EXCLUSIVE: PR entrepreneur Michael Hayman on being unreasonable, risking it all, and taking on the Saatchis

'If you're the type who wants Frank Sinatra crooning 'My Way' at your funeral, you'd better start your own firm,' says PR agency Seven Hills co-founder Michael Hayman. This is his start-up story.

by Michael Hayman
Last Updated: 05 Apr 2013

Three years ago this month I co-founded the marketing firm Seven Hills. I’ve learned a few things. Be completely unreasonable, be ridiculously ambitious, and think big in absolutely everything that you do.
 
‘We’re going to be the new Saatchi’s.’ That was our dream three years ago and it’s our dream today. Back then it was my business partner Nick and I. The dream was absurd. The only similarity we had with the Saatchi’s then was that we both wore glasses.
 
That first trip to the office section at Ikea in Wembley was also a bit of a leveller. I couldn’t imagine Maurice or Charles intensely studying a master plan for self-assembly furniture.
 
But then again, that’s not how many people would envisage Nick or I either. However humble your starting point is, you’ve got to get out there and sell yourself hard. Create the reality, buy an expensive suit and believe in yourself. You only get one chance to create a first impression.
 
Before Seven Hills I had a big job, big expense account and fifty people whose every deed was to answer my need. But it wasn’t my company and you can’t have it both ways.
 
You make one of two deals. Somebody pays your wages and you have to do it their way. Or, if you are one of these types who wants Frank Sinatra crooning My Way at your funeral then you’d better start your own firm.
 
Truth is that most of us can’t strike the deal either way and live in a state of purgatory as a result. According to StartUp Britain, 50% of adults in the nation dream about setting up their own business. Think of that the next time you’re on the Central Line. Every second person around you is living an unfulfilled life. Why? Because only 5.8% of the nation have a go and set up their own firm.
 
Fear holds most people back. The sense that if you did it you might be showing the same level of common sense as a lemming approaching a cliff.  But if you don’t take the leap it’s lights out for your career as an entrepreneur.
 
If though, you do go for it, you get your chance, the opportunity, to sail the open seas and live a life that is as swashbuckling as it is exciting. For, as Apple's Steve Jobs said, 'It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.'
 
But arr, Jim lad, it be hard on them seven seas. For all the glamour associated with doing your own thing, get ready for an immense culture shock. For it takes a while before the pieces of eight come rolling in.
 
Like fancy foreign holidays? You can forget those for a while. Dependable salary? Erm, not really. Plenty of time at home with the wife and kids? Daddy just created work widows.
 
For, to paraphrase, Eminem, success is your only option. Facts are that most businesses fail. It’s stressful and it’s difficult. You have to persuade people to both work with you and work for you when you barely exist. You have to sacrifice the lot and you put your whole life on the line.
 
And that is of course what it’s all about; what makes it so wonderfully exciting and so all engrossing. You become a name, not a number. And with it comes your chance to pit your wits against the world and see if you’ve got what it takes to make it.
 
Three years in and the Saatchi dream seams as audacious today as it did on day one. But Maurice and Charles were a start-up once, and from a new business they established the defining marketing business of the 1980’s.
 
Somebody’s going to do something similar this decade. It’s going to be a business that’s unreasonable in its ambition. It’s going to be a business that has the guts to go for it big.
 
It’s going to be us.

Find out more about Seven Hills.

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