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.
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 is not an emotion but a mindset that allows for the possibility of good being derived from the worst of circumstances.
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, published 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.
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 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 is the ability to clearly identify barriers and flaws while maintaining a hopeful environment for exploring creative alternatives.
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.
As the founder of a tech startup, I’ve certainly had my share of experiences where the choice to let go of anger has been the only way I could maintain the emotional and mental resources needed to weather the extreme highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Anyone who has been involved in a startup understands that the pressure to deliver on a vision with limited or nonexistent funds, personnel or supplies brings out the best – and worst – in each of us.
We say things we don’t mean. We say things we absolutely mean but might have had the wisdom to keep to ourselves under other conditions. We do things we regret. And, at some point or another, we end up on the receiving of those same experiences.
Sometimes the blame for the fractures in our relationships lies squarely on our own shoulders, and when it does, feeling angry is wasted emotion. It’s far more productive to serve ourselves a slice of humble pie and offer up an apology. When it comes from an honest place, an apology opens the way back to peace. Building a startup is emotionally draining, even in good times, and making sure we aren’t weighted down by unresolved issues – especially when we hold the power to make amends – is vital. But it is the wounds which are result of others’ betrayal or wrong behavior, the ones which we cannot repair, which often disrupt our peace, cloud our judgment, and distract us from our goals.
One of the most important traits we need as an entrepreneur is the inner calm to persevere amidst the intense emotions of the startup pressure cooker, especially if our journey is made more difficult by the actions of another.
If the damage to our reputation or company rises to the level of needing to take action against it, then we shouldn’t waste our energy on anger. Immediately consulting a lawyer will clarify the available options, but the decision to take legal action is a serious one. While it may feel empowering to fight back, there is a high financial and emotional cost attached to public court battles, and every moment spent on resolving conflict through the courts is time not spent growing the startup or supporting our team. Sometimes legal recourse is the right course of action, but it is a decision that should only be made after very careful consideration to all factors involved.
But, by and large, most of the difficulties we experience with others do not rise to this level. That in no way changes the amount of pain and anger we experience. Whatever the conflict, whatever the cause of the anger, if we hold onto it, we will be the loser, because anger drags us down, changes our perspective, diminishes our drive and energy, depletes our hope for the future. If we allow it to grow, anger will eventually cloud our own vision and destroy our ability to lead our team forward to success.
So just let it go. Every single time anger once again surges to the surface, make the conscious decision to just let it go. We can choose to focus on the future, on the positive and not allow our painful experiences along our journey to cloud our own vision. We owe it to ourselves and to everyone else on our team to preserve the emotional resources needed to achieve success.
And when we make the choices that allow us to preserve our inner peace, the reward is that the sweet savor of success isn’t marred with the bitter aftertaste that comes with lingering anger. And isn’t that why we began this journey of entrepreneurship in the first place?
I’d taken on a part-time position with a local museum which I’d taken specifically for the hours when my husband would be home with our three kids. And while I actually enjoyed the work, I also missed out on a lot – my daughter’s last year of competing at nationals for climbing as well as weekend camping trips, family suppers, and just hanging out in the back yard with the kids on a warm Saturday night.
But the moment that pushed me over the edge was when I arrived home at 3 AM on a Saturday night. I tried to open our garage door but met resistance. Pushing a little more firmly, I realized I was actually scooting my youngest son across the tile of our foyer. At some point after being tucked into bed, our youngest woke up. He did the only thing a little boy missing his mother knew to do – wait at the very spot he knew I’d return. And so he waited on the cold tile until he finally fell asleep.
I picked my son up and carried him back to his bad, pulling up the covers up and kissing his forehead. I sat at the edge of his bed for a few moments, tears welling up as his little hand gripped tightly around my finger. And in that moment I knew that no job was worth doing this to my son.
Within the month I’d resigned my position and metamorphosed from stay-at-home mom to founder of a tech company. Not that being an entrepreneur eradicated Mommy Guilt. It didn’t. But it did mean I decided what I was going to feel guilty about, because I was the one choosing the trade-offs of what I’d miss to give time to something else.
