Starting up is a mammoth task!
Simply put it is the hardest thing that I have ever done and survived to talk about. Let’s just say that there are easier roads to success than that of a startup founder! In fact, many many studies have shown that starting up is probably the wealth-creation method with the least likelihood of success!
And this is because starting up takes not just a heavy toll on your finances, but also on your relationships & your reserves of willpower, strength and courage. It tests every day, your ability to live with crippling uncertainty and your ability to maintain hope in the most adverse of circumstances.
It’s just draining on so many levels.
And this aspect of starting up – the toll it takes mentally to put on a facade of all is well when all is most definitely not well and everything is breaking down with regular periodicity – is something that very few startup founders actually choose to talk about in public for fear that it will show them in a weak light.
For who will fund or follow a leader who admits to weakness on a daily basis?
And so we suffer in silence.
I did the same.
For the longest time, I never admitted to anyone how I struggled every single day – not to friends, family or fellow founders, not to anyone!
I was the proverbial duck – floating along calmly on the surface while paddling away furiously under the surface, desperately fighting for every inch of progress.
I know now, in hindsight, that sharing that struggle would have helped. But back then I was scared. And worried deeply that it would backfire. That my raw confession in a moment of weakness would have consequences that I would forever have to live with.
So I coped, as best as I could.
And today for all those startup founders that are struggling like I did – I want to share some of those coping mechanisms that kept me sane. And I hope – from the deepest recesses of my heart – that some of them work for you.
1. Find & inhabit your happy place, daily!
Your startup is not your happy place. Nor, unfortunately, is your home, laden with the expectations of your family.
Strangely enough, your happy place is that temporary mind space where you are so engaged and involved in an alternate joy-giving activity that for a few precious moments, your mind is not scurrying around in frenzied circles about the many, many problems that you still have to solve.
Some people meditate. Some run. Some workout. Some play a sport. Some play an instrument. Some write painful blogs that they make others read.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure that it is something that absorbs you, that reminds you that there are things that you enjoy doing, that will always bring joy and peace and that exist regardless of the failure or success of your start-up. And make sure that you give it enough time every day.
Yes, every day.
If you struggle everyday, then you need to recover every day.
Not surprisingly, some of the startup founders that I am now mentoring and pushed towards finding a happy place resisted, furiously. They felt that any time away from their start-up would weaken them.
It doesn’t. It strengthens you instead.
Think of it like the recovery period after a furious workout. You need to mend and repair that which has been broken & depleted! So, if you don’t rest and recover, how can you come back stronger?
2. Visualise & accept the consequences of failure
For a startup founder, failure is an abstract concept. We know that the end is shrouded in doom but few of us can state definitively what that means exactly!
Does failure in your start-up mean financial ruin?
Does not succeeding in your start-up endeavour mean a falling apart of all of your key relationships?
Is it a loss of money?
Or is it a loss of time?
Or perhaps, it’s the opportunity cost that you’re worried about?
Or is it the perception of failure that will follow you wherever you go throughout your career?
Most of us build the possibility of failure for our startup into this huge bugbear without realising – rationally and sanely – that it really does not mean the end of the world. That we will fail and recover and go on to do many more interesting things with our life.
Yes, we would have spent a couple of years and if failure occurs, not have anything tangible to show for it. But we discount the massive learnings that we take away with us. The learnings that come from being a jack-of-all-trades, that would stand us in good stead throughout the various future stints of our careers.
So sit down, take a cup of coffee, pull out your notebook and write it all down.
What failure looks like and what it will mean for you personally?
What will you lose?
And more importantly, what will you gain?
And if you feel you are too close to the problem to do this by yourself, then get an old friend to sit with you when you do this exercise. Because old friends can call you on your bullshit.
And we startup founders are full of it!
And once you’re done, do put it up someplace where you can see it daily. Familiarity breeds contempt! And when we look our fears fully in the face, they shrink and while they may not dwindle away to nothing, they will not haunt your waking hours.
3. Find & foster your tribe
We are a social species. Loneliness kills us faster than disease ever will. And each of us needs people around us that will believe in us and take care of us when we are beaten down.
A lot of us assume that that source of support should be our family and friends! That since they are the people who have historically been the closest to us, they will understand the pressure that we are going through and the crippling anxiety that uncertainty about the future coupled with, rapidly depleting funds and frustration with lack of traction brings. And that they will be able to bolster us and provide the support that we so desperately need.
But they can’t.
They can’t support what they can’t understand.
And you can’t blame them for that.
You can’t explain starting up to someone. You can’t explain the daily highs and lows, the brutal yet addictive nature of the beast. You can’t explain the crazy risks that you have taken which are based on hope, frugal knowledge, passion and not a semblance of logic. And the minute, infinitesimal chance of success.
And so it’s important to find your tribe.
Your fellow crazies.
Fellow startup founders, entrepreneurs, mentors, sometimes even your investors….your tribe will come in all shapes and forms. They may be engaged in different wars but they are all driven and passionate. And if you but look, they are all around you, struggling with the same demons, fighting the same battles, some a little ahead, some a little behind but constantly fighting and at it, like you.
And invite them into your life.
Find occasions to collaborate and opportunities to connect. Simply find reasons to speak and when you do, let your barriers down. Because they will understand.
Take your time selecting them however because these are friendships for life! The most important you will ever make. These are the people who will believe in you when your belief in yourself is shaken repeatedly. The ones who will share information, trust and their support unstintingly. And with their companionship, give meaning to your efforts.
As startup founders, we have to find and farm the fuels that will help us to reach stratospheric heights.
And we must burn brightly and well, for if not, then what is the point?