Picture by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

How to Change Your Mindset To Become A Successful Entrepreneur. [2/12]

Bram Krommenhoek
Aug 6, 2018 · 8 min read

This is the second in a series on the mindset of successful entrepreneurs, in which I will share the 12 mindset shifts you must make to build a successful startup. My goal for the series is to help more entrepreneurs get it right.

You can read the first part here.

You look up. The barman, who looks like he’s picked a fight or two too much, puts down the two beers you ordered.

You still have no idea how exactly you ended up in a place as obscure as this one. Even though you’ve been walking along this bar ever since you started your business, it’s never caught you eye.

“Cheers,” says your neighbor, then picks up the beer and takes a big drink.

You think about tonight: another one of those nights working late. But for some reason, tonight is different. Tonight, it was just a bit too much. You just couldn’t deal with the lack of moving forward, the lack of potential. It’s just not going fast enough and you’re fed up with it.

When you started out, you quickly made progress. You built your product better than anyone else. There was hardly any competition. People were enthusiastic to join your team. Investor were approaching you. You were growing.

But then, after about 3 years, growth just halted. You went from 15% month over month growth to 1 or 2%. And you have no idea why.

That situation has been going on for two years now. You think back to all the different things you’ve tried. Hiring a new salesman to close more deals. Expanding the technical team to get ahead in terms of product. Targeting different customer segments and use cases. But nothing really worked, and now you’re just stuck in the day-by-day.

“After my third attempt, I drew one conclusion: “This isn’t for me.” Because honestly, I hated it. I hated starting and failing businesses. I thought it wasn’t for me.”

You see your neighbor looking at the ceiling, the looking back at you.

“But for some reason, I tried again. And then I got better. After my fourth businesses, I knew a lot more, and so I started investing in and helping others. What I’ve seen is a pattern in one of the major items that contributes to success: people’s mindset. How people absorb data from the world, interpret that data and use it to make decisions. That’s what I think is at the root of your problem.”

You look at your beer, which has gone flat.

Then you get poked on your arm.

“So how long’s it been since you started?”

You slowly move your head up from your right hand and sit back on the barstool.

“3 years and a bit since launch.”

It takes a while for your neighbor to respond.

“I think I already know, but it’s always good to check.. So how are things going now?”

You hesitate for a second whether you should be sharing this. Then you figure out: so what?

So what if someone knows how you’re doing. So what if someone knows how you’re feeling. So what if someone knows everything’s actually a wreck and you’re drowning in uncertainty.

Then you start talking.

“Ever since our launch, we’ve been growing like crazy. From zero income to monthly revenue of about $100K steadily per month. In the past years, our team’s grown from me by myself to about ten people. But now, for some reason or another, the company’s growth simply halted. It literally went from ten percent growth per month to about two percent. And I’m struck stupid, literally haven’t got a clue what to do. So that’s how things are going now.”

When you finish, you notice that you’re pinching the bar so hard your fingers are hurting. You release the hold, the look back to your neighbor, who’s staring ahead of him. Then he sits up, and thinks for a second.

“And why’s no growth a problem?”

Are you serious? you think. Everyone knows that if you want to move forward, you have to grow…

“That’s just a dumb question.” You call out. Then you recapture yourself. “Each startup needs to grow. It’s grow or die, right?”

Your neighbor looks at you patiently, then says: “And do you have any idea about the thing you want to grow into?”

“I…”

You didn’t see that one coming. From the start, everybody’s been telling you how important growth is. That if you want to build a serious startup, you need serious growth. And so that’s what you focused on.

Your neighbor sighs, rubs his eyes with his right hand, puts his elbow on the bar and leans with his forehead against his hand. He sits there for a while, before sitting straight up again.

“Have you ever seen Alice in Wonderland?” he asks.

You look at your neighbor for a couple of second. You guess it mustn’t look pretty the way you look, but you’re too struck with stupidity by this question. From one moment to another, it seems as if he’s diverted the entire conversation from your life’s path to some child movie.

Once you recover from the surprise, you realize you actually have no idea whether you ever have.

