Tales of startup success are some of the most compelling in the business world. They’re exciting, representing the fulfillment of a wildly cherished dream and affirming the possibility that each one of us can pursue our own ambitions, make our own money, give back where we feel it’s needed and leave a glowing legacy behind.
Tales of startup success are also exceptionally rare. While the widely disseminated statistic that 90% of businesses fail in their first year is certainly hyperbolic, there is a reason that it is recited so often — it hits home the important point that starting a business is really, really hard and really, really risky. Success will often feel elusive, and failure imminent. And if you do succeed, it will only be after years of sacrifice and dogged perseverance.
Managing the range of emotions that come up for me as part of this intensive process so I can remain effective in leading my business is one of the hardest things I have had to do. So, if you are launching your business, or are already mid-flight, then perhaps a few insights I have gained through experience might help you navigate the process so you can also remain effective in building your business.
Stay calm and be patient. You make your best decisions when you are calm. As you build your company, you will face uncomfortable situations on a daily basis. In order to address these situations successfully, you need to be calm so you can think clearly, evaluate thoroughly and develop the most sound, reasoned decisions in any given circumstance.
Staying calm can be challenging at moments, but you need to make a conscious effort to do so. You must find your calming ritual and practice it diligently; it will be one of the most important rituals you will ever practice and a critical aid in navigating the choppy emotional waters that are invariably part of building a business. What is my calming ritual? I stopped multitasking and make a point to step away from my work for five to ten minutes every hour. This helps me stay grounded, gives my mind (and body) a chance to reset and is a great way to get unstuck when I find myself puzzling through a challenging moment.
Be patient, because the billions of interactions happening every second make it impossible for any one of us to control outcomes. Accepting how little control we really have is the first step in cultivating patience. This acceptance will also help remove the burden of speculating about outcomes, and allow you to better focus on accomplishing whatever task is immediately in front of you to the best of your ability, which is something you can control.
Be thick-skinned. In the beginning, most people you come across — investors, collaborators, experts, suppliers, potential customers, friends, family — will not support or will reject your idea. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged by constant negative feedback, but it’s important to keep that input in perspective. Innovations as ubiquitous as coffee, electricity and recorded music faced years of demonization and stigmatization before they were proven successful. Make peace with this fact, and accept that it is your responsibility as an entrepreneur to fight against the currents of prevailing norms and to make your own wave.
Work hard. Really, really hard. And be resilient; it’s up to you to drive your business. Determination, persistence and confidence have the ability to inspire people. If you allow yourself to grow complacent, what’s to stop your investors from losing interest as well? Remember, if you’re committed to seeing your business succeed, all other aspects of your life will fall into balance around it. When you’re competing for a chance to transform your industry, it’s OK for your business to define your life. Think of it the way world champion athletes get to the top in their sport — by sacrificing and working hard for years and years.
Be charming. Finally, while most business owners understand the benefits of having an appealing product, too few of us realize we should expect the same qualities of ourselves. As the face of your company, you are its advocate, and there is no better way to promote, excite and inspire than by being a charming storyteller. If charisma isn’t your thing, there are plenty of ways to improve. Watch funny movies, go to stand-up comedy shows or socialize with charismatic people. Being charismatic and humorous will open doors for you in every aspect of your business.
By being calm, patient, thick-skinned, hard-working and humble, you will better be able to manage your emotions, and better able to manage the challenges that come at you on any given day. When you are in control of yourself, you can handle complex situations much better. The ability to navigate one’s complex emotional landscape as part of this process is not a skill set they teach you in business school, but it is the skill set that will allow you to navigate the myriad challenges that come with building a business, including managing all of your stakeholders, securing capital, solving production problems and on and on. Honing these qualities in yourself, internalizing them in your business and modeling them for your team will ensure that you have the solid foundation you need to get through the journey.