There are times now that I am definitely judged as being that mom – the one who ends up parenting her kid via cell phone while boarding a plane, who is rarely available to volunteer for anything during or after school, and the one who has more than once sent her kid off to school with a still-damp uniform after forgetting it was needed for a game after school. I’m the mom who celebrates my kid’s somewhat crappy-looking science fair entry while happily ignoring the silent condemnation of his classmates’ parents who see my hands-off approach as unsupportive. Truth is I have no desire to see if my participation in his project will earn him an A. It’s his learning experience, and if I’m judged as the mom who doesn’t help her kid with his projects, I’m ok with that. I’ve made peace with being that mom.
But I’m finished with feeling guilty. Or, at least, I’m finished letting anyone else decide what should make me feel guilty. If I blow off one of my kids or ignore them when they really need me, and I do it because I am far too immersed in my own thoughts to be present and listen, I should feel guilty about that. It is a poor choice that leaves me as inaccessible as if I wasn’t there. If I don’t parent by making my children accountable for immoral, inconsiderate, unkind, or dishonest behavior, if I don’t provide comfort and perspective when my children are wounded by life, or if I’m not accessible for the average, ordinary conversations that are actually the courage-building moments when one of my children might share one of those big issues that they’re carrying deep inside – if I am not available to be that parent, I should feel guilty.
But I’m finished feeling guilty for being gone on travel and not available at a moment’s notice to help one of my children get out of a momentary problem. Yes, I’m unavailable. But, no, it’s not the end of the world. And more often than not, it simply results in the learning moment where my kid discovers they have the inner resilience and resources to manage the issue for themselves.
I’m finished feeling guilty for not being there every morning to cook breakfast. Guess what? Cooking skills are empowering. When my teenage kid discovers he can forage in the pantry and make something to eat without setting the toaster on fire – that isn’t neglect – that’s fostering independence.
And I’m finished feeling guilty for not being invincible. There are days I’m barely treading water because of the overwhelming amount of responsibility that I have on my plate, and allowing my children to witness my own moments of weakness, vulnerability, and fear – that is a gift I am giving them. When they witness the same raw emotions coming from me which often hold the same power to derail their own pursuit of goals and dreams – and when they see me get beyond those momentary emotions to move forward – I am sharing with them the honesty of the journey, the reality of the pain and emotional toll that is taken from each of us if we are to grow to meet the challenges along the journey. I refuse to feel guilty for sharing that with my children.
The truth is that I absolutely love what I do now. I love our company, our vision, the problems we are helping others solve because of what we’ve built. I love the dynamics, talent and energy of our team. And I love the opportunities that have arisen along the journey – the chance to build rewarding friendships, the opportunity to launch an organization with a dear friend which is focused on empowering other women, and the privilege of being inspired by others who are pursuing their own dreams. I also love being a mother, even if the mother I am today isn’t what I imagined. I’ve made peace with the messiness of it all, because it is the mess of it all, the ebb and flow of blending all of these roles together into one reality which has helped me finally feel at peace with who I am.
It’s not often you get the chance to help someone make their dream happen – and make sure it’s possible for New Mexico to get some of the best ribs ever made. But with the launch today of Andre’s Ribs Kickstarter, you can help a disabled vet fulfill his passion. If you’d like to know more about Andre, his bio is below this video. But even if you can only donate $5, it all helps. And if you can share this with your friends, please do. Let’s support this injured military veteran and make Andre’s Ribs a reality. Let’s help Andre and Watch New Mexico Rise
Andre Moore knows a lot about picking up the pieces of shattered dreams and putting them back together to find a new purpose in life. A disabled Army medic, Moore is a former high school football player who grew up in a two-bedroom house in Deastville, Alabama, with his grandmother, mother, and as one of the oldest of seven siblings. As the oldest brother, Moore learned early on how to cook for his family and discovered a love for baking after learning the secrets of southern baking under the guidance of his grandmother and mother. “One year when my mom was sick, she couldn’t make the red velvet cakes she made every year for her co-workers. So I made them for her. When they all raved and said they were the best cakes she’d ever made, she told them it was me that had made them. I made them every year after that.”
