entrepreneurs

The Most Valuable Startup Resource

 

As an entrepreneur, what’s your most valuable resource?

Your colleagues? Your network? Ideas? Money? Time?

All crucial, but this one tops the list:

Your pool of mental energy. 

Just like the physical energy required to run a marathon, you need a big ol’ pool of mental energy for the psychological demands of building a business. It’s common sense but often de-prioritized amidst the startup whirlwind. It’s a prerequisite. It’s what makes everything possible.

When your pool is full you can take on the world. When it’s drained maybe you can go through the motions but your company needs way more than that. And if it’s drained too much of the time, there’s the ever-present risk of depression and complete burnout.

Things that can fill your pool: positivity, a healthy lifestyle, helping others, amazing friends and coworkers, getting awesome results by focusing on key tasks.

Things that drain your pool: negative thoughts like resenting your competition, taking poor care of yourself, engaging in flame wars, team drama. Really anything that detracts from the laser focus on your mission.

Be aware of your pool and guard it closely. Don’t let yourself or others drain it. If you treat it like the precious resource it is, amazing things can happen!

What Does a Mission Look Like?

A couple days ago Micah Baldwin was kind enough to pay us a visit in KC at the Sprint Accelerator powered by Techstars. It was awesome. He covered lots of topics, and one was the importance of being on a mission. To succeed as a founder you must have the passion, the drive, a mission because startups are so fucking hard you’re gonna need every ounce of conviction to get through the tough times. And I agree 100%.

It got me thinking: what should “being on a mission” look like? Working 16 hours a day, seven days a week? To me that’s obsession, mission’s vampire cousin that sucks the life from you and your loved ones. How about a 40-hour work week, spending every night and weekend with friends and the fam? Nice thought, but it instantly puts you behind your competitors who are busting their asses every day to win.

Brad Feld also spoke to our startups about some of the same things. His main topic was work-life, and he was very careful not to call it “work-life balance”. I’ve seen some founders put illogical limits on their hours – like no more than 50/week – because they see “work-life balance” everywhere. There’s no perfect work-life balance in a startup. The reason why both Brad and Micah came up with certain strategies – doing one thing for yourself each day; giving yourself some time first thing in the morning – is because they know from experience startup life is a shit-ton of work. And you should want to put in the time. But if you completely ignore yourself or loved ones you’ll eventually implode.

(Aside: the main reason I love listening to Brad and Micah is their 100% honesty. No bullshit, no ulterior motives. Pure awesome.)

So it makes sense that if you’re hell-bent on startup success, 40-50 hours a week isn’t gonna cut it and 100 will likely destroy you. Somewhere in between, find the maximum possible workload that lets you maintain your health and relationships. If you can do this – great! You only have 1,000 other things you need to get right.

Now get back to your mission!

Fearing Failure: Go Big or Go Home

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Fear of failure is a popular theme for today’s entrepreneurs. There are powerful stories of entrepreneurs failing at their businesses, and how they respond. Some go on to achieve great things; others let it define them with tragic results.

What could be worse than failing at your business?

Failing at your business is horrible so I’m not diminishing it when I say there’s a much larger failure to fear: Big Failure. What is it? Imagine getting to the end of your professional life and feeling like your career failed. Not once. Not twice. But for your whole life. Big regrets. Big. Failure.

Damn. Heavy.

(And I don’t agree that all true entrepreneurs successfully start and run businesses. People are more complex than that. A topic for another post.)

Fear of failing at your business can make your business fail.

My father went through this. On a personal level he was very successful. In business his fear of failing at individual ventures kept him at a corporate career he hated. For decades he stifled his entrepreneurial instincts. We never talked about it. But it was obvious that, ironically, his fear of smaller failures resulted in feeling like his entire professional life was a failure. I think it was his only real regret.

Entrepreneurs are naturally consumed by the immediate future. They’re not thinking about how they’ll feel in 40 years. They need to win now and are often terrified of failing. But that fear can create failure by paralyzing them. They hesitate while their bolder competitors seize opportunities.

Big Failure kicks other failures’ asses.

