Speak to an advisor

The Happy Start-up School: A Decade of Delight

bootstrapping founder stories Jan 21, 2024

Did you know you can build a business around happiness? That's exactly what Carlos Saba  and Laurence McCahill, Founders of the Happy Startup School have done.  Learn how this dynamic duo created a purpose-led business over a decade of delight.

We sat down with them to learn more about their mission to switch out business-as-usual for a joyful ride of sustainable growth, community and a way or working that puts 'two fingers' up to business as usual.

Missed the live conversation? Listen in above 👆


A Happy Accident

Carlos and Laurence were no strangers to the world of business when they launched the Happy Startup School.

In fact, when the inspiration struck them, they were not community builders but owners of a web design agency.

The idea didn't start as a grand vision or a carefully crafted plan but as a series of conversations and curiosity about the people behind the ventures they were working on.

Two books, in particular, played a pivotal role in shaping their vision - "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries and "Delivering Happiness" by Tony Hsieh.

This curiosity, paired with their fascination with startups and personal development, sparked the idea of integrating happiness and entrepreneurship, cornerstone of their community.


According to Carlos, their journey was not a linear path, but rather a series of discoveries and reflections.

"So there's two ways I like to think about the start. There's how it actually happened and the story I like to tell about it these days," he said. "I prefer the second bit because it also aligns with how we're trying to communicate to the people that we coach the moment about to think about business."

Carlos further explained that their affinity for startups was deeply rooted in a desire to see tangible impact.

"We've always been drawn to startups. This appeal was deeply rooted in our desire to see impact, to witness that zero to one transformation that you only get with people who are at the beginning of their journey."

He also noted that the need for more freedom and creativity was a driving force behind their decision to deviate from traditional business practices.

"Our craving for a bit more freedom and creativity also came into play. Not just the freedom to do what we wanted, but freedom from the constraints of others' opinions. This is where the idea of doing business differently came in."

Carlos reflected on the stifling experiences they had had in the past. "Sure, there's the traditional way of doing business, but then there's also what Laurence and I experienced.

Laurence, constantly creating, only for clients to request change after change - a stifling of creativity, a lack of freedom."

He emphasises that their aim was to build something meaningful, not just for the sake of building. "And then there was this need to feel like we weren't just building for the sake of building. There had to be something meaningful there."


From Building Products to Cultivating Community


Summercamp: A flagship event in the Happy Startup School calendar of joy

Carlos and Laurence brought with them a wealth of practical skills from running a web design agency. This knowledge was invaluable in establishing a new venture.

However, the Happy Startup School was a different proposition entirely. Unlike their previous business where the duo felt self-reliant, this new venture was centred around collaboration and community.

Laurence reflects, "Our transition to what The Happy Startup School is today wasn't an overnight process." 

It was a journey that spanned over two years and, in hindsight, Laurence sees this as a vital growth phase. "During the two-year transition period, we not only shifted our business but also underwent a change in our thinking."

They needed to understand the implications of closing an agency while envisioning what The Happy Startup School would look like as a business.

From the inception of the idea to the closing of the agency, it was a transformative couple of years.

While navigating these changes, an unexpected development was taking shape - a community. "Throughout that time," Laurence shares, "we unknowingly built a community, one relationship at a time."

They were gathering support around them, a crucial element that they hadn't initially realised they needed.

"When we set up our studio," Laurence continues, "we believed we could manage it ourselves. It was just the two of us, and we built a small team but never sought help from outside."

But with The Happy Startup School, a shift occurred. "The moment we started sharing our ideas, people gravitated towards them."

This realisation underscored the importance of openness, support, collaboration, and community.

Laurence concluded, "So, the transition for me was more of a mindset shift than a logistical one. Once we made that mental shift, everything else fell into place.

It took Carlos a bit longer to embrace this new mindset, but they eventually found their stride together."


The Dreamer and the Doer


Laurence and Carlos in 2017


Their prior experience and understanding of business dynamics gave them a certain level of confidence. However, did this mean a quicker pace and fewer mistakes?

“I’d say we were getting better at it. I wouldn't say we were ninjas," says Laurence.

Carlos has a slightly different take: “I’d say we were able to make many new mistakes, not necessarily repeat the old ones."

He elaborates on the advantages of their prior experience in business:

"There's various things, I think knowing how to sell, knowing how to communicate what you do, knowing how to structure a project... There's an experience in just the logistics."

