Being A Business Owner Suits Me, Autistic Start-up Founder Says

Business Co-Founder, Simon Fabb, tells us about his journey as a successful business owner living with autism.

This year I bit the bullet and took an adult autism assessment, and I’ve been diagnosed with Autism Disorder Syndrome (ASD). As a 40 year-old business owner, husband and father to two boys, I decided it was important to get to the root of who I am, not just for me, but for the people in my life – particularly my eldest son who was diagnosed with autism 3 years ago.

That’s where I thought my relationship with autism began, but unbeknownst to me, I’ve been on the journey my entire life.

I co-founded a successful business back in 2014, 3 months before my son was born. He would be our first child and it felt like the right time to start a business. They say there’s never really an ideal time to start a company, there are just more ideal times than others. But it’s something I had been itching to do ever since I started out in my career. I never truly felt satisfied working for others, I always wanted to follow my bloodline and be the maker of my own destiny. My Father, and my Father’s Father, and his Father, all worked for themselves.

You could call it genetic, that I would too go on to build a business, but knowing what I know now, I’d say autism has played a bigger part than I ever could have imagined.

In my first ‘proper’ job, I worked in an office, in a great environment, in an industry I loved and studied in (marketing). I was in the role for 2.5 years and I can honestly say, bar the first couple of months, I quickly wanted to see, do and learn more. The role was admittedly pretty tedious, so I soon got bored. I wanted to break into a more creative role, where I could act on my creative instincts, dream up new product ideas and word clever company slogans and straplines.

I’ve always loved creative writing and story-telling, so I wanted this to feature in my day-to-day.

But as the months went by, I never really progressed beyond the mundane. And by 2 years into the role, I had attended 20 interviews with other companies. I failed at each, even the one’s that seemed nailed-on to offer me the job.

I have some bizarre interview stories that I often share with friends and families. Whether it’s the one where I locked myself in a stairwell 2 minutes before my interview started, the one where I opened my CV folder in front of the interviewer only to show him a half-eaten packet of Jelly Tots, or the one where I walked out because I thought the interviewer was becoming aggressive, but was really just seeing if I had the minerals to fight back in equal measure (he fought, I flew).

It took me 2.5 years to finally land my next role, it was in the creative marketing field I was seeking, albeit for a very small family-run business.

All throughout my early career I took it upon myself to learn all of the things my job wasn’t teaching me, from IT skills, to web development, to email marketing, to copywriting and beyond. The most defining moment in my early career was buying a second-hand laptop, which by chance, had some web design software pre-installed.

At my wife’s expense, I would use this laptop to learn coding, late into the night, every night. My obsession and eye for detail took over. But it was in these moments that I felt my inner-most satisfied. Finally, I was creating something. I was problem-solving. I was beginning to dream about how one-day I’d use these skills to create a business for myself.

After 4 more years and two job changes later, I never felt as if employment would be my final destination. No matter how much I was learning, or how much I enjoyed the job, I always had my sights set on working for myself.

And in 2014, I took the plunge. All credit to my wife for trusting in me, 3 months before our first son was born. But she shared my frustration and like me, she always knew the time would come.

8 years in and the business is still going from strength to strength and I can honestly say it has been the happiest and most rewarding stage of my career. I never really felt myself previously, but now as someone who is knowingly on the autistic spectrum, I can see that a lot of today’s satisfaction (and my early career unrest) is owing to how I am affected by autism on a day to day basis.

Today, I have my own office. My own, peaceful, undisturbed space which allows me to productively focus on the tasks that I enjoy. I have a team that takes care of the work I am not so interested in nor, particularly good at.

Being my own boss, my routine can rarely be messed with – which as those with autism know, is fundamental.

I do struggle with lengthy meetings and idle chit-chat, but as the person usually driving the agenda, I can keep these to a minimum.

I’m aware that I can come across short, blunt and at times, unable to express my feelings. But as an adult with autism, I have the gift of learned behaviour, so I do my best to remind myself of the social do’s and don’ts, except, I’m probably not going to become a master of eye-contact any-time soon.

I could reel off a huge list of things that only my nearest and dearest would recognise as autistic behaviour, but on the whole, I do my best to make sure everyone I work with has a pleasant and productive time in my presence. As difficult as that can sometimes be for me.

But the biggest thing I’ve learned so far, is that no boardroom is really complete without the unique perspective of somebody on the spectrum. It’s an asset to any company and has certainly helped us to be a leading company in our field.

No autistic person should ever feel as though their career achievements are capped – if anything, with the support of those around you, a dream and a keenness to succeed, you are already a leader in the making.

I’m looking forward to teaching my son just this, one-day.