Well the truth is that plenty of great companies were started in downturns. In the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Walt Disney launched his eponymous animation company, now almost the largest entertainment organisation in the world. Texas Instruments marketed the world’s first transistor radio in 1953, during a recession. And Bill Gates started Microsoft in 1975 in a motel room in Albuquerque, while the US battled stagflation and the after-effects of the oil crisis.
And on a rather more modest scale, with partners I actually launched Strada, a wood-fired pizzeria, in the months immediately after 9/11, when the mood was very downbeat. Our first branch was a flop, and it was only with the second and third openings that we realised we had a winner on our hands. Today that business has over 75 branches. And around the same time, Steve Jobs of Apple launched the iPod – perhaps the most successful consumer product of recent times, and a major part of the amazing revival of Apple.
For those who seek independence and freedom in their work, there is never a perfect time to go it alone. Of course, becoming your own boss is not without risks. I took the plunge in 1989, after having been an analyst at an investment bank. It was a struggle, as Britain was about to enter a recession, and for several years I felt as if I was making no progress. But in early 1992, partners and I managed to seize control of PizzaExpress, and our lives were transformed. No doubt we were lucky – but I think persistent also paid a part: I had been pursuing that opportunity for almost three years.
If you really want to control your own destiny, and create something in your life, then I believe there is no better route than through running your own company. You can leave all the bureaucracy and office politics of large organisations behind – success will largely be down to your efforts, rather than simply being a cog in a giant machine.
I recommend that those who fancy their chances prepare for the big leap from employment by moonlighting. You should use your evenings, weekends and holidays wisely – writing a plan, recruiting a partner, studying markets, analysing customers and perhaps raising finance. And possibly you should start part-time: nowadays the web permits many businesses to be run from home, even while holding down a job to pay the overheads.
No entrepreneur ever said building your own business is easy. It requires hard work and sacrifices, especially if you enjoy a well-paid job in the City. Yet there are plenty out there willing to give it a go. Just this week I heard from a banker who left to found a yoga and pilates offering, a financial journalist starting a digital publisher, and a lawyer retraining to become a chocolatier. So what are you waiting for?
Luke Johnson’s new book Start It Up: Why Running Your Own Business is Easier Than You Think is published by Portfolio Penguin.