You’re new, you’re smart, you’re passionate and bubbling with energy, and then startup life begins. While you thought entrepreneurship would be all about the product or service that you aim to provide, you suddenly need to figure out accounting, admin, sales, marketing, hiring and what not.
Just one you, so much to do and very stressed too ! I get that… because I’ve been in those shoes !
But here’s what – Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.(Not my original quote btw)
I’m not here to talk about the worries. I’m here to talk about how to get over them.
See, startup life is like a sine wave there are just crests and troughs all along.
It’s not linear growth and its definitely not a skyrocketing story unless you’re a Skype in the Early 2000s.
I. Getting over the worry of personal and professional life balance:
As an entrepreneur there are tons of forces at play and numerous roles to balance. The personal lives of 99% founders have a degree of stress.
It’s difficult to explain to parents and spouse why you’re constantly unavailable for days and weeks, and hardly ever around. It’s difficult to take the stress from friends who half envy you and always question you on when you’re going to be the next Zuckerberg or Musk.
It’s difficult and exhausting explaining each time. So much so that over time, most entrepreneurs end up making a new circle of friends amongst other entrepreneurs who seemingly understand the rigours.
Work life balance in early years of startup life is a myth. Aim to figure out the equilibrium.
To this aspect I have found some semblance of balance in the following:
a. Carry some work home:
Sneak in the extra hours you were planning to spend at work. I do it while my wife sleeps. I wake up at 4 AM everyday and catch up on some emails and planning activities until 6 Am when she wakes up. It’s proven to be a blessing because I have this really quiet and undiluted time I can focus to my tasks and planning.
b. Take care of your health:
Evan Williams once famously quoted – “When you don’t sleep, eat crap, don’t exercise, and are living off adrenaline for too long, your performance suffers. Your decisions suffer. Your company suffers.”. I couldn’t summarise it better.
You need to be happy doing what you do for months and years. That won’t happen if you’re a mentally drained and physically exhausted Panda. Take care of your health and happiness. Take out an hour of the day for yourself to just unplug from work and do something about you. You wont just be doing yourself but also your company a favour by being more alert and alive after a break. and if you’re working out maybe plan it around with your friends or spouse. That way you’re seeing people you like, exercising to stay healthy and have one less worry.
II. Getting over the worry of not having smart people around:
This might sound silly but many founders often feel they are the smartest people in every room they walk in to. I’m not kidding but I have literally seen founders worried about not meeting people like Gary V or Josh Fechter to bounce ideas and buddy up with. For Real.
Truth is, if this is the case and you’re constantly finding yourself to be the smartest in the room at your startup, then you’re either hiring totally wrong or you’re being a snob. Both ways you’re losing out.
While I’ve discussed a lot on hiring right earlier, I‘ll ask you to get a humility check done to just be sure. Do not fall into the pitfall of asymmetric insight where you feel you know and see better and others dont know enough or know crap. It might sound silly and harmless but its not.
This asymmetry leads you to thinking you’re smarter and hence you begin to slowly discount external advice and guidance. You stop looking at things from various viewpoints when you’re under the illusion that you know it better. Result – Sooner or later you will make the company culture toxic and this in turn will cause an exodus of the smart ones wanting to remain sane. Personal humility is the biggest gift you can give yourself and your company to succeed in life.
In a study by Harvard Business review, it was found that humble leaders are the best. The study found that Employees feel unique when they are recognised for the distinct talents and skills they bring to their teams; they feel they belong when they share important commonalities with co-workers. (HBR)
III. Worrying over why startup life isn’t the way it was until now:
This is something again that I’ve seen founders often fumble with in startup life. We all start with great passion and energy and feel like we can do this forever. Problems arise when we set ambitious milestones for ourselves and thereafter begin to miss them at some point. The product didn’t get ready in time, the recent sales hire quit, accounting woes etc.
When working becomes a habit we often turn rigid onto that process. This isn’t advisable all the time. In many cases we need to be fluid with changes in external environment – a new competitor coming up, change in team, market needs shifting etc. Adapting fast and well is a need of the hour.
Habits are often stronger than Intentions. Recognize that and change that.
Many times our mind sets an intentional path knowing its right for your business but habit takes over and makes you do the same old. We may have the best intentions to be working hard and smart but fall prey to habits – e.g. working with XYZ process or abc agency just because they were working well so far.
An important thing to master your worries is to accept you can fail. There’s just immense you can learn and further teach by first acknowledging that you don’t know everything and that you failed. Second take a step back to introspect and analyse what went wrong. Third, summarise the experience into a learning.
IV: Worrying that the gut feel doesn’t work anymore
While many of us are indeed blessed with winning gut feels, 99% of us are not. Gut feel is nothing but experience and intuition taking over in collusion. Well, to be consistent, factual and grounded, I say trust the data more than the gut feel. Gut feel may let you down, data wont.
As founders we often love to get into war stories and talk with pride of our battle scars. There’s just too less of us who focus on the data.
Data guides the way.
My current venture Alore CRM is actually my second venture. When I started as an entrepreneur, I first started with a news aggregator app Plash in 2013. I scaled it up to a million downloads. I could do that because I went crazy after the data. Within days, my team and I knew exactly what genre of articles posted at what exact time of the day, would fetch the best results. We even knew how many likes we needed for each genre and sub-genre to ensure that the share velocity increased enough to lead to virality- basically aiming to hack or tame the algorithms. Undoubtedly, we focused on the quality of the content, but distribution mattered more and the biggest factor in deciding distribution was data.
Well its another story that the business failed because of monetization being an issue and marketers not having enough focus on mobile ads then. However, the data always stood firm to help me do right at all times and that’s what I’d like you to take away from my experience.
V: Worrying about leadership:
A lot of founders tend to worry about their leadership style. Its not that they think they’re any less or doing wrong. It’s just that some tend to lead by micromanaging and wondering why others in the team are constantly ineffective. Some tend to give too much leeway that the team think “one learns swimming best when thrown into the ocean”. Again, in this case the employees and team struggles feeling cut off or lost.
Go for inclusive leadership. Empower your team to lead. If all the team members are of almost similar experience, then you could even give rotational leadership a try where every fortnight a different person is responsible for the team’s output. As a startup or young company, you have the gift of experimenting being easier. Try what works for your team and see when your business was most productive.
To conclude, I’d just say if something worries you, get into the root cause of why. Ask yourself the “Why ” five times. Drill down to the real cause and thereafter go all out trying to resolve the issue. Startup life should energise you. It should internally motivate you to be your best like nothing else ever could. Keep it such.
Hope it clears a thought or two for you.