Startups are not all unicorns and IPOs. The startup struggle is real.
You ever see that image about success with the straight arrow going up on the left that reads, “What people think it looks like,” and then a squiggly arrow on the right that wraps itself in loops and looks like a mess and states, “What it really looks like”? The more experienced I get, the more real that depiction becomes.
I’m not here to write about watered-down BS than can be found in any self-help book. I want to keep it real with you, as I’m interested in building authentic, genuine business relationships with all of my readers. It’s the reason why I write about my personal struggles (How My Life As An Entrepreneur Shaped My Time In Prison, 3 Lessons Learned From My Failed Business With A Guy I Met On Craigslist and 6 Life Hacks Learned In Prison That Will Maximize Your Productivity), not just my success.
Here's a brief timeline of my personal startup struggles:
- In 2011, I was building one of my startups. I had sold my car to have extra cash on my fundraising road. In the 11th hour, when my savings was about to run out, and all of my bills compounded and rent due, I received a six-figure investment.
- That same year, after building my companies for the past two years, just as things were starting to take off, I was sent away to prison for two years and lost everything.
- In 2013, I had $200 to my name and a whole lot of ambition.
- Later that year, while working with another person, our relationship went sour and all of my clients and funds were gone. I had to scramble again to figure out how to keep persevering in the face of negative circumstances.
Startup struggles happen, and it’s at these points that our strength, tenacity, resiliency, courage and motives as entrepreneurs are tested and sharpened. Here are some tips and examples of struggles of other entrepreneurs to help you get through these rough patches:
1. Realize you’re in good company.
Henry Ford went broke five times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company. Bill Gates failed with his first business, Traf-O-Data. Steve Jobs was kicked out of Apple. While J.K. Rowling was writing the original Harry Potter book, her life was a self-described mess: she was going through a divorce and living on government aid and in a tiny apartment with her daughter before building her $15-billion brand.
Reading stories about successful entrepreneurs is encouraging and helpful. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely, and when we realize we’re in good company it alleviates pressure from difficult circumstances.
2. Embrace change.
There are countless examples of entrepreneurs, technologies and companies disrupting competitors, business models and entire industries. Look at what Facebook did to MySpace, Napster to the music industry, Craigslist to local newspapers and Amazon to bookstores (and countless other spaces). The disruption occurs when companies fail to embrace underlying change.
As entrepreneurs, we must realize there are countless opportunities in times of change. The reality is that change is typically a threat, something (a situation, competitor or technology) that can cause damage to your business, and if we don’t embrace the change we risk total extinction. A great book to read that helps explain this is the Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen.
3. Get creative.
Did you know the glue used on Post-it Notes was created by accident when scientists were trying to create a super adhesive for space exploration? Talk about getting creative.
More often than not, the struggle will force you to get creative about how you’re approaching your startup. I've learned that it is in these lows I find my most creative ideas.
4. Develop your resiliency.
Mark Suster, the outspoken Los Angeles venture capitalist from bothsidesofthetable.com and Upfront Ventures, wrote about his personal story of resiliency when his company was out of cash and scrambling to figure out its next steps.
Many have said resiliency is the most important trait an entrepreneur can possess. Resiliency is a learned trait that can be the result of personal or professional experiences, so it is great to realize that when you're being tested you're most likely building resiliency.
5. Focus on the big vision.
Early on when building his first company with his brother, Elon Musk used to sleep on a couch and would shower at the YMCA. When building Tesla and SpaceX, Musk was down to his last $3 million and had to sign it over to make payroll for Tesla as the company floundered to find its market position. He never doubted his vision, and went all in.
Big vision can help you look past obstacles and tough circumstances. Keeping your focus on the big vision will empower you and your team to overcome in the face of your wildest adversity.
Startup success takes work. Nobody said it was easy, but it’s worth it. Use your struggles to help you develop the necessary skills that will ultimately lead to success.
I’ve created a Facebook group for entrepreneurs to share advice, work with each other and ask questions to get better at being entrepreneurs. Join me and about 6,000 other entrepreneurs. Request an invite here.