Inspiration is like fuel for founders but, at some point, the tank will inevitably run dry. Here are some ways to re-inspire your entrepreneurial spirit.
Everyone has their drug of choice. For founders, it's inspiration. Inspiration is the high that drives entrepreneurs to put in those long days and it is what validates them as they see the different parts of their lives get folded into their businesses. The creation becomes a part of the creator.
Mental stimulation is the propellant that helps founders gain traction in the early days, but it's easy to lose over time. The amount of work combined with the erratic lifestyle can often leave you feeling uninspired. According to Todd Krizelman, CEO of MediaRadar, this can affect your business as well.
"Almost all entrepreneurs play a central role in their company, independent of their job function. If their morale is suffering, the company will suffer significantly. The staff looks to entrepreneurs for signals (formal and informal) on company performance and forward vision," Krizelman said.
At some point in your entrepreneurial journey you will, undoubtedly, face a crossroads where you will have to decide whether or not you want to keep going. Entrepreneurship is difficult, but it is made easier if you have the inspiration to keep moving forward.
"If you can re-inspire yourself over time, you give the highest possible odds for the company to flourish because you are going to have that authentic, passionate entrepreneur at the helm," said Andy Dunn, CEO of Bonobos.
Here are three sets of tips on how to re-inspire yourself as a founder.
1. View rejection as opportunity
"Before you've started your company, you were likely a successful person in school or business. You are used to getting things done and being respected," Krizelman said. "However, early in the experience as an entrepreneur you will be told NO frequently, by investors, interview candidates, and by prospective clients. This is actually normal, but it demoralizes many entrepreneurs who are just getting their start."
As an entrepreneur, you must realize that no one cares about your business or idea as much as you do, and that's okay. So often, founders can feel so connected with their company that they begin to equate approval of the company with approval of self, and this is a dangerous connection. You must always strive to think of your business as an entity that exists outside of yourself. Criticism of your business is not a critique of your character.
Think of someone saying "no" as a sort of inspiration in and of itself. Consider the possibility that maybe you aren't explaining your value proposition clearly enough, or maybe your passion isn't coming through in your pitch. Whether or not you are comfortable hearing someone say "no," Polaris Partners entrepreneur-in-residence, Pat Kinsel, said they are bound to come.
"Through the processes of raising capital, hiring employees, and selling your product, you'll surely hear 'no' 1,000s of times," Kinsel said. "The best founders learn from 'no' and are driven to persevere; but the grueling process takes it's toll on everyone. Some founders lose inspiration — it's incredibly important to surround yourself with people who can help you remember the vision and remind you why you started in the first place."
2. Don't forget your roots
One of the inevitable, sad facts of the startup community is that people will begin to see you as what you do instead of who you are. Being the founder of a company is only one role that you play. Don't get me wrong, it is a very important role, but it exists alongside other roles to compose your identity. You are not your product.
"I went to Brazil last June. For the first time, I got out of the country and off Wi-Fi access for a few days," Dunn said. "I was on a trip looking for Jaguars in the Pantanal region of Brazil with a couple of other scientists. And, there was three days where we had no access to, not just Wi-Fi, but any data, any cell phone signal. And I was like, 'Oh yeah, there was a me before I was digitally connected to what I am building.'"
Think about who you were before you started your company. How did the people you surround yourself with define you before you became known as the founder of your startup. Take some time to unplug, not just from technology, but from the culture surrounding startups. The startup scene praises the startup martyr, but it is important to spend time away from that.
It may sound trite, but find a few strategic moments to spend time for your friends and your family. These tend to be the people that have supported you because they believe in you, not your business ideas. Surround yourself with the kind of people who make you feel like you have nothing to prove.
It's freeing to absolve yourself of an obligation to bring something to the table and to add value, but it is also encouraging to look back and see how far you have come. Because, at the end of the day, your business should inspire you too.
3. Focus on the business
I know this seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes in stepping back to catch your breath, you need to step forward to invigorate your sense of involvement with your company. According to Dunn, this begins with understanding your timeframe.
"One of the primary forces here is that when you start a company, mentally your time horizon is oriented to a few years. And yet, the paradox is that, if you're successful with what you're building, that timeline just keeps extending," Dunn said. "So, if your startup doesn't work, you might be done in two years. But, if it does work, you know, I'm in my seventh year, and there's a very viable scenario where I'm gonna be in my fifteenth year. I think that a sense for what the actual time horizon could be, paradoxically, in the event that you're successful, versus not, is important."
The startup game is a game of sprints, and understanding the timing and implications of those sprints is paramount. Dunn refers to these moments as the "digestible chunks" of the overall experience. He noted that the experience will be radically different at each milestone, and you have to prepare yourself to learn and change.
As you meet these milestones and move past them, there are specific ways you can engage your business in order to re-inspire yourself. The first is to consider taking on new challenges.
"You need to make sure you're meeting your own professional and life goals. You can, however, pursue new challenges inside the company as it grows. For a company with a lot of momentum, there are almost always options," Krizelman said.
For example, Bonobos opened their Guide Shops to help customers better understand the way their products fit and, most recently, they set out to start a women's clothing line. It can be very valuable to do things in your company that make the business more exciting for you.
"Pushing the frontier of innovation, and doing so in a way that makes sense for the company and makes sense for the founder, that's the ultimate source of inspiration — it is the creativity that got you going to begin with," Dunn said.
As you take on new challenges with your company, make sure you don't alienate your customers. Talking to people who use your products or service on a daily basis can help remind you of the greater mission that your startup has taken on.
"While I devote 60% of my time to managing the company overall, the balance I spend talking to customers directly. Hearing the client declare that their business is improving, because of what we do, is a major motivator," Krizelman said.
If you try these steps (and others) and still don't feel re-inspired, don't be afraid to admit that running your startup isn't fun anymore or you're no longer fulfilled. Founders wear many hats and, at some point, you might need to hire someone to wear one of them for you. Don't be ashamed to appoint a new CEO if it will help you focus on the aspects of the business where you add the most value.
Also, it isn't a bad thing to want to have fun.
"Independent of whatever outcome a team may achieve, pausing and reflecting on your accomplishments can help you to enjoy your day to day work," Kinsel said. "At the end of the day, there's no reason why a startup founder shouldn't enjoy the ride."
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