Fernando Fischmann

These three mindset tips will help you push through the startup grind

2 October, 2017 / Articles

When Sarah LaFleur reflects on launching a company she likens the experience to swimming to an island. “The current is strong when you start then when you look up you’re not sure where you are,” she said.“Sometimes you can see the island. A lot of times you can’t. You can always see the beach where you started, though.”

Whether you’re launching a company or embarking on a new phase of growth, there are countless moments in the entrepreneurial journey when it’s tempting to turn back and resume a more stable lifestyle. According to LaFleur – her company MM.LaFleur is on track to do $70 million in revenue this year – it’s vital to resist the temptation. “Every single morning wake up and tell yourself: ‘Just keep swimming.’ Even when you don’t know where you are going, whether it’s in the right direction or if your island is where you thought it was. You have to keep swimming.”

Everyone who takes an initial leap to start a company, launch a new product or navigate a pivot faces doubt and uncertainty. These feelings can quickly become all-encompassing, making it critical to practice daily habits that strengthen your mindset. The following are three tactics from the founders of Stella & Dot, Orchard Mile and Maiden Home to help you illuminate the path forward and empower you to stay the course.

Doubt those who doubt you.

When Stella & Dot Founder and CEO Jessica Herrin was a junior in high school, her English teacher kicked her out of class and told her: “You are the biggest waste I have ever seen.” It was the kindest compliment she had ever received. To waste something, you have to have something special to waste, she says. The teacher changed her life.

Herrin graduated and spent the next two years waiting tables and getting straight A’s at community college. Her goal was to transfer to Stanford. When she asked her counselor for the application she was met with a terse response: “People like you don’t go there.” Again, the affirmation altered Herrin’s perspective. “In that moment, I realized that I could believe in the people who doubt me or I could doubt the people who doubt me and believe in myself,” she says. “I made a decision that day that I would never listen to the naysayers.”  To the chagrin of her doubters, Herrin received her bachelor’s degree and MBA from Stanford where she launched WeddingChannel.com, which The Knot acquired in 2006. She continues to rely on the mantra as she scales Stella & Dot into a $400 million company.

A serial entrepreneur, Herrin readily admits that many experiments don’t perform as planned. Failure is a part of the process, but for Herrin, it has never been for a lack of effort or thinking that success is for somebody else. “I have always felt that I am entitled to anything I work for. If I work for it, I’m entitled to it. If I don’t, I’m not.” Entrepreneurs are universally adept to hearing ‘No’ and marked by their grit to stay the course. Reflect on Herrin’s advice next time someone doubts you or you doubt yourself. Keep persisting. You are entitled to your vision.

Define your personal best.

Orchard Mile cofounder and CEO Jennie Baik has one of the most accurate descriptions of startup life I’ve heard: “It constantly feels like your best is never good enough.” Growth is the ultimate goal but with every new frontier comes a new set of challenges. Leaders must scale themselves as quickly as they scale their businesses.

It’s natural to feel swayed by stories about how the most productive CEOs work and their non-stop schedules. But, trying to emulate their patterns is a disservice to yourself and can be dangerous without a keen level of self-awareness. Baik encourages founders to take a step back, understand their capabilities and set personal standards to assess performance. “You have to be really familiar with what your personal best is,” she says. “Measure your efforts against that, not by comparing yourself to others.”

One of Baik’s personal benchmarks is to ensure she never looks back and says: ‘If I would have pushed 20% harder, the outcome would have been different.’ “I do everything I can to not to let that happen. But, I also know that I’m not going to knock it out of the park every time,” she says. “It’s not just about being self-aware enough to understand your personal best. You have to accept and respect it.” When you truly understand your abilities, you can make decisions from a place of confidence and feel content with the outcome.

Be your own best friend.

Founders have to be self-reliant; During the early days building a startup, you are your most important source of motivation. Amidst the constant flux of new challenges, it’s important to find ways to celebrate yourself every day.

“It’s natural to constantly expect more of yourself, that’s how you achieve big goals, but it can also make you very unsettled,” says Nidhi Kapur, Founder and CEO of Maiden Home. “Not appreciating the small things that happen every day is a recipe for unhappiness.” She utilizes these two strategies to acknowledge and celebrate progress. Use them to infuse positivity into your week.

Create a list of weekly achievements. At the end of every week, dedicate an hour to writing a list of all of the great things that happened. You’ll be surprised by the depth of your accomplishments. Make this a habit and visit your list when you need a burst of encouragement.

Regularly ask yourself how far you’ve come. Next time you’re feeling discouraged or restless, measure progress by asking yourself: What was I doing a month ago today? “When you look it at that way you start thinking ‘Wow! Look at all of the things I’ve done since then.’ It’s proof that you are really making progress despite having a never-ending to-do list,’” Kapur says. Always focus on the positives and remind yourself that this progress is entirely driven by your team and you.

Commit to changing your inner dialogue this week by trying Herrin, Baik and Kapur’s habits. Consciously celebrate where you are and what you’ve accomplished. Don’t be surprised if your renewed outlook fuels you even further next week.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.



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