The role of mentors is most crucial in the first 12 months of a startup as a company goes through maximum experiments during this period, and makes numerous changes in its business model.
As a writer covering startups, I have lost count of how many entrepreneurs I have met in the past half-decade. I never declined a meeting with an entrepreneur. Not after my first one. Some of them became mentors, others remained acquaintances while a few are now close friends. Nevertheless, each of them managed to teach me something about life.
I also remember being often told something or the other on the lines of not understanding entrepreneurs because I am not one myself. In this article I attempt to tell my entrepreneur friends that I might not be in your shoes to be able to empathize with you, but I do understand you. Here are a few takeaways about life from my numerous interactions with startup founders:
Value the intangibles in your life
“Life is a lonely journey. All tangibles are temporary. The ones which are forever are all intangibles,” said an entrepreneur friend who had established two startups over a span of four years, building fresh teams from scratch each time with different co-founders. It is not just intangible assets like copyrights or trademarks that are valuable to a startup; it is also the trust of the teams you build, the relationships that support you during lows, the friends that tell you there is light at the end of the tunnel. These are intangibles that last forever, particularly when you decide to startup again after a failed project. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road and the ones who value their intangibles in life can certainly fare with loneliness better.
Balance between the personal and professional
I have met entrepreneurs who work 18-hours a day and in my view, they are not doing something right. Entrepreneurs who live a balanced life are able to concentrate better on their business. J Mody, Founder, Hireajackal, shares his personal experience. “Earlier I had no time as an entrepreneur, but the journey has made me learn how to buy and find time for things I love doing. Professionally, it has taught me the power of decentralization: how important it is to ensure you pass on responsibility but with enough authority. Over the years, I have learnt to prioritize my personal life. I really feel I would have deteriorated as an entrepreneur if I hadn’t guarded my personal life.” He adds that most successful people live a fit and healthy life.
You receive what you give
This reaffirms my personal philosophy of life. No achievement is accomplished fully if you do not take along the people who have helped you in the journey to meet your goals. This resonates with the rule of ethical networking where it is not just about taking favours, but giving them back as well. Angela De Giacomo, Advisor and Initiator, WunderNova says,
“Strong relationships are the only way to secure good work results in your day-to-day work, get things done faster, get valuable reference checks done and most importantly enjoy working with people who are diverse from you, whom you like and trust.”
Your life as an entrepreneur is going to be long and one should not be known as a person who only takes favours without initiating or returning them. This applies not just with respect to the professionals who help you, but also friends and family who encourage you. That person who motivated you to choose this journey or that first employee who agreed to work on a lower salary because he believed in your dream or the friend you brainstormed with through the night. The more you give back, the more will come your way. Even within the ecosystem, the entrepreneurs you guide today, will help you reach higher scales tomorrow.
Ask yourself hard questions
A true intellectual is a person who understands the perspective of everyone in the room. She listens, observes and analyses before declaring the last word. This can only be achieved by asking yourself and your team hard questions. Believe in yourself, but question everything that is taking you to the next step or level of scale. Disagreements in teams are healthy and unfold new perspectives. If it is a solo journey that you have as an entrepreneur (without a team or cofounder), ensure you have wise friends to guide you. People outside of your situation may see what you might not.
Don’t judge quickly
Act quickly once the decision is taken, but do not judge quickly. Most successful companies are built on the foundation of patience and perseverance, and an entrepreneur encourages this by leading by example. The reason why most entrepreneurs do not make it big is because they make crucial judgements about their businesses quickly – they are quick to say – this product will not work, this is the time to get acquired or it is time to exit the company . WhatsApp founder Jan Koum decided to give up many times before the app was officially launched in 2009, but co-founder Brian Acton convinced him to hold on – only to close the deal with Facebook and get acquired for $19 billion last year.
Know when to stop- resort to plan B
While you must not judge quickly, but you should also know when to stop if your ship is likely to sink, recognize the signals before you really do. Stop if every single person around you gives a red signal. Many entrepreneurs do not believe in having a plan B as they feel that they will be tempted to use it before they achieve their goals. But a plan B is very important. You will need to be rescued if unexpected turbulence hits you while sailing your boat. A smart entrepreneur never takes the good times for granted and always keeps herself guarded. Don’t be afraid of killing your own ideas if they are not working. Understand the warning signs when things are not working out.
These life lessons are based on my personal interactions and analysis. When it comes to entrepreneurship, one shoe does not fit all, but these takeaways definitely gave me a glimpse into what entrepreneurs go through at different stages of building their startup.