The Startup Tribe – Lay The Foundations
Theme #2 – Entrepreneur Mindset
How do I look after myself on this journey?
In this phase of your Startup Journey you will:
Get a better understanding of what people mean by the entrepreneurial rollercoaster.
Find ways to create a surplus of time, money or energy to free you up to work on your startup.
Build an understanding of how your mind is capable of sabotaging your startup efforts.
Develop new mindsets and behaviours that will best serve you on your journey into the unknown.
Starting a business is hard. You’ll learn more in a year of entrepreneurship than most people do in 5 years in normal jobs. Building a startup will challenge you personally and emotionally. It is important to look after yourself well on this journey, surround yourself with good people, and take care of your body and mind.
Set yourself up for success
You are creating value out of thin air. The odds are stacked against you. All your competitors and comparable organisations have more resources, more reputation and more experience than you. What do you have? You have your size and your attitude. You are able to change direction quicker than them. You are able to behave creatively in ways that they can’t because they are more established. Be brave, be cheeky, be opportunistic – hustle.
Create your own gravity
In the early days you’ll chase every lead. There’s a certain amount of momentum in startups that comes straight from the founder’s sheer bloody-mindedness and determination. You’ll do things manually that will seem like madness in future. You will have conversations that seem like they led nowhere. However, if you maintain an open mindset you’ll learn something from everyone and you can never predict who will come back around in future.
The counter point to the manic busyness of the early stages is the requirement to keep the main thing the main thing. In the early days you’ll be so pleased to receive emails that you’ll reply to junk-mail. At any given stage only 1-2 things on your massive to-do list will really make the difference between success and failure in the long-term. Your challenge is to figure out which things matter and maintain the discipline to just focus on them.
Find partners in crime
Finding a co-founder is good advice. Co-founders help each other through the tough times and share the exciting high-five moments. However, it’s not always possible to find the right person at the right time and it’s certainly not a relationship you can force. If you don’t have a co-founder, the next best thing is to find or create a peer group of founders at similar stages who you can meet with regularly to support each other on your journeys.
Build a business, not a job
You don’t want to wake up one day and realise you have created a job for yourself (a job you can’t escape). Especially since, unlike your old job, this one pays badly, you carry all the responsibility and you can never switch off. However, unlike your job, this is you investing in you whether or not it works out. Although you will do lots of manual work at the start, what’s important is that you design your business so it can eventually work without you.
Manage the challenges
When you’re building a startup it is easy to compare yourself to everyone else – your fellow Startup Tribers, the unicorn billion-dollar entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and every startup in between. What’s more, you’ll be comparing your inside story (warts and all) with other peoples’ outside stories (PR, bragging, and marketing). This is the perfect combination for feeling inadequate. Keep your definitions of success your own.
There will be no shortage of people lining up to tell you why your idea isn’t going to work and that you’re mad for leaving your job. Unfortunately some of these people will be very close to you – and they will give you this advice sincerely because they care about you being OK. There’s no easy way to protect yourself – smile and shrug, thank people for their concern, and surround yourself with likeminds. Don’t waste energy trying to convert the nonbelievers!
Balance humility with determination
The flipside of protecting yourself from naysayers is avoiding being so fused to your idea that you’re unwilling to change or improve it. As an entrepreneur you need to be confident and determined enough to believe you can invent something out of nothing – but without departing from the realm of what’s possible altogether! This is a fine balance – especially around the large amounts of advice you will receive – and the solution is to practice self-awareness.
Look after your health
Such obvious advice but as it so hard to stay disciplined on this front it bears repeating. The bottom line is that your body is capable of a lot of hard work if you look after it well. This means getting enough sleep, not handicapping yourself with hangovers, exercising, eating well, and taking time out to recover. Short-term gains from working unsustainably hard are always wiped out by the long-term cost – no matter how urgent the work seemed at the time.
