In the beginning there was the M4 service station...

It’s ok to not know what you need to do next and figure things out as you go. Your core values never leave you. Trust your gut.

3 min read

Written by
Owen Richards

Chief Product Nerd

Owen Profile
Mental health - Ow

Six months before Big Lemon was really a thing, we would hang out at M4 service stations on leave from the day job, daydreaming about doing this every day.

We’d hussle for meetings with anyone interested in working with us, because that’s an obvious thing to aim for. We didn’t know any different. More meetings = more cash = we get to do this full time. It always stuck with me: crap coffee and long drives paled in comparison to the thrill of getting in front of people, talking about their ideas, and doing something that mattered to us.

Our mission extended as far as “let’s just keep doing this”.

I’m always in awe of companies that start with a social purpose from day one. How do you not get overwhelmed by that? How do you even know that’s what you need to do? Maybe I’m just playing down our achievement, but we just did what felt right at the time. If something didn’t sit right, we’d talk about it and do something about it. Follow your gut, right?

Luckily for us, our only expense for the first few years was our wage, but it felt like we were cheating the system. People big-up how hard it is to start a business and what a grand thing it is to take on. We just needed to hit our monthly £5k to make ends meet, and more or less managed to by scraping by with odd bits of work.

Back-patting and congratulations at events always felt like they were clapping for someone else. Why would someone applaud what we’d done? We weren’t a real startup and barely a business. We weren’t doing anything new.

I’m lying if I say it was easy - we tried so many gimmicky marketing things to reach new people, like a brewery-specific campaign, and jumped on anyone that could make an introduction. We chased every lead and dealt with the heartbreak along the way, all while trying to fulfil the projects we’d sold. We evolved slowly: brought in our first hires, got an office, started building better products, but it was always just the next natural thing to do. There was still no big plan, even with a team of four and £120k+ of revenue. “Let’s just keep doing this!”

I was lucky enough to go to an R&D conference at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2018. The timing wasn’t great, I had depression at the time. As we’d go around introducing ourselves to these amazing people, incredibly smart lecturers and authors like Bill Aulet, I felt like such a fraud. Look at all these great people pitching their world changing business ideas, expressing passion and the reason they existed. Honestly, I was just there to absorb and get inspired. I didn’t want to introduce myself, I was happy just observing, learning and having a good time. We weren’t people that changed the world. That wasn’t us.

As we now embark on a new era for Big Lemon, I can’t help reflecting on how fundamentally different things are, yet still the same. I’m humbled to be working with such amazing people. We’d be nowhere without them. I feel astounded on a daily basis when our intelligent team talks about this company, the great work we’re doing, and the difference we’re making. My inner reaction is always “what, this Big Lemon?” I believe we’re still that same company that does right by others, but I can actually say now that we are a force for change.

Right now I’m doing everything I can to enjoy the journey. I’m still too impatient and consumed by anxiety, worrying too much about uncertainties, it sucks, but one thing I’ve never questioned is if we’re on the right path. You never know what the path is going to look like, but you trust that you’ll figure it out along the way. Trust your gut.

If I could go back to MIT now, I’d feel so proud telling them about how we’re changing the world through Tech With Purpose. I’m still an introvert at heart, happier to observe, learn and have a good time, but it’s amazing what insights a few years down the right path leads to.

I can’t help but think back to those M4 services days, and appreciate how far we’ve come. We never had any burning desire to get to where we are. We were happy plodding along and doing good, bit by bit. I’m grateful for Kieran always being there - they’re wrong when they say never start a business with your friend. Just pick the right friend. I’m so grateful for Sam, for making us value what we do more, being our north star, and helping us turn this dream into a reality, a real business. And I’m beyond grateful to the whole team - what an amazing bunch.

I will never look back and think about the time we couldn’t afford to take a salary over Christmas, or when a project made me genuinely fear the Slack notification. I think I’ll look back and appreciate the time I spent with amazing people, doing what truly warms my heart, having a positive impact on the world around us.

So, for now, let’s just keep doing this.