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We all come to turning points in our lives. Decisions we make in those moments can shape our entire business and life. In the startup world, this couldn't be truer.
When my co-founder Zach Yungst approached me about starting a catering-delivery startup together (later to be named Cater2.me), I was exhilarated by the prospect of a new venture and the potential to achieve success far beyond what I’d be able to accomplish in the corporate world. I had come from a household of successful parents, graduated from an Ivy League school and worked for a top-tier consulting agency. If anyone was prepared for this, it was me. Or so I thought.
After being open for about six months, I hit a wall back in April 2011. I had been putting in more than 100 hours a week, with little to show for it. The company wasn't progressing as quickly as we had expected, and we weren’t sure we could scale to make the business worthwhile. During that time, I started to question if I made the right decision. (I had moved cross-country away from my fiancée, my network of friends and my prestigious job at a management-consulting company.)
One weekend, I decided to take a drive to the ocean to clear my head and think about what I wanted in my life. After a lot of soul searching, I decided to continue down the startup path. And I am glad I did. The company now has locations in six cities, more than 60 employees and is continuing to grow rapidly.
As I look back to why I was ready to quit, I realize it was because I still hadn’t fully burned my bridges back to my old life. I still had the thought that I could go back to how things used to be. Over time, I realized that holding onto that lifeline turned out to be what was holding me back.
It wasn’t until I had cut off my escape route that I could truly focus on the way forward. From then on, I started each day by telling myself that what others thought (or what I thought they thought) didn’t matter, it was all about my own focus on the task at hand. Just making that choice didn’t guarantee success, but if I continued on and later failed, I at least knew that I would have given my all and had no reservations.
Starting a business requires total dedication and allowing yourself a safety line can be enough to keep you from being able to give it everything you have.
Here is what I learned about just letting go.
Survival mode sets in. When you no longer have a crutch to lean on, you realize your startup is all you have. While this can be petrifying, it can also help put you in a mindset where every decision is crucial to the success of the business. Nothing was too small or insignificant -- if it affected the business, it became my sole focus.
Perception changes. When I had an easy way out, I was bitter about the sacrifices that I was making, because my life had been so much easier before I became an entrepreneur. Once I burned my bridges, I saw the sacrifices as the first steps towards the lofty goals I had set when I started. I saw each new roadblock as a challenge to overcome, not as a wall that couldn’t be surmounted.
Priorities shift. Before I was constantly questioning whether I had made the right decision but after letting go, I realized I couldn’t succeed unless I saw the business as an extension of myself. This shift allowed me to prioritize the business above all else and simplified and clarified my direction.
Keep in mind, by proposing that people burn their bridge, I’m not suggesting throwing caution to the wind. Before moving forward with a startup idea, people need to make sure there is a product-market fit, will have the tools to execute and can scale the concept. Throughout our startup process, we used lean startup principles and didn’t take large, uncalculated risks.
What makes most startups successful is the will to overcome challenge after challenge. The hard truth is that genius insights and breakthroughs are often the result of fear of failure.