Having no fear is great. But if you’re gonna fear failure, harness the fear of Big Failure. Use it to mitigate the fear of individual business failures. The goal should be a successful career and a career is more than one company. Think massive, be bold, and follow your instincts. Your older self will thank you for it.

Rockstar or One-Hit Wonder?

The term “rockstar” gets thrown around a lot in the startup world. It’s supposed to mean someone who’s awesome at what they do, perhaps in the 98th percentile compared to their peers. Some startups will issue a press release touting their latest hire as “a rockstar in the {insert expertise here} world.”

But it seems many are lumped into this category without having much to show for it. Did someone have a cool title at a hot startup for a year, then left before achieving anything significant? What about a “star” developer who can’t show you any examples of what he’s built?

I’ve worked for companies of all sizes. My own personal experience: I’ve seen more rockstars at Fortune 500s than at startups. The real stars don’t achieve excellent results just once; excellence is who they are. Give them any project and they’ll not only crush it, they’ll crush it in a way that makes others want to work with them and makes their bosses look really smart. Their results are awesome and real.

So if the term must be used, let’s at least reserve it for those who earned it. Otherwise your latest rockstar hire may turn out to be a one-hit wonder.

Passion vs. The Emotional Rollercoaster

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Founders need to be passionate about their business. But as a startup grows it can be difficult for entrepreneurs to separate passion from unhealthy emotional reactions. They’ve probably poured their heart and soul (and maybe money) into the venture. It’s their baby, and it’s personal. But if they take every up and down personally, they’ve bought a ticket on the emotional rollercoaster. And the results are going to make everyone nauseous.

I’ve witnessed the amusement park founder in action. On good days (e.g. glowing media coverage) he thought his team was invincible. On bad days (running out of money) he would scream in an employee’s face in front of everyone, ranting about their incompetence. Emotionally ill equipped, eventually he refused to give up control and the company went under.

It may require strategies to emotionally invest in longer term goals instead of daily wins and losses. But if leaders can keep the passion burning and stay off that rollercoaster, everyone can enjoy the ride.

The Perks of Being an Obsessive

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Einstein once said “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” He was ridiculously humble, and knew first-hand the benefits of being an Obsessive.

An Obsessive is defined as someone whose thoughts or feelings are dominated by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc. In other words, it’s part of who they are. While some people may feel obsessed with an idea from time to time, Obsessives always have a need to fixate on something. This is especially true of serial entrepreneurs. When they say they have a “mission”, it’s a socially acceptable way of saying they’re obsessed. It’s second nature, an integral part of their personality and business approach.

Lots of people preach about work-life balance, but this is a fallacy in the startup world. Yes, ignoring your personal life is bad. Take heed when your partner asks you to be less obsessive about personal stuff. But if your thoughts aren’t dominated by how your venture will win, it probably won’t.

All sucessful serial entrepreneurs aren’t Einsteins but they are all obsessive. Being an Obsessive often gets a bad rap, but don’t stifle it – embrace it for your business. Stay with problems longer than your competition. And when you succeed, be humble like Albert.

The Visitor with a Blank Slate

Imagine for a minute that you woke up one morning and realized you were transported to a parallel dimension. It looks the same as your previous life and your memories contain the same events, but they feel different. You start to figure out why.

Recalling the good times makes you grin as always. But you feel no emotional attachment to any of the bad times. No lingering frustrations, resentments, or disappointments. But that’s not all.

Your career. That boss you hated? The promotion you didn’t get? Your startup that crashed and burned in spectacular fashion? None of it drags you down anymore. Actually you feel like you’re being propelled onward and upward.

In this parallel dimension, you’re a blank slate. You aren’t afraid of failing or what other people think. Suddenly the ideas start flowing and all you can think about is which one you’re going to build your next company around.

Since you’re a visitor in this new life, you don’t know how long you’re gonna be around. A year? A month? A week? Better get this party started.

Now stop imagining. Wouldn’t it be great to live in that parallel dimension? See where this is going?

Anyone can be a visitor with a blank slate. You just have put in the work to learn from negative experiences without being constrained by them. And we’re all visitors of course. Tomorrow could be our last day. No time to waste.

Onward and upward!