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Life In A Startup Is Not Easy


by on 19/02/13 at 8:30 am
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This week, I come across the video called “A Pep Talk from Kid President to You.” Please watch it. It is one of those videos with attitude and great music that make you jump off your chair the second it is over. I loved it. Period. I have watched this video all week long; shared it with family, friends, and colleagues via Twitter, Facebook, and email.

Startup LifeWhy is this video so appealing? Beyond the charisma of the Kid President (many leaders could do with 10% of what this kid has) and all the layers of artful production, it resonates with me as an entrepreneur currently working in a start-up. A lot.

The Kid President paraphrases the great American poet Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” by saying: “Two roads diverged on the woods, and I took the road less traveled, and it hurt man! Really bad… Rocks! Thorns! Glass! Not cool Robert Frost!” Life in a startup is not easy. It is the road less travelled, and aside from metaphorical – and depending what you are doing, sometimes literal – rocks, thorns, and glass, it also has many hardships that you must overcome.

Why is life in a startup not easy? There are many reasons, and you should take them with a pinch of salt as it varies from startup to startup. For example, there are operational reasons. You might be working from a garage or a coffee shop. And there are the financial reasons. Your paycheck might not come in on a particular day (or not at all.) Furthermore, let’s not forget the strategic reasons why life in startup can be challenging. It takes time and hard work to find the right partners, even more to find an interested investor, and you have constant pressure to beat competitors to the market.

Yet, the main reason life in a startup is hard is because we allow it to be that way.

As explorers of this “road less traveled,” we entrepreneurs often get caught up in our surroundings. It is easy to get lost in the excitement, the thrill, the fear, the sense of accomplishment, all those emotions that make us think ‘I don’t mind working until 2 in the morning’ or ‘oh well, I’ll skip Saturday’s family lunch because I have to finish these emails.’ Yes, life in a startup is hard, but sometimes we make it harder ourselves.

I have felt all these things and have developed some habits that I use to keep my sanity and a healthy lifestyle. It is important to practice these habits so that they get better over time. Find your own pace and identify the way in which you can make them work – consistency is key.

Firstly, stop in your tracks. When in a startup, we are commonly in a permanent state of gap analysis – that is, we worry about the past and the future, rather than the present. Bombarded by information, we suffer hyper-stimulation; over-complexity prevents us from moving forward and seeing things clearly. All this chaos influences our behavior and puts us into autopilot mode. We begin to do things simply for the sake of doing them. For example, how many times have you been at a meeting that was a waste of time? If only you had stopped a minute to think if it was important to attend.

But how can we prevent autopilot? A good trick is to ask yourself some simple questions: What did I have for breakfast? How did my lunch taste yesterday? Did I see anything interesting during my commute to the office? Was it cloudy? Sunny? Detailed questions like this will help you focus on the present.

Secondly, respect your time. If you don’t respect your time, no one else is going to respect it either. It’s easy let a meeting run over 10 minutes, answer emails at midnight, take phone calls during the weekend. Every person – whether they work in a startup or an established business – has a different style of working, but it is important to establish ground rules about time – and, more importantly, to respect them.

  • Determine the point in the day when you are at your most productive. Set that time aside for yourself and be productive.
  • Run efficient meetings. Meetings have three purposes: to inform and bring people up to speed; to get input; and to ask for approval. If something doesn’t fit the criteria, it shouldn’t be in a meeting.
  • Be prepared to have fulfilling conversations. Next time you are about to meet someone one-on-one, think beforehand about one thing you want to accomplish, write it down and go into that conversation with that goal in mind. Pointless conversations are time-sucks. Avoid them.

Thirdly, respect other people’s time. Give other people the same respect that you give yourself. And this is not only the time of your colleagues. I also want to stress the importance of giving your significant other, friends, and family the time and attention they deserve. If it’s dinnertime, it is dinnertime. Keep your mobile away from the table and enjoy a fulfilling conversation.

And finally, do what it takes to keep yourself healthy. Often we entrepreneurs are so involved in our work that we might not eat well or exercise enough, get enough sleep. It’s important to keep – or get some – healthy habits. You don’t need a full workout regime or a strict diet, just be conscious of what you are doing to your brain and body. For example, do not eat in front of the computer; give yourself 20 minutes and savor that cheese sandwich elsewhere. After all, if you get sick, who’s going to work?

What I have found is that, after a couple of weeks of doing simple changes like taking time to enjoy a healthy lunch, it’s easy to start noticing the benefits and build on that. One thing leads to another and soon you start going to bed less stressed and feeling refreshed in the morning. Next thing you know you are jogging or doing yoga. All these add to you feeling more focused, reenergized, and more productive.

Life in a startup is not easy; why make it harder?

Pablo is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and Marketing for Emzingo Group. He has been involved in entrepreneurial endeavors for over 10 years, ranging from working in a media startup in Mexico to opening and running a coffee shop, and a career as a professional golf player. He has lived, worked and studied in five cities across four different countries including Mexico, United States, Spain and South Africa. Pablo holds a BA in Business Administration, an MBA from IE Business School and is a 2011 Emzingo Fellow. View more articles by Pablo Esteves.

Tags: entrepreneurship, startups

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