To anyone nervous about starting a business or breaking away from the traditional career path, what has been your biggest obstacle (other than money) when pursuing a startup idea?
I’ve always been perceived as a strong person who can succeed with little-to-no help. Now that I’ve taken on a huge endeavor in starting my own company, I need more support than ever. However, there’s one major issue- my support system has no idea how to help. Below is my perspective on how others can help me (and other entrepreneurs), if they so choose:
The reality is entrepreneurship is extremely difficult. Often, people hear this and say, “But, you chose this path.” My response is this path chose me. Even though I wholeheartedly believe in it, it’s harder than anything I’ve ever done. This mission requires a ton of the following: time, effort, learning, strategizing, emotional balancing, perseverance, patience, trust, fear and risk tolerance, plus a perfect blend of humility, curiosity and confidence. And truthfully, it’s exhausting.
Here’s why I’m so busy: I’m a solo founder. I am fortunate to have a team around me, but for a long time, I didn’t. As the sole leader of that team, if I don’t run the show, no one will. If I don’t support our clients, no one will. If I don’t run the marketing efforts to ensure the growth of our company, we will die off. If I don’t research the market, we’ll lose out. If I don’t figure out how to protect ourselves from a legal standpoint, we’ll be run over. And lastly, if I don’t create a successful web platform, we will have no product to offer. I am essentially running all facets of this business, and without me delegating to the rest of the team, our company and brand will not move forward.
Here’s how I feel about all this: I often hate it. I want to relax and hang out and have a normal life again; and now that I’ve built it up to this point, I feel that I can’t turn back. I don’t want to turn back, but it requires so many things from one person. At the end of the day, I am only human and can only do so much. It’s a long road ahead. I know I will need to sacrifice a lot of time and money to invest in the potential success of this vision. I have to ask others on my team to make sacrifices as well, so that together, we can build something great for the world. Belief in my work keeps me motivated, but no real sense of security coupled with numerous uncertainties, leaves me scared as hell. I never know if I’m making the right decision. I spend plenty of time learning, asking questions, and making sure I don’t mess this up, but I know mistakes are inevitable. In reality, they will be used as stepping stones. While I believe in our goal, it all falls on me, and it’s a ton of pressure. When I finally feel like I can relax, everything is still running through my mind. If I decide to take a break to reinstate balance in my life, I am filled with guilt; I feel I’m wasting valuable time. There is constantly a plethora of these emotions- another phenomenon I’m still getting used to.
Here’s what I need you to understand: When I explain how hard my journey is, it’s because I work 12-14 hours a day and have no income. I am NOT comparing myself to you or your stress- I want to understand your stress and help you through it. But when I vent to you, I want you to simply listen. I want you to understand that I may worry slightly more than you because at the very least, you have a secure income, and I may not feel that sense of security for another 10 years. Know that every day is different than the last. Some days are great when I am learning and can do things I’m good at and love; however, most days, I’m struggling by taking on a new challenge. I have been forced to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Things change so quickly. While you used to know me as a routine-oriented person, I’ve had to embrace flexibility. I have been forced to circumvent a weakness that I never thought I could because I know that being flexible is a core requirement for any startup that wants to be operating tomorrow. Most importantly, I must pay attention to myself: my strengths and weaknesses, my blind spots, and even my emotional state. It directly impacts the business.
The reality and bottom line is: This is my job now- a full time gig that pays me nothing. Although I find having peers in similar situations typically offers the most support, I strive to build a world where we can understand people who are going through something completely different. I want to be able to share this with you, friend, in a way that you truly understand, so hopefully you can support me through it.
Know that when I tell you about an achievement or a struggle, I simply want you to listen and acknowledge that you hear me. I don’t necessarily need you to tell me how to feel or react; simply be there for me. Acknowledge why you see that situation is exciting or difficult.
Understand when I share something with you, it is not me saying I am more stressed than you. Please try to acknowledge the complexities of being chiefly responsible for the creation and oversight of a new business, while handling all of the fear and the risks.
When I share my thoughts with you, ask about the issue, rather than immediately telling me your perspective. The situation is from me and my standpoint, not from yours. When I need help or another opinion, I will ask for it; I’m acutely aware of what I don’t know. Mostly, what I need more than advice, is support—know that they are different.
Realize that when I share situations with you, I will not boast. I rely on others to help me celebrate good moments, because even in good moments, I feel scared. I may even feel unworthy.
Show up. I won’t always beg you to be at my “shows,” but realize when we have a rare moment to invite others into our world, it’s an amazing opportunity to get an update on how I’m doing, what I’m doing, and to show me that you’re interested.
Understand that being a startup founder isn’t “glamorous.” In the early stages, before you see and hear media’s take on these companies, the lifestyle is extremely rigorous. Dealing with such risk for an extended period of time can truly affect one’s mental health and I can certainly feel it affecting mine.
If you recognize my stress- rather than assuming I want space, show support by asking what I may need.
In conclusion (I have to put one last plug here) -- If we ask for a small favor to leverage your knowledge or network, realize that your time and expertise can go a very long way. Time is precious and our resources are scarce. Startups often take a village to get off the ground -- you are that village. Your support extends as far as you are willing, and we need all the help we can get.
When in doubt, simply ask questions. This, I think, is a great rule of thumb for many situations in life. My greatest hope is that I can relate to others and they can relate to me. Empathy and active listening is the key. In my mind, these are the requirements of a supportive friend, but it’s not something we’re taught in school; it’s something we choose to learn as we grow up. I believe empathy is a skill that must be learned and practiced. My friend, this is what I need from you, and this is what I vouch to give to you as well.