Every entrepreneur goes through moments of intense self-doubt. Kiran Parmar’s story shows why you should accept the inevitable disbelief demon but carry on regardless.
When Kiran Parmar was told in passing by a stranger that his new business was utter madness – an appalling idea, stupidity itself – he wholeheartedly believed him. He’d spent months working around the clock to open his new boutique hotel and restaurant. Unfortunately both remained closed. Launch day had just been put back for the fifth time. Builders were still on site. New staff were on the payroll but hanging around with nothing to do. What made it worse was the hotel’s unusual location. It was surrounded by a Leicester housing estate. Self-doubt had been creeping in for months. What. The. Hell. Am. I. Thinking? The words had been flashing in neon behind Kiran’s eyes increasingly often. So when a friend of a friend said – mate, that’ll never work – it confirmed his worst fears. It caught him at his lowest ebb, smacking him right in the guts. He slumped to the canvas, winded.
That was more than five years ago. Today, despite Covid-19 and Leicester’s local lockdown, Kiran is back up on his feet. He wasn’t down for long and now he’s dancing around the ring looking for new entrepreneurial targets to punch. His hotel has become a success story – a case study in how to break the mould, do the unthinkable and prove doubters wrong.
And with this project there were always going to be doubters. Winstanley House, formerly Braunstone Hall, was in a shocking state when Kiran took it on. Vandalised, burnt out, falling to bits and – perhaps uniquely – surrounded by an inner-city housing estate, it looked like a disaster zone. However, Kiran and his team fell in love with it. They wanted to turn it into a flourishing hotel and restaurant. As their critics lined up to say – yeah, right! – they made their plans.
“My family and I adore historic buildings,” says Kiran. “In 2005, we restored The City Rooms in Leicester and turned it into a wedding venue. But this new property – Winstanley House – was a much bigger challenge. It had long been abandoned and was in a terrible state despite its imposing design and amazing history.”
Built in 1775 as a stately home, Braunstone Hall (its former name) was bought by Leicester Council in 1925. They put a housing estate on surrounding land and in 1932 turned it into a school which, during the Second World War, was used by the American Army to prepare for the D-Day Landings.
“We wanted to harness all that history and revive the site to its former glory,” says Kiran. “We thought that if we built something special and gave it a soul, people would come. We believed in our vision but we met plenty of negativity. I had to keep convincing myself that we were on the right track. To keep my spirits up I read about successful New York building projects that had transformed rough inner-city areas.”
The project started in 2016 and things got tough fast. “It was challenging,” says Kiran. “The hardest thing I’ve ever done. It seemed endless. With old properties you get new, unexpected problems every day. Also we couldn’t shake the negativity. People said: ‘Why would anyone go there?’ And when you hear that again and again you can’t help but think you might be making a mistake.”
The challenge reached its brutal peak as the finish line came into view. The chequered flag was fluttering in the distance – but reaching it suddenly seemed impossible. One step forward led to two steps back. And anyway, what if the flag was just a mirage? A triumphant victory was far from guaranteed. Negative thinking – or was it realism? – plagued Kiran.
“We’d gone over budget and the build deadline had passed,” he says. “We just couldn’t get it over the line. The staff we’d employed had nothing to do because we were still shut. For two months I worked every hour possible because I thought we’d open the next week. But then we didn’t. And then the same thing happened the following week. It was soul-destroying… draining. I started to think, is this ever going to work?”
That’s when Kiran got an extra kick in the guts. During what was meant to be a spirit-raising and uplifting meal out with friends he was introduced as: “Kiran, the bloke who’s doing up Braunstone Hall.” The message that came back from one member of the party – that’s never going to work – made the beleaguered entrepreneur feel awful. “I just thought – yeah, you’re probably right. All my self-belief had finally deserted me.”
But Kiran dug in. “I was feeling so low but I got stuck straight back in. I had no choice – I could either work harder or cry.” And what eventually got the project over the line was the positivity radiating from his team and the constant messages of support from the local community. “It was the hardest, darkest time of my life. But the difference between success and failure was probably our ‘keep-it-local’ strategy. We made sure everyone working on the project was local. We later worked out that 80 per cent of the build cost went back into the local area. We wanted to make the community proud of Winstanley House again and that counted for a lot. We won their support.”
These days Winstanley House is thriving – or it was before Covid-19. But when normality returns, this boutique hotel and restaurant will thrive again. Its unique location amid a former council estate is now seen as a strength rather than a weakness – a talking point, something to be proud of. Moreover, Kiran and his team’s dream of transforming a vandalised eyesore into a boutique hotel is now regarded as brilliance, not foolishness. Kiran says: “There are days when it’s sunny, there’s a wedding on, the restaurant is fully booked… that’s when you just think, man, this is amazing!”
The transformation of Winstanley House is a reminder of why, when you start to lose faith in your idea and worry you’ve made a terrible mistake… you must accept that feeling. No major creative project ever comes to fruition without some self-doubt, no matter what you read on LinkedIn about how so-and-so smashed it out of the park. When you’re low, regard the pain as an inevitable part of the journey. Protect your mental health as much as possible – remember that sometimes it’s enough to just get through the day. And then dust yourself down and do what you need to do to get over the line, even if you have to crawl the last few yards.