Your neighbor relieves the silence. “Either you’re having a mental meltdown, or you haven’t seen it. In any case, it’s a story about a young girl that’s hanging out with her sister along a lake. When a talking rabbit runs along, she follows it, even into its rabbit hole. After a long fall, she ends up in a strange world Wonderland. There, she meets a whole bunch of odd characters. On one day, she comes across a fork in the road. There, she meets the Cheshire Cat in a tree, and she asks “Which road do I take?” to which the cat replies “Where do you want to go?” Alice thinks a bit, and then says “I don’t know.” “Then it doesn’t matter,” responded the cat.”

You neighbor takes a deep breath and a sip from his beer, then continues. “I think that’s quite a good analogy for where you’re at, at the moment. I’m Cheshire Cat, you’re Alice. You’re looking for answers to where you need to go. But before you figure out where you actually want to go, it doesn’t matter how you get there.”

You stare down at your beer, trying to grasp the impact of what your neighbor is saying. Before you manage to put your thoughts together, your neighbor continues.

“I can see it’s hard to grasp all of this and put it in the right place. Let me put it differently. You’re most probably looking for tips and tricks to hack yourself out of your current situation. Like most entrepreneurs, you think the solution to your situation is hiring another VP of sales, another growth hacker, another developer.”

Your neighbor stops for a second, takes a deep breath and then continues in a tone that sounds annoyed but maintained.

“But you see buddy, those are just not going to cut it for you, because you’re looking for answers to the wrong questions. In essence, you’re currently asking ‘what’ questions, like ‘what should I do to grow?’, ‘what did I do wrong?’ and ‘what should I stop doing?’. Those are all great questions, but they’re asked at the wrong time. The answers you’re looking for assume that you’re on the right path. They’re about speeding up your journey down the path.”

It’s gotten a lot quieter in the bar since you’ve entered, so your neighbor is almost whispering. But even though he’s whispering, it sounds like he’s screaming.

“The answers you should be looking for are more related to where you want to go and how you should get there. Concretely, they’re ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions, respectively related to which road you should take and where you want to go. The implications of messing up the order are huge. Because you’ve only got so much time on this earth, only so much energy to spend on important projects, you’ve got to get it right.

Looking at your situation, does it matter what you’re doing if the goal of doing it doesn’t bring you any closer to the point you want to be? If anything your doing isn’t related to any of your goals, then why would you do it? You’re looking for answers to how you can improve your situation. The questions you should be looking to answer is why you want to improve your situation, and what that the ideal improvement would look like.

So that’s the first mindset shift you should make. You need to know where you’re going, before you can know what path you need to take. Put differently: you need to start at the end. Get this wrong, and the rest doesn’t matter.”

You notice that you’re staring into nothingness, but you can’t get yourself to refocus. Your mind is racing back to all the things you’ve been discussing with your partner, your friends, your colleagues.

You think back to the conversation you’ve had with your salesman. “More sales!” “But I can’t!” “I don’t care! We need more!”

Or the one with your partner. “I just need to put in more hours, or the business won’t fly.” “So that means less being home and spending time together.” “It’ll get better in the future.”

When you ask yourself where you want to go, no clear vision appears. Rather, a cloud surround your mind and shuts it down.

“That’s the first mindset. It’s simple to explain, but hard to get right. But because it’s a mindset, you need to be aware of it, and then reflect on whether you’re getting it right. That’s simply a habit you need to develop, with the intention of improving. With that, improvement will come by itself.”

You look at your neighbor, then look back at the bar again.

I can do this. You tell yourself. So you sit up and face your neighbor.

“I can do this.” you tell him. “This is what being an entrepreneur is about. It’s about solving problems on the way and improving to create more value. This is just one thing to improve. Now there’s 11 more of those?”

“Are you up for it?”

You both smile, then lean against the bar.

I’m really curious to hear your feedback! This is kind of an experiment. Normally, these types of articles aren’t being written in story-form. So what do you think? Leave a comment!

Oh, and don’t forget to…

Get smarter at building your thing. Join The Startup’s +741K followers.