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Don’t Build On Sand
Staving Off Loneliness As An Entrepreneur
I have a lot of nervous energy because something important is happening. We’re doing my alpha launch for Bella. My alpha launch for my product, it’s not an investment round, it’s the friends and family that have invested their time in helping make Bella a reality. These are the first people that are going to be coming onto my platform, testing things out with me and continuing to provide me critical feedback so that I can improve my product. As I’m thinking about that and about how much things change once the alpha starts and as we get closer to market launch, I’ve been thinking about my journey. It’s been about twenty months since I started all of this. I’ve been thinking about as many highs as there have been. There have also been plenty of lows. I’ve been reflecting on how lonely the startup journey can be.
As I think about everything changing, where do I want to have and what are the lessons and things I want to remind myself to do as I go forward? As people, we’re lonelier than ever. I was reading some information from Cigna’s 2018 Loneliness Internet Study. It was an interesting study talking about measuring statistics on how lonely we are as people. Close to half of the population reports that they’re lonely sometimes or always. In startups, it’s no different. Why is that? Why can that founder’s journey be so difficult? In a lot of startups, we find ourselves in what I’d call a greenfield situation. We get to build whatever we want and however, we want to. On the surface, that sounds so fantastic. We get to make all the decisions but in reality, there can be too many choices.
We can end up with decision fatigue or sometimes get completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices that we have to make. While there are a lot of highs, there are also a lot of lows as well and emotional storms that we have to weather. Let’s face it, dog rates on Bunsen, The Science Dog on Twitter get us through a lot of these. Even the strongest people are going to find themselves in situations that they don’t anticipate. If we’re not careful, we can lose ourselves along the way in this constant go that comes with building a company. There’s a reason they call it the startup grind. It also doesn’t help that we see a lot of these images of hero figures that look like they can do it all. Those dominate the media and it makes us feel inferior or somehow we’re supposed to be able to do everything ourselves. This perpetuates that lonely cycle.
If we rely only on ourselves, I will equate it to building our foundations on sand. We think we’re tough enough to handle whatever comes our way, but then when the storms come and the sand shifts, you get the picture. I’ve walked the path of being a solopreneur. I’ve had my own consulting business so I know the ups and downs that come along with this. As I shifted into moving into a startup, I realized I needed a lot of help. I couldn’t do this alone. I also knew it was up to me to build the community I need around me. No one else is going to do this for me. I’ve tried a variety of things along the way and each of them has met my needs at a given time. I’m still experimenting with this. I’m a learning nerd so I keep tweaking based on where I am at any given time.Even the strongest people are going to find themselves in situations that they just don't anticipate. Click To Tweet
What are some of the things that I’ve been trying to help support me and frankly stave off some of the loneliness that we can encounter as founders? One of the things I’ve done is an online training group focused around particular topics. When I’ve done online ones, typically, they are workshops or things are extending for a period of time. I’ve done Seth Godin’s The Marketing Seminar and I’m working through The Bootstrapper’s Workshop. These have all been a mix of hard skills as well as some of what they would call the cohort effect and having a group of people work through things together. I’ve done that in some cases. I’ve also done some in-person workshops where you do group exercises. This is where you’re trying to create what we call a cohort effect where the sum of all the parts is much greater than all of those individual parts together. It’s where the whole group advances.
My cohorts have never lived past the workshops. I don’t know if I’m not picking the right things or what. They were fine with the time, but they weren’t anything that I have ever been able to continue. Those haven’t worked as well for me. I’ve done mastermind groups before as a solopreneur. It isn’t one that I’ve found yet with my startup. I have known some people that have found ones that have worked great for them. I’ve seen a lot of issues with consistency and people attending them and that one hasn’t also worked for me. Masterminds also in my experience, depending on what the mastermind is, that can tend to come and go. For example, if you’re focused solely in some marketing mastermind, there’s a season of life that you would need that for until you get to that place that you need to be unless you find some more general purpose ones that are for building your business. The one thing that has worked for me and it’s something I plan to continue doing is having individual coaching.
I didn’t start this until about a year into my journey. I started to see where I would benefit from working one-on-one as opposed to in a group. There are a lot of flavors of coaching. It can be anything from something similar to what I was talking about in the masterminds. You could do subject matter experts for sales, marketing or some of these other areas, to improve your areas of weakness. I used to read a lot of John Maxwell books early in my career. I remember in one of his books, it was called The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. I read about something he called the Law of the Lid. The Law of the Lid was about leadership ability determining a person’s level of effectiveness. This has always stuck with me. I was at a conference and I heard a coach presenting about how to increase your capacity to lead and this is where coaching clicked with me. I wasn’t looking for someone to teach me marketing or teach me sales. Not at this early stage of the game. I needed someone that could work with me on my capacity to lead. How did I process things? I knew as I wanted to build my company, I also didn’t want to turn into one of those toxic leaders or even worse, build a toxic culture.
