimillion pounds in revenue, and we had 30 members of staff. I felt like I’d got to a point, and I was no longer sure if I could carry on progressing beyond that point.

So I got a coach to help me understand that those definitions I’d come to accept about myself were stories I told myself and were not necessarily true.

That was a huge moment.

I also did a therapeutic retreat called the Hoffman Process, which was really extraordinarily powerful. Which really helps you disentangle the stories you’re telling yourself about what you can do and where your limits are.

One of the things I was terrible at was DIY.

I met an amazing man who builds wooden surfboards called James Otter. I went and spent a week in Cornwall with him building a surfboard in his workshop.

And what was interesting about the surfboard was that even if you achieve certain things, if you wake up one morning, and you’re feeling depressed and terrible, you can very easily persuade yourself that all your achievements were not because of anything you did.

You can think, I only got that because I was lucky, or this thing happened, or I did it with somebody else who was really talented. You can persuade yourself that you don’t deserve the things about yourself.

What was interesting about the surfboard is that I didn’t believe I’d be able to make one, but it turned out I was able to make one with the right teacher.

Now on my wall, I have this beautiful, physical, amazing wooden surfboard. It’s a physical representation of my ability to go beyond what I think I’m capable of. I can’t deny it when I’m feeling low, in a low mood, because it’s a physical thing I can touch on the wall.

I work with entrepreneurs now and part of the thing I work with them on is, how do we change the limitations they’ve come to believe exist about themselves? How do you help people redefine their sense of who they are?

Because that is how you progress along with the demands your business is going to place on you. It’s such a thrilling journey that your personal journey of the evolution is much more thrilling than the business one, actually.

Well, I’m sure we’ll come to it, but it also enables you to leave. That’s why you can leave a business in the end, it’s because you’re on that journey.

It’s incredibly important for you for the long term of your life beyond the time of running the business that you’re doing.

Kate Bassett:

You’re right. I think so much of fear stems from the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

That’s really powerful that you confronted that head on.

Your business cannot be used as a way to support your low self-esteem or feeling of inadequacy

Kate Bassett:

In terms of the therapy and the coaches and the surfboard and the retreat, was that enough to protect your own mental health as the business grew?

Dan Kieran:

Not always.

What it allowed me to develop was the confidence to spot when the mental health toll was too much and to say, “Actually, I don’t have to constantly be ahead of this.”

There are moments when I can actually say, “This is enough, and this is too much.”

Asking for help is very difficult. I know there’s a lot of talk about how everyone’s much more open about mental health now.

If you are the CEO of a business with venture capital investors or whatever, if you start to show signs that you’re not up to the job, you’ll get replaced very quickly. Because the needs of shareholders are paramount.

So I think there’s a huge pressure to deny when things are too difficult. I think as entrepreneurs, we’re very bad at being honest with ourselves when we need a break.

That certainly happened to me.

I got to the point with the business where I felt like I’d had achieved everything I set out to achieve, but I didn’t feel this amazing feeling of euphoria I was expecting. I described it to a friend, and it was like, “Oh, it sounds like you climbed a mountain, but when you got to the top you realised it wasn’t yours.”

I felt a little bit like that. I think there is definitely a type of entrepreneur of which I am one for whom building a business is like I describe, it’s like having a neon sign above your head saying, love me.

You don’t feel good enough in the manner of yourself. You feel like you have to create this thing that everybody outside of you agrees has merit and is valuable.

Steve Jobs famously said, “You got to make a dent in the universe.”

He was a famously complicated man.

Building a business and successful running a business will not give you peace of mind. It will not deliver you happiness. It will deliver you lots of incredibly enriching and nourishing things and be a wonderful thing to do.

But in the end, if you’re expecting it to deliver something that you don’t already have inside you, it will let you down.

Part of this second journey, which is so amazing, is as you work, as you go on it, the business matters to you less. You stop seeing it as a way of shoring up your sense of low self-esteem or inadequacy.

You start to imagine your life without this thing you built to prove yourself to the world on someone else’s terms, almost. That’s definitely where I got to, where it wasn’t that I couldn’t do it.

It wasn’t that it was really destroying me. I just got to the stage where I thought, “Well, I don’t want this anymore. This isn’t the thing I want to spend my life doing now.”

And leaving a business is incredibly difficult and lots of entrepreneurs get pushed out before they’re ready because they built it out of themselves. The idea of leaving it is existential.

It’s incredibly challenging, that’s why the second journey is so powerful. Because it allows you to disconnect yourself from it over time, so that when the moment comes when you go, “Actually, I’m not sure if this is for me.” It no longer feels like you and the business are the same thing.

I’m incredibly proud of Unbound, and I’m thrilled that it has been so successful and that it continues to be successful without me, frankly.

It’s something I did. It’s not who I am.

I think that’s really important to have that sense of perspective, that the time of you running your business will come to an end and you need to run it every day, being aware of that.

It can’t be this cipher that protects you out in the world from the things you’re nervous about. It’s a fantastic vehicle to learn about yourself in the process.

Establish the vision, secure the capital and hire people who can run the business effectively without you

Kate Bassett:

Actually, you’ve said the final act of leadership is knowing when to let go.

