How I stumbled, fumbled and bumbled my way to entrepreneurship.
“That’s so cool! What you are doing is really impressive. It’s hard trying to grow a business.”
I chuckled, awkwardly and far longer than necessary. My new acquaintance was emphatic, excitement creeping in with every extra word. But what he didn’t know, as he turned to look at me expectantly, was that underneath my cool, calm facade was that I was experiencing a sudden rush of anxiety.
Because here’s the thing, I had a fundamental problem. The problem? I struggle to say what I do for a living. Maybe you’ve experienced it yourself, the hesitation, the stuttering, the awkward chuckle that seemingly is always accompanied by trying to describe your job. Something that should be so fundamental to who you are that it usually is something mentioned after your name. This is great, clearly, for someone who not only is a leader in the company but is responsible for that company to grow.
So how did I get here?
It was inevitable that I would want to go down the entrepreneurship path at some stage in my career. After working in a combination of consulting firms and large corporates, I was itching to do something of my own, but while I had spent the better part of my career honing my craft, I didn’t understand what it meant to start a business. So, I created a simple three-step plan:
Step 1: Join a start-up
Step 2: Learn as much as possible
Step 3: After two years, take what I’ve learned to start my own business
I started well — I joined a start-up with a team of three. My choice was deliberate. I wanted to learn as much as possible in an area where I knew the domain but, more importantly, had talented, established individuals I could learn from. Step 1: Tick.
Learning in a start-up, it turns out, is learning about how well you can adapt. There is no process or structure, just unlimited ambiguity. It tests your ability to deal with the unknown. So while I set out to learn about growing a business, I spent a great deal of time learning to trust myself and my abilities and not punish myself too harshly for things I could not foresee. Step 2: Tick* (I’m still learning).
It has now been five years since I first joined that start-up, and no, I haven’t started my own business. Instead, something happened that I didn’t plan for. I was asked to be a co-founder. Step 3: Cross** (I’d like to give myself a pass here, but I’ll leave it up to you).
Over the past few years, I’ve learned a few things, some resonating more than others. Here are my top three:
1. Focus on what you can control
With the current economy, getting funding is significantly harder than it was a couple of years ago. As an early-stage start-up, we can let the worry about funding take over our every waking moment, or we can work on getting traction and feedback from prospective customers to further de-risk our business to make it more attractive to investors.
Focus on what you can control, ignore what you can’t and then go take a walk.
2. Perfectionism is your enemy
My co-founder is a huge fan of the phrase, “done is better than perfect”. When working in a start-up, you will never have enough time. There’s just too much to do, and that list is forever growing.
Coming from roles where I would be considered a specialist to an environment where you need to be decent at many things, this concept took some getting used to. I’m currently doing web development, UI/UX design, video editing and the like. I’m a data person, and this is not my comfort zone. I could sink heaps of time into becoming better at each of those things, but then we would never get anywhere.
Getting something out that’s not perfect but at least conveys the message is better than nothing.
3. Imposter Syndrome, don’t let it overwhelm you
You have probably figured out that I have a serious case of Imposter Syndrome, which really shouldn’t be a surprise. 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at least once in their lives, so I’m in good company.
I struggled with Imposter Syndrome once I agreed to become a co-founder. I was clouded with doubts about my ability, or rather, my lack of ability. During customer meetings, I would have a mental block when trying to introduce myself. But becoming a co-founder wasn’t an accident. I was asked to be a co-founder, and someone believed I could do it, so why didn’t I?
My co-founder, Grant, indirectly reminded me of this all the time. In times when I was too shy or nervous, he would calmly introduce me, “this is Janice, my co-founder”. While simple, those five words have helped me reach a point where I can now introduce myself without stuttering.
It’s ok to have doubts but keep reminding yourself — you have gotten to where you are for a reason.