Behind the Veil — The Truth that All Entrepreneurs Bravely Hide
Ever asked an entrepreneur how their day goes? Invariably, it’s usually met with a plastered smile and a generic statement on the lines of “ Its going really well.. very busy… totally swamped…things are moving along.”
What one never hears is “ I only live in my head and I am overwhelmed most of the time” OR “I am constantly fire-fighting and feel like I am not doing enough.” This is largely because there is no room for authentically expressing how isolated and terrified entrepreneurs sometimes feel on their respective journeys.
While friends are getting married, buying homes, having babies, selecting cushion covers and tea sets — as an entrepreneur, you are always looking over your shoulder trying to keep afloat. Worse, even if you feel low, you are forced to suppress those feelings, primarily because you don’t want to articulate those fears to yourself or to your business partners/ investors/ employees for fear of being judged as weak, vulnerable or going soft.
What I learnt
I did not magically gravitate towards becoming an entrepreneur. I was a poster child for a burnt out/washed out banker and wanted to create something more meaningful than slide decks and excel models. My current co-founder approached me with an interesting idea and I said “Why not?”
Its been a very enriching journey so far. I have learnt more in the last 2 years than I have in my entire career. No doubt.
I have tapped into reserves that I previously didn’t know existed. I have developed patience far beyond what I thought I was capable of. I have developed a strange affection for people who previously tried and totally tested me. I try to not sweat the small stuff (its hard!). There is so much out of your control (except perhaps your own sanity), that you are forced to develop some sort of mental fortitude.
Being an entrepreneur is fantastic and it is a roller coaster which all of us willingly climb onto, but that doesn’t mean we are always prepared to get scared out of our minds during the ride.
All of us go through the same sh*t
What I still struggle to come to terms with, is the level of in-authenticity that we as entrepreneurs shroud ourselves in. We ALL face the same problems. If you are starting up, you don’t have a product. If you have a product, you don’t have money. If you have money, you need more OR your investors put too much pressure. Then come employees, either you cant find them or you cant retain them. You can pivot until you are giddy to find a business model. Once you find it, start growing. If you are growing, you don’t grow fast enough. If you don’t have growth, you spend all your time devising ways to achieve the elusive “hockey stick” …PHEW!!! The list goes on and on and on…. Exhausting right? But this is what consumes 90% of our mind space.
Yet we don't reach out to each other.
Yes, sure we build advisory boards and have mentors but very few of us share the burden of the day to day drudgery that bogs all of us down. Or if we do, we don't do it enough and definitely not in a transparent manner. We selectively share snippets of information or ask for help on specific problems.
There is a certain catharsis in revealing shared emotions and fears that we, as entrepreneurs, don't allow ourselves to feel for some reason.
Moving past the noise
We are also living in an age of hyper- information. There is always constant noise of every kind of startup being funded (except one’s own of course) and someone cracking a partnership or a million dollar deal.
“ XYZ startup has been chugging along for the last one year” wrote no-one EVER.
So of course, all of us are keen to be captured in that cacophony and put up post after post of our little successes on social media — from every scrappy newspaper article mentioning us to every random tweet. We are all guilty of this. To seek reassurance that perhaps we have achieved some modicum of success, to get validation on doing something right or to actually just feel momentary pride.
We bask temporarily in the congratulatory messages that massage our egos and then get a jolt back to reality when your developer says “I found a new bug and its not the four — legged kind.”
What we sometimes forget is that even the most successful startup founders and leaders have moments of self-doubt. Vulnerability and fear gets so cleverly hidden behind veils of superficial conversation and celebratory social media posts.
So, I have the following advice.
Let’s make it okay to say “I am afraid today or I feel lost”. It should be okay to admit that sometimes or many times — you just don't feel on top of your game and feel comfortable enough to admit this sans judgement.
Let’s be ‘authentic’ and stop living in our heads! So, find fellow entrepreneurs and reach out to them. Make the first move in sharing concerns/ fears/ apprehensions. Chances are others probably feel the same.
Instead of asking for weekly/monthly/quarterly updates, investors should start asking founders “How they feel?” or “What’s keeping them up at night”. Proactively help in problem solving as opposed to only weighing in when needed. As founders, we may not always ask, but a helping hand is usually welcome.
Help us share. As entrepreneurs, we tend to have more off days than on days. Some of us withdraw, some of us snap & crackle under pressure. We realize this and we apologize. We are grateful for the support and patience those closest to us lend us. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded that we are not alone and the current crisis is not the end of the world. Help us look beyond the myopic lens of success and failure that the external world views us through.