Despite their proficiency in the practical aspects of business, they faced a new set of challenges and unknowns.

Laurence confessed, “It wasn't an overnight thing, which at the time I found frustrating because I can get bored quite easily... And so this for me was exciting because it was unknown and it just felt it was a calling.”

For Carlos, however, the transition was not just about the business model but also about personal growth and change.

“I had a slightly different experience," he admitted. "I would say I went into it kicking and screaming... It felt very uncertain and unsure.
And I didn't, I would say, embrace the hustle aspect of it. When I started the agency, I was looking to build a business.
When I started the Happy Startup School, I was looking to create a lifestyle... So for me, the business needed to fit around the lifestyle, but this was very intuitive, instinctive.”

Laurence reflects on their differing approaches: “Looking back, I could have handled that so much better with the knowledge I do now... And so now, if I've got an idea, I'll have to sell it to Carlos... I realised that Carlos is an academic by heart. He likes the rationale behind something, whereas I just have generally blind faith.”

Carlos acknowledges this tension between them, labelling it as the dynamic between "the dreamer and the doer."

Measuring What Matters

In business it's crucial that you "measure what matters." If only to keep you focused, grateful and less stressed.

So how did Carlos and Laurence figure out what matters to them most?

They focused on that which is there's to do alongside serving the needs of their community.


Carlos shared: “In my experience, it was quite a bumpy ride. There's this thing about when's the right time to find the safe business and how long does it take to actually make a good business?

We're not a tech business. We're not like any other business. We do coaching, we do events, we do retreats. It's a very unique business to myself and Laurence."


"I knew from the beginning that this was going to be an ongoing journey. The most important thing was how much freedom I have, how connected I am, and how much I feel like I'm actually being of service to people doing the stuff that I like to do."

"I wasn't sure about why it was my thing to do. Looking back, that was the core. I should have been asking myself what is mine to do and allowing myself to do that, and then the business stuff will fit in. I believe ours is to help people start businesses, make changes that feel right to them. The question is, what feels right to me?"


He also stresses the importance of creating a sustainable business that also creates a fulfilling lifestyle:

"That's the kind of business we all want. That's the kind of business that's more sustainable for the planet... you can end up going really fast in the wrong direction. And then that's how people burn out.
This journey has been all about finding what is right for us, for our business. When you understand why you're doing what you're doing, who you're doing it for, and the change you want to make in their lives, then you can start anytime because you just learn what you need to learn.”


Laurence adds, "The sustainability of any entrepreneurial venture is also about the energy you bring to it. If you're in hustle mode and you're in a rush to get everything done, then you're just going to bring that energy to you and your team."

"A few years ago, we were still on the search for a business model and saying yes to everything because we weren't quite sure what would work.

After a year or two of an event every few months, as well as trying to run an online community and do online courses, we reached a point of overwhelm. We knew we couldn't have a year like that again."

"That led us to creating our flagship program now, which is Vision 2020. It gave us a bit of breathing space, which we were always searching for. We couldn't have created it five years before because we didn't have the knowledge and experience then that we did when it launched."

"By 2018, it was starting to feel like it should be easier by now. I was reassured by a tech entrepreneur in the States who said it can take 10 years to build a great company. That line really stuck with me because I felt like I should have all this worked out by now."

Laurence continued: "It goes back to what we were talking about before, about sustainability and what output is sustainable for you as founders, or founder, or as a team. We need to find the channels or the output that align with our needs."

"For us, the thing we've found is what output doesn't feel like work, isn't a marketing plan, because we need a marketing plan. It's something that we don't even think of as marketing. It's just doing the work. It's just maybe more public and not getting paid.

That's one thing we also find with people – this whole reframing required around marketing. It's seen as self-promotion and for the loudest voices in the world, rather than people who just have something they want to share.”

Founders around the campfire at Alptitude

A Decade of Delight: Lessons Learned

Having ridden through the highs and lows over the past decade, the Happy Startup School is blooming, inspiring entrepreneurs across the UK and beyond.

It's a living testament to the power of curiosity, community and the pursuit of joy in entrepreneurship.

The journey of Carlos and Laurence is a poignant reminder that business isn't solely about profits and products; it's about people, relationships, and a shared vision of a more cheerful, healthier entrepreneurial landscape.

Carlos and Laurence have acquired a wealth of knowledge throughout this journey.


Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.