The real cost of building a global community and our search for 1000 true fans

Chasing dreams in Auroville, India

Chasing dreams in Auroville, India

Last summer we took the decision to walk away from our digital agency Spook Studio so we could fully focus our attention on The Happy Startup School, at the time our ‘side hustle’.

Some thought we were brave. Others a little mad. ‘Why would you leave behind the business that has served you so well?’ they would ask.

But we knew the truth, it was time to move on. It had run its course.

I said at the time that we’d become a zombie company — alive but with no soul. Our minds were elsewhere as we had important work to do.

Thankfully some agreed:

“The world doesn’t need another design agency (even if you’re a very good one), but it definitely needs a crack team of superheroes fighting for better business.” James Rutter, Cook Foods

It’s been quite a ride, so now seems like a good time to take stock and share our progress.

First the positives

It’s been incredibly rewarding seeing the vision come to life quicker than it ever could have if we’d still been doing client work.

We’ve learnt a ton. And the feeling that we’re making an impact is what drives us each day.

Especially when we get feedback like this:

“I probably need to start with the fact that I’ve read just about every top shelf book out there on the topic of startups. But it wasn’t until I read your very first email — the one that invited me to explore my startup within the context of what moves me (not just what moves the market) that my own project began to blossom. And it has.” Mike, USA

Looking back

We don’t regret our decision for a second and have had some incredible moments over the last year — from running our biggest (and most teary)Summercamp yet and taking startup tribes to India and The Alps, to helping thousands around the world bring their ideas to life through our e-coursesand featuring in an TV documentary about The Purpose Economy.

All with a team of four, bootstrapped and with little idea of what it would take to create a 21st century school for entrepreneurs.

Sometimes it can pay to be a little naive

As you can imagine it’s come with some challenges — things always take way longer than you think and we’re not yet at break-even.

No-one said this was going to be easy…

Part of the appeal for us to switch focus was so that we could live and breathe startup life from the other side — putting aside our mentoring hats for a while to building our own happy startup. Ultimately we wanted to practice what we preach — to do what we love doing and live our values through our work.

It’s required a shift in mindset from serving a handful of clients, to instead nurturing and growing a community of thousands of budding entrepreneurs and startup founders from around the world.

It’s been really helpful experiencing first-hand what the folks in our community are going through, so we get to enjoy and endure the highs and lows of startup life again. But it can be all consuming.

When you truly care about what it is that you’re doing you put everything in.

And when you’re working on many things you care about as we have — something usually has to give. Your work or wellbeing can suffer, you’re in danger of spreading yourself too thin and the underlying stress of making ends meet can wear you down.

“I wish I could go back and tell myself that not only is there no trade-off between living a well-rounded life and high performance, performance is actually improved when our lives include time for renewal, wisdom, wonder and giving. That would have saved me a lot of unnecessary stress, burnout and exhaustion.” Arianna Huffington

I know I’ve felt this these last few months. Once again Alptitude came at a great time.

Mug shot in the Alps

Mug shot in the Alps

Getting clear

We’ve also found it challenging to prioritise our efforts as a team as we get to grips with our individual roles in this new phase of our life and carve out enough time to work on the business as well as in it.

Looking back, we’d lost our way a little. We’d taken on too much and a much-needed re-boot was required.

Luckily help was at hand…

That’s Max on the right

That’s Max on the right

Going wild in Lewes

Our friend Max from Wild Things was keen to help us get clear as a team. So we took a day out to re-visit why we were all doing this in the first place and reflected on questions such as:

  • What’s gone well (and not so well)?
  • Where are we now?
  • Where are we going?
  • What’s getting in the way?

The first step was getting clear on our why. Together we discussed our purpose which is best summed up by this quote:

“Don’t die with the music still in you” Wayne Dyer

We exist to help people better understand who they are and what they can bring to the world, so that they can act on this before life has other plans.

We believe that when you align who you are, what you believe in and what you do, you’ll lead a happy life rich in purpose. And this starts by supporting people in starting things, not necessarily companies, but anything that edges them towards this goal.