With all the ups and downs, emotional scars and baggage, we can end up carrying from the challenges of the journey, how in the world was I going to do that? That’s where having a coach has been helpful to me. I’ve been working with a coach to increase my effectiveness and my ability to lead. A lot of that is about helping me process things. There’s a lot of self-discovery that goes along with that journey. That’s been my primary focus and where I’ve had the most success in terms of things I’ve been trying to help me process steps along the journey. Thinking about my own development, those are all the areas that I’ve focused on that almost more introspective part of the journey. I also think about this as we come back to this whole topic of loneliness. How do you put a support network around you to help support you? This is another thing that can be easy for us to neglect, especially as women.Bringing in other disciplines helps you see perspectives that you may not have otherwise seen. Click To Tweet
We are taught and it is grounded into us that we come last. Everybody else comes first. Everything else comes first. Don’t ask for support, look inside yourself. Conceptually building a support network is something a lot of us through a variety of messages haven’t done as much as we should. It’s truly what we need to develop into the leaders that we need to be. At least for me, that’s been something that’s been critically important. What does my support network look like that I’d been building? The first thing that I do is I have what I would call my Lunch Buddy Network. There is a whole set of people that are in this crowd. Some of them are probably reading this blog as well. They are business-related friends that I meet periodically with and catch up. These are other achievement-oriented folks that do not get away from their work often enough, but they also value catching up and mutually sharing perspectives on whatever they’re working on.
I make sure that my network is comprised of more than just other female tech entrepreneurs building a business to business companies. There are a few of us out there. It would be lonely though if I was focused on that segment. In all seriousness though, my Lunch Buddy Networks are people from all sorts of disciplines. I spend time with designers. I spend time with other technical people from other disciplines and attorneys. There’s a whole bunch of people in my Lunch Buddy Network. Why do you do this? Bringing in other disciplines helps you see perspectives that you may not have otherwise seen. These people keep you out of the ditch in ways you would never expect because they have a whole litany of experiences completely unrelated to yours and often can share in mutual experiences. With a different background and different subject matter experts, they’re an invaluable source of information and you do the same.
In some of my Lunch Buddy Networks, I will have business people that will ask me about technical concepts to say, “You make these things possible. Talking to you, there’s a path forward for it.” It goes both ways. I can bring a lot of my technical knowledge, expertise and a lot of my finance and nerdy accounting knowledge. Yes, it’s beneficial. Trust me, I’ve been able to talk about tax breaks, other things and people find it beneficial. That’s also been a tremendous outlet for me as I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs. As I’ve needed different connections, these folks have been able to open doors or connect me to people to help me along on my journey. Frankly, it’s fun. Who doesn’t like going out eating good food? The other thing I’ve done in addition to my Lunch Buddy Network is that I do go to Meetup groups.
I periodically have been starting to go to some of the same meetup groups and I’m still working on this. As I’m doing more transitioning into my business, I’m going to be spending more time with some of these groups. What I want to do is I want to find some of those groups that I want to attend over and over again. It gives you some balance, some sense of normalcy and ability to develop deeper relationships. Like that Lunch Buddy Network becomes that same group that you can commingle with and people that you look forward to seeing. That’s how I’ve put together both my internal knowledge and then how I put together with other things to stave off loneliness. One of the things I haven’t done is I haven’t pursued having any formal advisors at this stage of the game with my startup. Why haven’t I done this? I might say, “Just get an advisor though. They’ll help you answer all these questions.” Those types of roles I have found come with an exchange of equity in your company.
I’ve been in the industry in other roles outside of startup founder and I haven’t found a model I’ve been all that comfortable with. I’ll leave it there. Whenever I’ve had some slight sniff of someone around me that’s angling to become an advisor in exchange for part of my company, I have a very strict Forrest Gump policy for that. No, it is not an advisor on one of those chocolates in that box. It’s more like, “Run Forrest, run.” It might change someday, but that’s been my current take. Looking to get some type of formal advisor to help me stave off some of the lonely parts of the journey hasn’t been something I’ve been up for at this stage of the game.
Let’s face it, we all need people whether we like to admit it or not. We do have to put those systems and things around us to help balance things out as an entrepreneur. This is how I’ve been balancing my staff out. Just to recap, it’s been about individual coaching as well as some of the cohort type groups, then putting in place my Lunch Buddy Network and some of my group events that I go to. Adding all of those things have given me a better sense of balance, being able to meet, see people and stay in regular touch. It helps offset a lot of the highs and lows that come with the entrepreneurship journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. If you want to learn more about me or my company, you can go to WonderlySoftware.com or you can follow me on Twitter, @BeingWonderly. That time is here again. It’s time to go be wonderly.
- Cigna’s 2018 Loneliness Internet Study
- The Marketing Seminar
- The Bootstrapper’s Workshop
- The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership
- @BeingWonderly on Twitter