Founders often get in our own way. We let the inner demons live rent-free in our minds and tell us that we are not doing enough, trying enough, hustling enough, and so on.
I thought I could just take all my startup challenges, such as go-to-market, product differentiation, fundraising, sales strategy, and so on, to mentors and get answers.
Or at least get directions toward answers.
Within 3 meetings, I quickly realized that nobody, and I mean nobody, knows my business as well as I do. Nobody has had the opportunity to work on this startup for the past year and develop relationships with customers and stakeholders as I have. There’s got to be some earned insights I’ve had.
Now is the time to lean into those insights and iterate. I always thought that startup pivots were instances where the entire strategy team gets together, has an all-hands-on-deck meeting, runs a ton of analysis and then decides how they are meticulously going to pivot.
The holy grail of pivots! Yes, pivots. A startup’s favorite love-hate relationship. In reality, pivots are supposed to be hella messy. If you wait too long to perfect a pivot, you’re moving too damn slow.
Knowing what you are pivoting to is more important than how you perfect that pivot. Even the why need not make sense to everyone connected with your business or following your social media updates. Most people don’t really care (or notice) that you are ‘pivoting’.
Pivot with mini experiments and iterations of your product and service. Pivot with messaging and fine-tuning your pitch. Notice reactions, observe conversion rates, and focus on what piques someone’s interest.
Being a startup founder is hard enough. You need not make it harder by doing things constantly that make you feel inadequate or like a failure.
I don’t mean you should run away from the important tasks that intimidate you. What I mean is that there is a way to leverage your skills for the better and focus on outcomes that you can fully own.
I love writing. I love connecting with people. I love making introductions. I love creative problem-solving. I love crafting stories and narratives. I don’t like pitching. I am not a fan of pitch decks. I find it challenging to build a personal brand that is always switched on on social media.
Now, all of these things are somewhat essential in today’s startup environment. Especially because, as a founder, you are always pitching.
You are pitching to customers. You are pitching to investors. You are pitching to employees. You are pitching to strategic partners.
The key learning here is that you can reframe this approach in your mind. If pitching is not my forte, I can focus on relationship-building with different stakeholders, ultimately making the pitching feel like a regular two-way conversation instead of a one-way street.
I don’t necessarily have the wherewithal to focus all my energies on personal branding, but I can become the super-connector for my peers by opening the doors for others and helping them connect the dots. This can be done via in-person curated networking events, which I am a huge fan of, or it can be done in more personalized one-on-one conversations online.
The idea is that you should be doing what feels natural yet has an impact. Packaging some of these things differently to make your mind feel at ease is one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself as a founder.
This one learning has taken me more time to absorb and practice than some of the other learnings, and rightly so, because of the shiny object syndrome we founders so very often face, it can feel like you want to do everything all the time to the best of your ability.
Well, breaking news! That is highly impossible, especially as a small team.
I was focused on social media, live events, content marketing, strategic partnerships, sales, pitching, fundraising, networking, and personal branding, all of these things little by little until exhaustion began.
I was starting every week by playing catch up with my to-do list. To make matters worse, I was saying yes to more meetings than I wanted which meant I had no structure for how my days looked. No structure = no focus.
For example, my Monday would start with a sales meeting, followed by a mentor meeting, followed by a fellow founder catch-up, and so on. While all those things are meaningful to me, they hamper my productivity. What I would prefer to start my day with would be writing.
I had started a ritual of writing every morning, which I realized would make me feel like I already accomplished one item at the start of the day. The words would flow because sharing my founder’s journey felt natural. It felt fresh. It felt real. And, more importantly, it felt therapeutic.
One tactic that helped me reduce the stress and anxiety of having too many tasks at hand was by figuring out highlights for my day and week. These could be small tasks or big needle movers, but it had to be done. Right now, the biggest needle mover for my startup is founder-led sales.
My goal is not to try to boil the ocean and get everything smooth sailing all at once. Instead, I am going to focus solely on sales and customer success by building a sales pipeline, prospecting leads, drawing a sales process, and then working on nurturing relationships, following up, and closing.
Everything else can be put on autopilot or can be automated to some extent. Social media has Buffer. Twitter has Tweetdeck. Content has new and popular tools that can speed up the creation process a lot more. You have to find a way to leverage tools to lessen the burden on your plate.