I’ve had to muster every bit of internal strength to keep focused on the job at hand. I’ve also had to gain succor from friends and family to keep me going. I’m through it all now but one thing is for sure, now I’ve hit these lows I know what to expect next time and I believe I will have the experience to get out of it quicker.
It’s been a month of telling lessons. I thought I knew what it meant to be an entrepreneur, I thought I had experienced all the crap there was to experience but as they say, it’s darkest just before the dawn and now I think I can see some chards of light stretching out from the dark clouds.
So what happened this month to make it such a trying 4 weeks?
Nothing in particular, more a culmination of moving to a new town, having young children completely out of routine, spending way too much money on the move and getting worried about dwindling finances…you start to question whether its worth it. You start to question if you can last the distance, not just mentally, but the basics of needing money to keep my family going.
In a home office that is frequently invaded by three small children, creative thinking is difficult if not impossible, making calls is a luxury and tempers get frayed. My solution was to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Make the call when you get 5 minutes, when the baby is asleep or the 4 year old is at kindy… make a list of things to do and slog through it, one grinding task at a time.
In the midst of all this one of our pilot towns started to look unlikely. Hardly anyone was turning up for meetings designed to get the group incorporated and eventually I had to make the decision to put it on hold as it was straining my finances and certainly not fair on the other town that had responded quickly, enthusiastically and with vigour to the opportunity.
Amongst all this you inevitably start to ask the questions…‘Am I actually any good at this?’ ‘Can I do it?’ ‘Am I worthy of even being able to attempt such a thing?’ ‘Failure is going to make my life hollow isn’t it?’ All these questions were running through my mind. The self-doubt was setting in and it really made everything very scary.
On the family front looking to the future became difficult. My wife and I are in our early 40s, we have a 3 and 4 year old and 15 month old toddler. How much longer could we continue to put plans for their future on hold just to create something we passionately believe needs to be done?
It sounds like a cliché but it’s true that if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. It’s much easier to get a job, pay a mortgage and keep your head down.
So the strains and stresses of the innovative enterprise start-up were finally taking their toll and yes, I had my moments when if it wasn’t for my wife I probably would’ve thrown in the towel. Indeed, luckily on different days, there were times when if it wasn’t for me, she may have thrown in the towel too!
Let’s hope we’re never negatively in synch!
I dragged myself to meetings and moped around. I certainly haven’t been a good example of a motivational leader over the past 4 weeks.Finally, after putting one foot in front of the other for all this time, I had a conversation with a potential sponsor last Wednesday night. The answer was yes, they would support us and then this morning, another message on my mobile led me into a conversation with the personal assistant of a wealthy Australian who has agreed to provide a substantial amount of funding for our pilots.
I cried. So did my wife and all of a sudden I have a spring in my step again.
So although the last month or so has been trying, I must admit I have learned some things…or maybe I just re-learned them. These things are essential for anyone who wants to start something that few have tried before, something that breaks new ground or demands new ways of thinking.
The way I see it, entrepreneurs need this basic kit. Without it they will almost certainly fail.
1. A partner who is prepared to be part of the journey and live it with you, not just ‘supporting’ it. Otherwise, you may as well be single.
2. Lots of spare cash or be prepared to supplement your income in unrelated fields. For me, I have had to take a few photography gigs to help make ends meet.
3. Flexibility. Be prepared to listen to others AND do what they suggest, even though it may not be the ideal you have in your head for your concept. This is a hard one to judge but I tend to have a few criteria I run through my head to determine if the advice I am getting is worth it.
a. Does the advisor have more experience and knowledge than me on the subject they are advising on? If yes, I listen intently. If no, I still listen but I’m more prepared to back myself if their thinking has holes in it.
b. If I stick stubbornly to my ideals will I likely see no result as opposed to a small compromise to gain some result? If being stubborn will lead to no result, then why stick to my guns? My vision isn’t going to work at all then is it?
c. If I do compromise, will it be so big a shift that it removes all the purpose for the original idea? If it would, it’s probably advice not worth listening to. Better to back myself and maybe fail than give up on the very reason I was driven to implement the idea in the first place, which is a form of failure in my book anyway.
4. Have lots of advisors, especially ones you don’t often agree with.
5. Realise you’re not the only one with the good ideas and people don’t actually expect you to have them all. If you think that you have to have all the answers just to save face you’re going to look like a bigger fool than by encouraging people to help you and thanking them for it.
6. Persist – slowly at times…one step at a time.
7. Be open, honest and authentic. Don’t even consider being dodgy, even for a big gain at apparently small risk. It’s never small. People will continue to do business with honest people. People who aren’t eventually burn all their bridges.
8. Don’t depend on any one group or person for your success. Spread your risks. If you get someone telling you they will give you some money at the first meeting, chances are they are full of the proverbial. The inexperienced will probably say ‘great, we’ve done it!’ and forget about other opportunities at that point. Big mistake. Big talkers are usually subconsciously trying to impress you. They are the most likely to go back on their word at some point (usually after stringing you along for months). Better to say to yourself, ‘well, that’s one opportunity’ and look for some more just in case that one falls through.
9. Understand that your proposals must be matched to the recipient. Pitching to a business owner or leader takes 2 minutes. Pitching to government or someone who doesn’t run a business (some middle managers in a business included) takes months. How much time do you have? Bureaucracy and business work differently. Business people want a return but they (good ones that is) are used to making effective quick decisions. Don’t give them reams of paper, just an honest and exciting story and tell them what they will get out of it. Be true to your word and follow through. Bureaucrats want to make sure they don’t stuff up, lose their job or make headlines for their boss – they follow the rules and there are lots of them. They need the dots on the ‘I’ and put the cross on the ‘t’. Give them lots of paperwork in fine detail.
10. Trust everyone but get it in writing anyway.