“It wasn’t long after that that I learned I was good at cooking meat,” he recalls. “I was in high school and needed another elective, so I took Home Economics. There was this beef cook off, and I came in second place with this roast beef recipe I got out of a Betty Crocker cookbook.”
For a child who grew up where food was scarce, creating dishes that bring pleasure to his friends is about more than the joy of good-tasting food. “If you eat with people, you got time with somebody that’s more wholehearted than just meeting someone. To give someone food that is quality, that other people can enjoy, too – that’s important.”
It doesn’t take long into a conversation with Moore to realize that behind his slow smile and quiet demeanor lies an inquisitive, intelligent mind, but it wasn’t his intelligence that he thought would be his ticket out of the low income community where he grew up.
I don’t believe there is one single trait that, absent all others, can deliver success for entrepreneurs. It’s really a unique blend of traits and talents within each individual – as well as many outside factors – all converging at the right time in the right way. If it were as simple as a specific trait, then those individuals possessing that trait would be successful every time – and that is certainly not the case. Many a successful entrepreneur has gone on to live through colossal failures. And while there are just as many reasons for a startup’s failure as for its success, I do believe that there is one trait that, if given room to grow, will ruin an entrepreneur. When an entrepreneur stops being willing to be coached, their days are numbered – and understanding the underlying root of this resistance is vital, because the solution often depends on what is causing us to shut out the advice of others.
There was a phase early in my own journey as the founder of a startup that I was far too resistant to the feedback and ideas of those around me, and for me, it was my inexperience that was getting in my way. I had clarity on our ‘big idea’ and knew it was my job to protect our focus so that we, as a company, didn’t end up chasing every shiny thing and every dollar that looked like a possibility. But in my very worthy goal to protect my team from being pulled to and fro by contrary paths and indecision, I become implacable. Thankfully, I had the good fortune to survive those growing pains without losing momentum, and I’m grateful that the experience helped me become much more willing to hear the cautionary words of others and to entertain opposing views. I’ve learned that while it’s right to protect the goals and vision of a company, a founder must also be open to advice and correction from others and synthesize that feedback into a more refined path forward.
Entrepreneurs can also become uncoachable simply because we are so afraid of taking the step we’re being prodded to take. We can easily confuse fear with intuition and believe that our inaction is actually being wise. Intuition tells us the truth when we are missing warning signs that something is not right, but fear is a liar and operates from our weaker selves. As entrepreneurs, fear is often the thing we experience right before a breakthrough. When we start rejecting advice that is pushing us past our comfort zone, we become paralyzed by inaction and ruin our chances for success.
But when being uncoachable is driven by hubris, that is really the most destructive reason of all. Hubris is defined as excessive pride or self confidence. Hubris turns almost any trait’s value into a detriment. It changes confidence into cockiness, single-mindedness into disdain. When that happens, the very traits that initially resulted in early progress become the very traits that lead to failure. It is the difference between someone forging ahead into the unknown and choosing the road less traveled and the individual who drives over a cliff, despite the multitude of warnings and cautions along the way.
While an entrepreneur absolutely must possess thick skin and the ability to filter through doubts, fears and bad advice, there better be an understanding that in the midst of the cacophony of feedback, there may be invaluable insights and guidance that could make the difference between failure and success. When we are coachable and receptive, we increase our chances of success.
Perhaps a good test is this: if you think everyone around you is an idiot, and everyone who shares advice with you is a fool who just doesn’t get it – especially if your own vision isn’t leading to your expected outcomes – then maybe it’s time to serve yourself a slice of humble pie and realize that they may not be as much of an idiot as you thought. You may well be in that same category yourself for summarily rejecting all feedback as beneath you. You have to want success more than you want to be right, and when that is your goal, you’ll find the humility and grace to accept difficult advice and hard truths that can help you succeed. I know from experience that hearing difficult advice that goes against what we want to be believe is painful and difficult, but I’ve also seen the results of it and know that without finding a way to be coachable, there is no way to get where we want to be.