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Startup Lessons In Baking

My first-ever-proper-Brioche is well underway. It started out with a nightmare vision of “There’s waaay too much liquid in this to ever turn into something manageable” and ended up having potential. I guess I can draw some parallels to startup life.

Brioche Dough Proving

Brioche Dough Proving

I’m following along with Paul Hollywood’s recipe, but don’t have a stand mixer so am freestyling it on the technique.

It didn’t start out too well, I can tell you. I mixed wet & dry ingredients, turned out onto a surface and tried to knead it. After scraping most of the gloop off my hands, telling myself to keep trusting the recipe (i.e. resist the temptation to add a buttload more flour), I googled round a bit and read that letting the dough autolyse for 30 minutes makes it much easier to handle. So back into the mixing bowl, and had a cup of coffee to help me unwind (?!)

When I went back, sure enough it felt better. It was still really wet and sticky, and the only way I could see to knead it was using Bertinet’s “slap & fold” method (ooerr missus!). All seemed to be going well, and it started to get more structure to it. But then all of a sudden it really changed (in about 30 seconds), and seemed to get reeeaaaaallly sticky. Ulp!

At that point I added a bit more flour, which brought things back from the brink, and decided it was time to include the butter. I switched from “slap and fold” to “stretch and roll up”, as used by Dan Stevens from River Cottage. In went about 25 grams, and I worked it through. And the more butter that got added, the silkier and more managable the dough became. At about the 125g mark, I experienced something amazing.

Rather than stretching, I was smearing. Rather than rolling up, I was folding back with a bench scraper.

In between smearing and scraping I was adding more and more butter. What was happening can best be described as the baking equivalent of a particle/wave duality. The two actions were fundamentally changing the state between a dough and a batter, and back again.

And it took more butter, and more butter, and more butter. When I spread it out, butter oozed on the bench, when I scraped it up, it hung together as a single substance. I could have played with it for hours, but all-too-soon it had taken all the butter I had to give it, and it needed to rest in the fridge.

So now it’s safely in a tupperware bowl in the fridge and my hands are cleaned. I can’t yet say the same about the kitchen. Of course, I still don’t know how it’s going to turn out – it needs to rest for at least 7 hours, so will get finished off tomorrow morning. But the signs are hopeful. For now, I’m happy with how things are turning out.

If you’re a bread baker and haven’t yet tried making brioche by hand, I can highly recommend it. It’s a rollercoaster ride but when you get to adding the butter, it becomes a thing of beauty.

If you’re a startup entrepreneur, there’s lessons to be learned in here:

  • Innovate when necessary, but try to innovate in one direction only!
  • Trust your instincts, but take advice from others.
  • If your gut tells you something’s wrong, it’s worth finding out why.
  • The journey is as important as the destination.
  • Have faith, and have fun.

What startup lessons can you see in this?

If someone tweets about you, does that mean you’ve launched?

I was setting up the Founders Anonymous twitter account today, and followed Andy Cutler. I did this for a number of reasons, not the least of it being he was there to listen…he *is* there to listen.

And he tweeted about it.

Ulp. I guess that means we’ve launched.

This is significant because … well … we launched. We aren’t ready, but we launched. This blog wasn’t in place, the Facebook page wasn’t in place. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’d tell you what’s on the backlog, but to be honest, even the backlog isn’t in place! But even so, we’ve launched and you can SIGN UP TODAY.

It’s significant because it wasn’t me that pushed the launch button. It was… One. Of. Us. Someone in the Founders Anonymous network decided that it was time to tell the world. We’re  a network. I’ll just let that sink in for a bit.

But mostly it’s significant because it was announced by someone that, even though I barely knew him, was there to listen to me when I was going through some dark times And whilst he’s a great guy in that regard, Andy’s not unique. I’ve spoken with many people around the world over the past few weeks, and *each and every person* has said “Dave – if you need to talk, I’m there for you”. Every single one.

In the crazy  world of startups, where we define ourselves in such terms as Market Validation and Traction, and a mass of other metrics, that’s quite significant. In a diverse set of our TAM I experienced a 100% success rate. I expect that’ll drop in the coming weeks – it’s inevitable. But honestly, I don’t expect it to drop that much, because I believe that Founders are pretty exceptional people.

We set out to change the world, and no-one said it would be easy. But none of us truly realised how hard it would be. Some times we need step off the rollercoaster and have a coffee with people that understand the challenges we’re facing. Occasionally though, we go through dark times. We really need to talk, and experience the utter loneliness of having nowhere to turn.

In both cases, that’s where Founders Anonymous comes in. If you need to talk, we’re here for you. And if you’re like Andy, believe in “paying it forwards”, or can simply can be described as a Mensch, we’re there to let you listen. You don’t need to be in crisis, you just need to be willing to listen, or have a desire to talk.

So, whilst we’re not ready to launch, we’ve all been ready to listen, and some of us have needed to talk. If you’re a founder, and this sounds like something for you, we’re here. If you know a founder that could use this, we’re here for them too.

To paraphrase the Bard,

The quality of compassion is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

So, now we’ve launched, I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you. Thanks to Andy for listening to me, thanks to Andy for deciding we should launch, and thanks to you for being part of the startup community.