Re-connecting with all of this helped us to get clearer on what’s in and what’s out.

Just say no

The key takeaway from the day with Max was we needed to learn to say no more often. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll say no to anything that doesn’t ‘make the boat go faster’.

But saying no to something, means saying yes to something else.

  • We’re saying yes to developing a world-class online school that helps people start companies that align with their values
  • We’re saying yes to transformational camps that challenge people to get out of their comfort zone and edge closer to their dreams
  • We’re saying yes to creating a thriving clubhouse in Brighton where community members can learn, meet and share ideas with each other

And that’s it.


Simplifying our efforts means we can best serve the community and keep the lights on. We’ve learnt the hard way what we’re good at and where we get energy from. As soon as it feels like we’re over thinking things, planning or pitching the life gets sucked out of us.

We believe that it’s important to continue growing organically as we have done so far, following our noses with what feels right — not what seems like a good plan on paper.

We don’t want to compromise our vision to partner with big banks or large corporates (even if it makes financial sense). There’s others that are happy to play that game, but that’s not what we’re about. We want to remain independent and have full autonomy over the work we do – and we’re not here to make bigger organisations even bigger.

We want to get on with what we’re good at — creating meaningful experiences online and in the real world that inspire, empower & connect purpose-driven people. Then watch in awe as they achieve great things in the world, together.

And we can’t let money become our main focus — we believe that if we’re true to our purpose, the world will be better and so the money will flow.

But we need people that believe in this too.

Fun at Alptitude

Fun at Alptitude

On the hunt for our 1000 true fans

We’ve always loved Kevin Kelly’s concept of 1000 true fans. The premise is that as an artist you really only need 1000 people that love what you do and become your cheerleaders.

Source: Audiotheme

Source: Audiotheme

We have 100,000 in our community across all our networks, but we want to find out who are the 1000 people that really value our work, are happy to help and want to see us secure the future of the School in the process.

The chances are that we already know these people. And that they will provide the foundation we need to realise our vision. Could you be one of them?

The numbers

We’ve got operating costs of £15,000 per month we need to meet by September and we’re not there yet. The shortfall is currently made up from event income and money we’ve invested from the agency but this isn’t sustainable.

We currently have 100 founding members as part of our online community that have helped us test out a model over the last 9 months. Now we’re looking to find the rest. These inspiring humans are the foundation of our community and want to welcome you in to the tribe.

What we’ll use the money for

Once we start making a profit we’ll invest everything back as we want to become a community-supported School fit for many years to come and build on the work done to date.

Other than to cover our overheads here’s what we need money for:

  • To create a blueprint so that others around the world can run a Happy Startup School ‘friendchise’ in their town or city (email us if you’re interested in starting one in your town, Amsterdam is first)
  • To work with more young people and disadvantaged communities to help them cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and follow their dreams
  • To create a community investment fund to support purposeful ideas
  • To bring in smart, connected people that can help us grow our impact
  • To offer scholarship places for events like Summercamp and Alptitude

Help us and we’ll help you

Be part of this unique community and create a happier world

If you enjoy what we do at The Happy Startup School please consider supporting us in one of the following ways:

  • School supporter £9 a month
    Weekly member news, Summercamp plugged-in access, member deals, 10 free startup e-course passes for you to share with friends
  • Startup tribe member £29 a month
    As above plus accountability groups, weekly video calls, Slack community, exclusive content, rich startup profiles, discounts on events, software deals
  • Clubhouse member £49 a month (Brighton UK only)
    As above plus free local events in Brighton, a place to work, skill swap, book library

Or alternatively make a recurring or lump sum contribution of any amount. Costs exclude vat.

Thanks for your support in helping us build HSS into an epic worldwide movement. Now more than ever communities like ours are needed to show the world that compassion and kindness are key to solving the world’s greatest challenges.

With love.

Laurence, Carlos, Oli & Fiona
The Happy Startup School