By Kim Browne

A month in the life of a startup

The month of March has truly been memorable and will definitely be talked about by the four founders of Twisted Toast at many a social gathering going forward.

Still “officially” employed by the company we previously worked for, but with the dismantling of the company Louis Eksteen and I created 11 years ago on behalf of Media24 and Bauer complete, we were not required to go in to do our day job anymore!

Displaced is as good as any an adjective to describe the transition from corporate life to the world of “real” entrepreneurs.

Instead of taking a prolonged holiday we took advantage of the extra five-week month afforded us and enthusiastically threw ourselves into the creation of our brand new company called Twisted Toast. As Erik Verster still needed to “finish up” on a few projects at UCM, it was just Louis and I for the first two weeks. Soothsayers warn “be careful what you wish for” and shell-shocked by the enormity of the change to our lives we often wondered what the hell we had done, giving up the comfort of management positions and a secure monthly paycheck, for blue sky.

Determined to start out right and celebrate our new found freedom, we ordered ourselves a decent coffee machine and scheduled a status meeting or two to fine-tune our business plan and to compile and review a “to do” list. Organisation and planning was high on our agenda.

Day one arrived and it felt really weird. The old office, used to our hands-on involvement, was not ready to let go of us that easily, so the umbilical cord remained uncut. It was as if we were still working for FHM and heat, just remotely. I equate it to having an out of body experience.

We secured office space above Starcom in Woodmead effective from 1 May 2011, but until then set up shop temporarily in Louis’ Dainfern home.  Dressed up for work as usual, every day we undertook to do something meaningful towards the creation of Twisted Toast. Soon enough our diaries filled up with meetings … with our lawyers and accountants. We started getting our stuff in place. And on rough days we consoled ourselves by buying things we need. There really isn’t anything to beat retail therapy! Computers, software, furniture, stationery. The company is not registered yet, so for now we’re bankrolling everything personally and it’s quite frightening how quickly things add up. One of the things we’ve done right, I think, is to appoint great accountants who have experience with small business start-ups. The fact that our accountant commended us on our approach to the business has given our confidence a much needed boost. The business plan has been a work in progress so far, but it started to feel pretty robust!

It took us a whole week to switch on the coffee machine! There were lots of meetings in the first two weeks and slowly we started to tick things off the to do list.

Two weeks in Erik’s work at UCM was done, and with the respective hand-overs complete, they joined us. We watched them go through the same initial psychological shock of change, but like us they had to get over it fast. There was real work to be done. The great thing was we were having loads of fun!

Now four people strong, we drew up a more comprehensive list of things to do before the official launch of the company on 1 April 2011. Priorities included the creation of a Twisted Toast logo and brand ID for a variety of applications as well as designing, developing and populating our website to go live on launch day. We also needed to plan a launch campaign.

Mid-month, in our first unofficial work week as a full team, we finalised our brand ID and had our launch photo shoot. Ace photographer George Proxenos came by the house and in no time at all we had a set of official pics. We briefed Peter Marx from Purple Pine to do our launch publicity and started to feel less strange about our new lives. We’d started living it!

The same week we also briefed a developer to do the development for the Twisted Toast website at Erik had done an incredible design job, which 100% reflected what we all wanted from our launch site.

The first Friday Nando’s lunch at the Twisted Toast canteen was instantaneously institutionalised as a vital part of the Twisted Toast culture.

Week four was short, with Human Rights Day on Monday and even though we’d finished off the previous week consoling ourselves with the fact that it was not just a luxury that we didn’t have any clients — things were about to change! Gone were those heady weeks when we could immerse ourselves exclusively in the creation of our own identity and properties. We had a potential client who wanted to see us.

It all passed by in a bit of a blur, but the Toast website was developed and we started getting content ready. We felt the very real pain of a home office that week with our connectivity compromised after a rather vicious storm which took the Telkom ASDL line out. HSDPA became our modus operandi and the frustration of not having always on, fast connectivity and no printing or scanning connectivity was palpable.

We made time to brainstorm ideas for our first client meeting scheduled for the following Monday. Lively debate is something we pride ourselves on and the pure exuberance of all the founding members displayed in the brainstorming meetings sat well with all of us. We just know in our gut that we’re onto something fresh and hot and that clients are going to love it!

The week ended on a high note with Donnay Torr, deputy editor of heat popping by for Nando’s lunch on Friday at the Twisted Toast canteen.

The positive alignment of the stars insured that we had a 5th “unofficial” week, which started with our first client meeting on Monday morning. Despite a few teething problems, everything fell into place in time for us to deliver enough at the introductory meeting to secure a pitch presentation in the first week of April. That done, we once again threw ourselves into getting our website populated in between a trip to Cape Town to network with old friends and an important coffee meeting.

It’s now the first day of April and Twisted Toast, though not yet registered as a company, exists officially. Our stars are definitely aligned with news reports today of CIPRO delaying the implementation of the the new companies act — which could mean our registration could still become a reality before the end of the month. Fingers crossed!

Our time no longer belongs to someone else and we’ve lost our trainer wheels in record time. We’ve managed to tick off the majority of must-do items on our pre-launch priority list and the added extras, just to keep us on our toes

Bring on the blue sky of April!

A special word of thanks to all our friends out there who are helping us make our dream happen. You know who you are, and without your support and dedication we would be lost!

Kim Browne is the Chief Executive Officer of Twisted Toast. Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.