How to cope with the different emotional stages of a start-up
AUTHOR: Chris RobsonStarting a new business is like starting a new relationship; youíre not fully in control and it soon fills your mind at all hours of the day and night. Without preparation and foresight, youíll soon find the amazing feeling you had at the start begins to disappear.
This short article will help you to navigate not just the start of a new business but the key emotional challenges that await you, and every entrepreneur, every step of the way.
Falling in Love
It starts with an idea or something that grabs your attention and soon becomes an obsession. Itís much more exciting than anything else youíre doing and you want to tell everyone about it.
This is the stage when you Ďfall in loveí with your business or idea. Itís all about endless possibilities and what you can achieve Ė you dream and plan for the future. But you need to get the basics right before this gets fully out in the open!
Do you need a business partner? Have you really got complementary skills with the people you are considering doing it with? Do you know how each other operates? Whoís taking the risk and whatís the reward for each side? Whoís driving the relationship and is that going work?
Do people think this is a good idea or do they constantly point out the flaws as you excitedly trip out your plan? Maybe you need to slow it down and think it through a bit further? Typically most people havenít thought through their business carefully enough. They donít really understand their customer and what problem they are really solving.
Everything is going at breakneck speed, but are you really prepared to throw everything else up in the air to pursue the love of your life? Have you really thought through what you might sacrifice if it goes wrong? How will you cope then? You need to take more time than you think to prepare and to get your ducks in a row.
Next comes the stage when every Entrepreneur goes public with their new found love. Many feel compelled to; you just have to go, take the leap Ė itís all too exciting!
You may have resigned from your job, teamed up with your business partners and be busy developing the product or service. Youíre committed now. The relationship is formal. It feels great. Itís still all new. Every moment is precious. It dominates your existence.
Nowís the time to buckle down to the job in hand. Youíve got to make it work. You need to live your life in Beta and focus relentlessly on your customers and what they want. See how quickly you can get your product or service into the hands of a paying customer. You may be full of your own ideas but you need to hear what they say and not just once but all the time. You need to keep adapting what you do as they give you feedback. It can always be improved.
But donít just focus on the product, stay open-minded to other opportunities, to different ways of doing things, to potential business partners. And remember sometimes with commitment comes sacrifice. You may have to give up some of the other things in your life Ė this love is demanding!
Now the reality starts to kick in. Itís not as brilliant as you thought. You havenít really uncovered the key insight. The channel to market is just that much harder than you thought it would be. And your business partners? They irritate the hell out of you sometimes! Why canít they just stay focused on what they need to do rather than tell you what you need to do?
It feels like hard work; itís relentless and doesnít seem quite as secure as it did. Youíre exposed. Friends and family are watching. Theyíre almost worse than your former colleagues. Do they think youíre mad? Thatís paranoia. But itís good to have a bit of that.
You just need to stick to the plan. This is just teething troubles. You need to keep talking to your business partner and give each other some space. If itís really not working out with your partner, then get some independent to help you talk it through. Donít let issues fester.
And donít be afraid of competition. It will always exist. Reflect on your positives. Consider very carefully what the competition is doing. Define which elements are better and why. Think how you can leapfrog them.
It seemed so certain in the beginning but right and now it seems the opposite. Which way do you go? Whatís the answer? Somehow it doesnít seem to have worked out how you expected. Your assumptions werenít right. Why didnít you take a bit more time? But personal recriminations donít help.
You have to wade on through it and deal with each upset as it comes. Enjoy the uncertainty and see how quickly you can move when you need to. Turn this flexibility to your advantage.
Hang on to your dream but change your tactics. Keep moving and experimenting until you can solve the problem. As the saying goes, Rome wasnít built in a day. Isolate the unknowns. Develop plans to mitigate the risks. Listen to what your gut is telling you Ė are you right or wrong? So something didnít work, thatís fine: you canít be expected to know everything. Learn from it and try not to make the same mistake twice. Love was never meant to be easy as you know!
The Morning After
Finally there comes a time when you start to see clearly again. Yes moneyís tight and you do need to watch everything that you spend, but it feels good to get some clarity back into your life.
Maybe you can stagger along from pillar to post or maybe it would be better to call it quits. Or perhaps itís starting to blossom and people want to join in and be part of it.
But now is not the time to relax. Either you need to break it up or to focus ruthlessly on what is working and do more of it. Take time to ensure everyone is on the same page and understands what you are trying to do. Go the extra mile for them, but if people around you arenít working then get rid of them Ė you canít jeopardise the whole thing.
If you still canít see the answer, then ask people you trust. Listen to them when they tell it to you straight, even if you donít like the answer. They may well be right.
And if itís running well then use your early success to build a buffer against future troubles. Youíre only part of the way there Ė like any love affair you have to keep building and reinventing the magic.