Self-esteem is sexy. Confidence for an entrepreneur is like life blood. If you are a founder, you basically set the mood of the whole team. Confidence is a viral thing – it spreads. So do depression and self-doubt.
Founders, hence, have to be very careful. Someone wise once said that in some startups the real job of the founder is to be the chief cheerleader.
We are a small startup with less than 10 people tucked in a corner of Delhi. We have been bootstrapping for more than two years now, and consciously chose not to chase funding. We make do with our revenues. The highs and lows of running a startup keep us on our toes. Through tough competition, missed opportunities, hearing “No” from customers we’re chasing, massive workload, hiring negotiations falling through, and the daily uncertainty (all of which are part of the startup game), how do we keep our confidence intact? How do we boost the energy of the team?
Of course, the best antidote is success – but, it does not grace us every day in measurable quantity. Our vision is like a pole star, but the sky is foggy with uncertainty sometimes. We need inspiration and source of confidence closer at hand.
Here’s my formula, which I want to share with entrepreneurs everywhere. Do let me know how you deal with startup blues as well.
Going for a workout session
What do you do when at the end of the day you are left drained of energy, your productivity hits a low note and self-doubt starts raising its ugly head? I hit the gym. Earlier, I used go for a long run. Working out is therapeutic for entrepreneurs – it keeps the good hormones flowing through the body, and a good physique is a good source of confidence. Even if you are uncertain about everything else, you know at least your health is on the right track.
What is a great way to cut negative thoughts and increase productivity? Richard Branson started over 400 companies. According to him, working out for an hour every day gives him the ability to be productive for four additional hours. That matters, doesn’t it?
I read about this in Tim Ferriss’ ‘The Four Hour Work Week’ long ago, but did not know how important this is until recently when my work schedule and transitioning to a new city was driving me crazy and making me unfit, because I could not find time to work out.
I do not take a monthly or quarterly membership at a gym anymore. I can’t find the time and mind space to be regular, and it kills my sense of discipline when I miss gym back-to-back for several days, despite having a membership. Now, I just negotiate a daily rate with the gym, and know that I will go when I need it the most. This arrangement works best for me, and I have no guilt for not going to the gym when I cannot. Over time, I manage to go to the gym at least thrice a week, which is a big improvement for me.
Running is another great and cheap way to beat the blues. When I started my current business from my bedroom with a colleague in 2012 in a south Bombay flat, I used to run on the Marine Drive religiously. All you need to spend on is nice running shoes! Running is also a great way to get to know some very amazing people, by the way, since a lot of group runs happen these days in many cities.
Talking to the customers
You can’t go to the gym or run every day if you are like me- Not at any random time of the day whenever you are feeling low, at least. My simple solution – call up your best customers and chat with them, ask them what they like about the product, ask what you can improve, ask them to give a testimonial or ask them to refer other people like them. If you are doing good work, customers will help you. They are your best friends. If you are not doing good work, you will know how to improve.
We sell an online course to entrepreneurs and business decision makers, and some of our enrolled students of the course are quite high-profile professionals and entrepreneurs. We call them up and ask for feedback. We ask them how and when the course is helping them, and for a testimonial based on that. This not only cheers up the caller, but the entire team because, now we have proof that we are adding great value to the customers. Of course, it also helps us to know what competitors are offering, and how we can further strengthen our own product. It also improves customer engagement with the course itself. It’s worth the hard work!
Reading about startups
Why did you start up? There usually is some great inspiration for all of us. One great way to beat the startup blues is to connect to that source of inspiration again. When I get some extra time, I read books on startups. Some of my top choices are:
- ‘Founders at Work’ – Amazing interviews of startup founders.
- ‘The Launch Pad: Inside Y-Combinator’ - Stories of startups which were part of the first few batches of Y-Combinator.
- ‘Startup CEO’ by Matt Blumberg
- ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ – Ben Horowitz (this one is a masterpiece if you are a startup founder).
I don’t read the whole book of course, just read one chapter (which is usually the story of just one startup or a crucial phase of a startup). It takes about 10-15 minutes to read so it is not a huge time investment either! Reading these stories will also prepare you for what your startup may face, and spark your imagination, as well as strategic thinking. These books have been a wonderful source of learning apart from being a source of inspiration.
By the way, this does not include reading about your competitors or spending time on HackerNews/ Techcrunch!
Bonus, and the best – help other entrepreneurs with their business!
What can motivate us entrepreneurs more than seeing great ideas at work, the wheels of marketing and sales moving, technology coming to life bit-by-bit? It’s like watching the initial hammer knocks that may eventually make a noticeable dent in the universe. Take out some time every week to motivate other entrepreneurs, lend a hand with whatever skills and network you have. Over time, others will also reciprocate by helping you. This way you can build an environment of support, enthusiasm and positivity around you. Virus of negative emotions and startup blues cannot survive in such an environment!
For example, these days I am trying to assist my friend Vikram Kumar, a serial entrepreneur, with his new product Mnetra, which is trying to make a map of all public utility problems in India. See a pothole? Or maybe a dirty open dustbin on the roadside? Take a snap in the Mnetra app, the mobile eye, and now the problem is listed on a map. Your local council member, activists or the government can see how many potholes or open dustbins are there in your area. Isn’t that amazing? I am trying to help him with my limited skills and resources. Vikram reciprocates by giving me valuable advice on technology requirements at my startup iPleaders.
Similarly, I always make some time to talk to others who want to be entrepreneurs, or have taken the leap and can do with some support. There are a few friends who help us for no particular reason – to name one, Amit Mishra, India manager of F6s.com. I also met a gang of people who help each other in this way at Startup Leadership Program. The Morpheus Gang is another famous example of such entrepreneurial camaraderie.
Let’s do it! We can build an amazing eco-system of entrepreneurial support around us by helping each other more often. Let me know in the comments how you beat your startup blues!