5 years of building Day One Strategy: The 7 lessons we learnt along the way

February 2024

By Hannah Mann, Founding Partner at Day One Strategy

We were told it was not possible.  That the barriers to entry within the pharmaceutical industry were too big for any start-up to break through. Fast forward 5 years and Day One works with many of the biggest pharma companies in the world, has offices in Europe and the US, and a team we could previously only have dreamed of. It has at times been hard, and we are not there yet, but I think we have at least shown that sometimes, the impossible can indeed be done. 

My business partner, Abigail Stuart and I, often get asked how we’ve got to this point.  In truth there was no secret sauce, we simply set out to do 2 things: 1) to bring together technology and human intelligence to change how research was done, and 2) to build an agency that everyone wanted to work for, and work with.  When I put it like that it sounds easy but in reality it was a little harder.   

Here are the seven lessons that have shaped our journey and helped us get to where we are today.  Hopefully they might be useful for anyone else about to embark on the slightly bonkers life of an entrepreneur.

1. Give people a reason to notice and need you

When we first started no one had ever heard of Day One, we didn’t mean anything to anyone. So entering a crowded market with an agency that offers the same thing as everyone else was never going to give us a foot in the door.  We had to look at what the market needed and find a meaningful value proposition that also differentiated us from the competition. This endeavour required a mix of persistence, adaptability, and an open ear to client feedback.  Once we’d nailed that, we then had to live and breathe it, telling the world repeatedly and publicly what we were about.  It is fair to say this is still work in progress but we are getting there. 

2. Take your time finding talent

Our venture’s backbone is undoubtedly our team and we never wanted Day One to be just about its Founders. The realisation hit us early on: to get ahead, we needed not just good, but great people. We have not always got it right and so we have learnt to be exceedingly selective, focusing on individuals who not only had the skills but also shared our vision for the future. It’s been a lesson in building a team that’s not merely right for today’s challenges but capable of carrying us into tomorrow. 

3. Take risks

Taking carefully calculated risks emerged as not just a part of our strategy, but a necessity for growth. We learned to embrace the uncomfortable, understanding that avoiding risks altogether was a far riskier proposition. Yes, not every risk paid off, but each one taught us valuable lessons, propelling us forward in unexpected and rewarding ways.  Sometimes you have to just stop thinking about doing something and just do it, the worst that can happen rarely ever does. 

4.  Make mistakes

If you not making mistakes you are playing it too safe.  If you are putting yourself out there and out of your comfort zone then mistakes will be made but you will learn, and learn fast.  I am lucky to have a great business partner and we share everything – the good, the bad and the ugly.  If one of us messes up we just work out how to fix it and move on, knowing one day we will hopefully look back and laugh.  The same goes for our team, we ask a lot of them so we also have to support them if it goes wrong (it rarely does) but I do think this has created a culture of innovation and experimentation which we otherwise would not have. 

5. Ask for help 

One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is that you are part of a vibrant and diverse community of people. You can tap this network whenever you need advice, feedback, support, or collaboration. No one knows everything, and sometimes you may face challenges or opportunities that require broader or deeper skillsets than your own. That’s when you can reach out and ask for help from those who have the expertise, experience, or connections that you need. You will be surprised by how generous and helpful people can be as most want to see you be successful. Asking for help from your network is not a sign of weakness, but a smart and strategic way to leverage the collective wisdom and resources of your peers and mentors.  

6. Behave like the future is now

One of the most transformative lessons for us has been to operate as the business we aspire to be, not just the business we are. This mindset influences everything from our operational infrastructure, to our service offerings and how we structure our team, ensuring that we’re always building towards the future we envision.  We are ambitious and know that we can only get to where we want to be in 5 years, if we prepare now.  In our early days we said we were a big company in its small phase as that is exactly how we felt 😊.   

7. Settle in for the long journey ahead

If there’s one myth we busted early, it’s the idea of overnight success. Building a sustainable business is a marathon, demanding patience, resilience, and a steady pace.  But the reward is not the end goal, it’s the journey you take to get there, the constant learning and amazing people you get to meet along the way.  This perspective has kept us grounded, reminding us that worthwhile achievements take time and anything else that comes later is just a bonus.   

Reflecting on what we have learnt, it’s clear that running Day One Strategy with Abigail has been an amazing adventure and in truth we have never looked back. That’s not to say that we always get it right, we definitely have not, we learn something new every day and I am sure that will never change.  However, beyond professional growth and personal fulfilment, the freedom to make decisions, act quickly and see others grow into their full, uncapped potential has been incredibly rewarding.   

To fellow entrepreneurs and dreamers, these lessons are a testament to the journey of building something from the ground up.  It can be a bit if a roller coaster and you are never really ‘done’, but one thing’s for sure – if you run your own business, your work life will never be boring ever again! 

Hannah Mann – h.mann@dayonestrategy.com


Abigail Stuart