Mission Over Impossible: Fueling Resolve

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When Sara Corry entered her yearlong HauteHopes Entrepreneur in Residence program with us in February of 2015, Sara told my Hautepreneurs cofounder, Jessica Eaves Mathews, that her biggest barrier to success was the lack of an e-commerce site to sell her company’s hand-sewn scrubs. Sara’s company, Batiks for Life – Scrubs on a Mission was partnering with another company which would alleviate many of the other barriers to begin working with women in need in Ghana. With the partnership in place, it allowed Sara to focus on her website.

After only a few weeks, the partnership dissolved. Sara now faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds of achieving her goals. Instead, she used her goals as fuel, believing that the significant need of women living in untenable situations was far more important than her new barriers to establishing a permanent sewing cooperative which would teach employable skills to these young mothers living on the streets. Her positive mindset was tested many times during the months she has been in our program, but she turned each difficulty into a stronger resolve to move forward. This past week, Sara finally landed in Ghana. The new Batiks for Life website is not only live but already selling scrubs, and she is now independently launching her sewing cooperative with funds raised by her successful Kickstarter campaign which exceeded its original goal in the first 48 hours.

There is this moment in the experience of every entrepreneur where all seems lost. Whether it is an investor declining to come in on a desperately needed round of funding, a pivotal customer passing on the opportunity, a partnership dissolving or a key team member choosing to leave, every startup faces dark moments when survival looks impossible. But I firmly believe that it is our self-talk, the story we tell ourselves in those darkest moments, that determines which startups survive and which ones die.

This isn’t to say that a negative outlook has no value; it does. We all need an Eeyore on our startup team. It’s the Eeyore on our team that keeps us grounded, reminds us of the dangers of drinking too much of our own Koolaid, that points out the problems that lie ahead. The Eeyore in a startup is aware of the increasing competition in a similar space and constantly worries about a competitor getting traction. We all need an Eeyore on our team to be our voice of caution and instill a sense of urgency.

But when the loudest voice we hear – whether inside our own head or from our team – is negative, the focus shifts away from growth and, instead, sees danger around every corner. Instead of being used as fuel to work harder, every post on social media about a potential competitor becomes a distraction and where we might have explored potential collaborations, we only see is the enemy. The toxic voice of negativity can turn every setback into a death knell, becoming a self-fulling prophecy. Entrepreneurs must see the impossibility of it all and still believe there is a way to make it happen. They must be champions of hope – not ignorant hope that pretends difficulties don’t exist – but hope that sees the difficulties and still believes that with some creativity and hard work, success is possible.

Sara will miss our upcoming HauteCon 2015 National Women’s Conference, with two days of content cultivated to help others aspire, achieve, and elevate. And while I am sorry others won’t get to hear her tell her story, I’m pretty sure she’ll find ways to continue putting hope in the forefront through her blog about her experiences in Ghana. On days when things may feel a bit dark for me, I am sure her voice of hope will remind me that our future is what we choose to see ahead. It really is whatever we decide it will be.

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Adopt These 3 Traits for a Positive Mindset

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In a mere .40 seconds, Google serves up 79,800,000 results on “how to be a successful entrepreneur”.

That’s a lot of advice.

  • Bold headlines: Build Your A-Team … Pitch Like a Pro … Know Your Competitive Advantage
  • Name dropping : Zuckerberg … Jobs … Sandberg … Omidyar … Wozniak … Corcoran 
  • Videos on sleep habits of successful entrepreneurs … from dropout to billionaire … rocking your pitch
  • Catchy words: unicorn … killer … crushing it

With almost eighty million results to sift through, it is possible to find advice or information on just about anything and everything. But, in reality, the biggest determining factor in achieving success cannot be found on a website, in a book or in advice personally shared from the best of mentors. The ultimate success or failure of an individual has far more to do with their own mindset than any other factor. While there are many traits that contribute to mindset, here are three that, when adopted, lead to a powerful shift in thinking and outcomes when confronted with difficulties.

Gratitude

Gratitude is not an emotion but a mindset that allows for the possibility of good being derived from the worst of circumstances.

cropped-img_3192.pngSir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Grouppublished a letter earlier this year with advice on how to be happy, and none of his advice had to do with wealth, success or achievements. Instead, it had to do with mindset. “Happiness shouldn’t be a goal, it should be a habit. Take the focus off doing, and start being every day. Be loving, be grateful, be helpful, and be a spectator to your own thoughts.”

By embracing a mindset of gratitude, we allow ourselves to hope when facing defeat and to feel joy in the midst of difficulties. When we are grateful for the good despite the bad that is happening, we are empowered to move forward, to remain tenacious, to summon the energy to struggle on. Gratitude fuels an entrepreneur to persevere, iterate, pivot or close down one venture with the courage to begin again.

Generosity

A mindset of generosity helps maintain the emotional resources and the social goodwill to survive the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

I first met Alex Wirth, the cofounder of Quorum Analytics, Inc., at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City earlier this year. I had asked a panel of investors and founders for advice on growing visibility for our civic-focused startup, APPCityLife, which is based in the sparsely populated state of New Mexico. Immediately following the session, Alex sought me out and introduced himself as a fellow New Mexican and offered to provide introductions into his own network where it might be of help.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex is one of those inspiring individuals who has found success in his own company by embracing a philosophy of generosity. He opted to extend his own network to another startup founder simply because he could and because he knew it would help. Not once has he asked for anything in return, and he has more than made good on the offer he made to me that day.

A mindset of generosity does not mean we operate in a state of naivety. We can be generous by sharing our network while respecting the privacy of those within our own network by gaining prior permission before sending introductions. We can share insight, give advice, and help others while still protecting our own intellectual property. But when we operate from a protective mindset or a scarcity mentality, where we make sure we get ours by keeping it away from others, we not only fail to help where we could make a difference, but we also fail to surround ourselves with others who embrace a mindset of generosity and who could, in turn, support and help us in a time of need. A wide network built on goodwill that we can access in times of difficulty can mean the difference between survival or failure.

Positive Pragmatism

Positive pragmatism is the ability to clearly identify barriers and flaws while maintaining a hopeful environment for exploring creative alternatives.

via Humans of New York: “I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.”

There is this moment in the experience of every entrepreneur where some devastating setback threatens to derail all progress forward. It is the self-talk, the story that we tell ourselves about that moment which shapes our perceptions, reactions, and ultimately, our decisions. If we’ve learned to frame those moments in a mindset of positive pragmatism, we are far better equipped to endure the extreme lows that are a common occurrence within the startup industry.

A recent post by photographer Brandon Stanton, the creator of the popular blog, Humans of New York, perfectly depicted this attitude of positive pragmatism. A young entrepreneur’s comment about becoming CEO was met with derision by many readers who questioned how the purchase of a suit could turn anyone into a CEO. But the truth is this: when someone leaves a startup, it leaves a hole. Somebody else has to step up and fill the gap – – and it is usually someone who cares a little more, is a little more committed, and who isn’t yet willing to give up no matter how ill-prepared they are to fill that new role. They assess the new challenges created by the loss of that team member and weigh those new challenges against the potential for success with the remaining resources, talent and traction. And little by little, the remaining team often learns new skills and acquires the knowledge to fill the gaps to the startup forward.

While there are a multitude of factors which affect the outcome of a startup such as team, skills, knowledge, and even luck, adopting the right mindset can help an entrepreneur access deeper reservoirs of mental and emotional energy to overcome the difficulties and barriers which, otherwise, might derail the best of teams.