Saying ‘no’ is really hard. In the early days you’ll be so thrilled to receive emails that you’ll reply to junk-mail. At that stage you’ll follow up every lead and have time to speak to anyone – no matter how tenuous the link to your business. I spent a lot of time fielding phone calls from people trying to buy farms in Wales through Escape the City (it’s still not a bad idea!). However, as you get to a stage where you have clear priorities and more work than you can do in any given day you need to start saying no. Saying no politely but firmly is so much better than saying yes, over-committing and then under-delivering.
It’s a very personal journey
I had wrongly assumed that starting a business is a professional / work-related challenge. You have an idea, you work your butt off, you try and turn it into a reality. The truth is that starting any business is a really personal experience. Try as you might, you’ll identify very closely with your business. It’s your baby, your idea. So when someone criticises it or something goes wrong – you’ll feel like you’re being criticised or something is wrong with you. There’s not much you can do here other than be aware that you’ll learn as much about yourself as you will about business. And to try not to take it personally.
Go on an information diet if necessary
Having said that, there is a delicate turning point – and you have to really watch out for it – where all the external information can become too much. All the noise and advice can get demoralising. You’ve read everything there is to read and all you want to do is execute on your plans but you’re feeling stuck in a whirlpool of success stories and gurus offering their two cents worth. When this happens just unplug from everything and carry on with your plans.
Linked to the previous point… the world is full of all different types of people. It’s one of the reasons why life is so exciting. Optimists and pessimists, cynics and enthusiasts. I’m sure you know where I’m heading with this one. When you’re starting a business (or making any big life change for that matter) you really need to surround yourself with glass-half-full people. You need all the buoyancy you can get. The tricky thing is that often those closest to you will be the ones telling you that your plans are a bad idea. There’s very little you can do other than tell them that you’re really excited about your plans and that you’d appreciate their support.
Don’t just create another job
Enjoy yourself. Presumably you’re quitting your corporate job because you want to do work that matters to you, build something for yourself, and generally appreciate life more. It is very very easy (that easy yes) to fall into your old ways of working. Before you know it you’ve essentially created a job for yourself. Only difference is that your new job sees you sitting at your kitchen table in your pyjamas staring at a brand new Macbook Pro. Give yourself a break. Work from wherever you want. Take random days off just because you can. Work all night and then sleep till lunchtime. Don’t just act like another corporate drone!
Those who know me will laugh at the inclusion of this point because I’m not very good at dealing with uncertainty. The good side of this is that I’m always anticipating scenarios and planning. The bad side is that when you take the big leap into the unknown you just can’t know how things are going to turn out. Actually the title of this point shouldn’t be ‘accept uncertainty’ but ‘enjoy uncertainty. Presumably you want to escape a big company because you want excitement and dynamism… you’re fed up with bureaucracy and process? In that case, accept that you can’t control everything. Enjoy the ride.
Focus on the next task
From where you’re sitting (or from where I’m sitting)… the thought of ever reaching the point that you’re aiming at (whatever you have defined ‘success’ as) can be very daunting. How many thousands of emails and millions of seconds will have to pass before you have achieved your goals? The best thing to do when you’re taken over by ‘Oh my god this is madness, we’ll never be able to pull this off’ is to focus on the next thing on your to-do list. Actually, before that, make sure you have the right to-do list (it’s so easy to waste time on the wrong things). Be strict with yourself. Then just bash through the tasks.
You’ll achieve less in a week than you expect – more in a year
Someone said this to me a while ago. Can’t remember who so I’ll just have to claim it as my own. It’s very true. I never get through my weekly to-do list. I barely even achieve half of it. Urgent stuff always gets in the way (PS. It’s never usually urgent). However, when you look at where you were a year ago you can feel dizzy with how much things have moved on. The same is true in jobs and careers. Week-by-week you are slowly pushing the big boulder up the hill. Stop and have a think about how far you’ve come… I think you’ll be surprised.
- Analyse the parts of your mindset that might not serve you on a more independent or entrepreneurial path.
- Develop a set of principles, mantras or philosophies to support you in building a career on your terms.
- Practice new mental habits and wellbeing tactics to fortify you through what can be a challenging process.
- Spot the differences between your fear of the unknown and genuine risks that need managing.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (you don’t have to be mentally ill for CBT to be incredibly helpful)
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