How did you know when to let go? How did you come to terms with that decision, and how did your co-founders react to that?

Dan Kieran:

I always say, when you start and run a business, you have three jobs.

One, is the vision. Why are you doing it? Why is the world a better place for the existence of this business you’re going to make?

The second thing is, make sure you never run out of money that the business is properly capitalised. Which is why you are constantly raising money in your mind, and not in any other way.

Then the third one is, you’ve got to hire people that are better than you in every role.

This is, again, a very challenging thing to accept that the moment of success in your business is when you create the business to be so successful, there’s no longer a seat for you.

This is something that a lot of founders find deeply challenging. This idea that it doesn’t need them anymore.

Again, the second journey is what gets you to a place where, I mean, what it allowed me, was I saw it was time for me to go before anybody else did.

And trust me, that is the best way for that to happen. Because if you don’t, it will get to a point where the business decides it needs to get rid of you. Being able to see it coming meant that I could prepare for it. I was clear where the business had to have got to in terms of its revenue and profitability before I would leave.

I had a path to where I needed it to get to. I did a fundraiser. It was properly financed. It was in the best possible position, best numbers you’ve ever done. I created it.

Also, I was gradually stepping back. The thing about hiring people that are better than you in every role is you get these incredibly ambitious people around you that want more and more responsibility. You just gradually let them have it.

Over time, it meant that when I left, the day-to-day impact was very minimal. Because people had already been running it around me, and I wasn’t needed in the way I had been.

The conversation with co-founders is difficult. But again, one of our big rules at the beginning was that we would prioritise our friendship as co-founders ahead of the business, which was a very easy thing to say when you’re starting out and much more difficult when you’re running it years and years in.

It meant I had a very open friendship and relationship with them both, and they knew that I was getting tired. They knew that.

I just felt like the skill set I had developed was no longer the one the business needed.

It’s a mature company now. Entrepreneurs are kind of, it’s just a very different skill set. Some people can make that transition, but it wasn’t something that interested me in the same way.

I was just incredibly open with them.

They were surprised. Lots of hugs, a few tears from me. It took time for them to get their heads around it, I think.

Again, they trusted me. They trusted themselves. They knew the business was maturing. It was done in a very slow, considered, non-frightening way because it was so important to keep the business stable and not frighten the horses, as they say.

And having that second journey is what allows you to make that transition, which is why it’s a great thing to do, because you’re a better entrepreneur, you’re a better boss.

It also just gives you that little bit of self-awareness you need when the time comes, when this potentially threatening thing happens, and you have to leave the company that you started.

Kate Bassett:

It’s a really crucial tip to fire yourself before someone else has to do it for you.

Building a business will help you to evolve as a person, but you will find purpose beyond it

Kate Bassett:

So tell us about your journey now. Because I know that you said Unbound had become your shield. How does it feel now without it?

Dan Kieran:

It’s really disconcerting. I basically saved up enough money to have a year afterwards where I didn’t have to earn money, just so I could come to terms with what I’d done, really. That’s when I wrote this book.

Because I wanted to get everything I learned down in a format while it was still fresh in my mind, while I was in a good position to share it.

But losing the job title was really tough. The first month or so I was frantically posting on LinkedIn to prove to myself I was still relevant. It’s really fascinating, actually, how you suddenly lose these badges, and you’re like, “Oh, who am I without them?”

But that is why I left, because what I learned was that Unbound had become a prism I was living my life through. Everything I did in my life was experienced through the prism of what was going on with the business at that time.

Bath time with my kids, dinner with my wife, with my friends in the pub, whatever it was.

And I realised that if I didn’t take that prism off, I would forget it was there. Then I would realise it was there 30 years down the line, having not done what I was supposed to do next.

While I found it very disconcerting, I knew I needed to do it. Because what’s fascinating is, when you build a company, and you prove yourself against the world in that way, and you have level of success, what you never think of is, what that means you’re going to feel like once it’s gone away.

Actually, that’s the moment of the great nourishment because you’ve left the thing. It’s no longer your shield, you’re standing without it. But it’s something that you did, and it’s something that has helped you grow, evolve as a person.

Of course, now, I look around the world, and I’ve got all these ideas of things I want to do. I’m writing lots of books.

I mean, most of my time, I’m a stay-at-home dad now. I do three days a week at home with my kids, looking after my two-year-old and my six-year-old. I’m just filled with promise now.

I’m just thinking, “Well, I don’t believe there’s anything I can’t do now.”

I’ve got a huge sense of passion for the future and excitement, but also, I’m not in a rush. I don’t feel like I have to do anything soon. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the experience I had, and it’s made me such a different person. I like myself so much more now than I did when I began.

In fact, John said to me, I met him, my co-founder, I met him quite recently for a walk. He said, “God, when we first started, you were a really angry, upset man. I could really tell that life had really kicked you, and you were really hungry for something.”

He said, “Now, you just seem so calm and relaxed.”

I do think that. I think we do businesses to help us evolve for a reason. It was the making of me, in so many ways.

Inspired by this small business story?

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Want to know more about Unbound, Dan Kieran or his new book Do Start?

You can visit the Unbound website here.

You can follow Dan’s Twitter.

You can check out his new book Do Start here.

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