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6 Tips For Navigating Your Role As An Entrepreneur

6 Tips For Navigating Your Role As An Entrepreneur

On August 17 I went to the YC Alumni demo day in Mountain View. As the class of Summer 2015 proudly pitched their ideas in perfectly rehearsed two and half minute pitches, my multitasking mind thought about how much time has passed since Vasco Pedro, my fellow co-founder and CEO, presented Unbabel on that same stage in March 2014. It felt like eternity. I began to think further back to my first startup, a total disaster that left me penniless in 2012, then to when I quit my job to start a female beauty company that never made off the paper, and to my first job in tech in 2005. It’s been 10 years since I embarked on my journey in this crazy world of startups, technology, subscriptions, and hyper growth, and became an entrepreneur.

Being an entrepreneur is a difficult job that we’ve all chosen for different reasons, but the underlying motivation is our passion for ideas that we believe in so much that we’re willing to do what it takes to make them come to life. After having worked with startups around the world, I’ve gathered enough experience to last me a lifetime. Here are my top six tips for navigating your role as an entrepreneur.

Know your self worth

It’s easy to confuse your self worth with the growth rate of your company, how much money you raised, or how many times you heard the word “no” this week. After co-founding ActualSun, the team imploded and we failed to build a product, lost our pilot customer, and the trust of our investors. I thought I failed as a manager and as a person. Looking back I realize it was just a bruised ego and allowing myself to think that way only made it harder to get back on the horse and try again. Building a company is a 24/7 job and it’s natural to obsess about what’s going on with your startup. Thoughts are constantly swirling through your head about how to grow, who your customers are, how to sell, who to sell too, how your ideas stand out, and how to communicate them in a meaningful way. When you spend so much time thinking about something, you begin to identify personally with it. It stops being your company and starts being you.

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But it’s not. You’re a worthy, unique, valuable human being just because you are you. There is no point in identifying yourself too much with your failures or successes. If you get down when the business is down, it’s much harder to turn it around and you might fail to see the window that opens when that door is slammed in your face. Balancing your reactions to the ups and downs of your business is all about remaining confident in the face of failure and maintaining modesty in your success.

Keep calm and try again

If you ever met me in person you’ll see “Keep Calm and Try Again” is actually my phone’s screensaver. As entrepreneurs we naturally see ourselves as leaders and are always striving to succeed. Our desire to be the best often causes us to go into a bit of a panic when things don’t work out the way we had hoped. A large majority of the things we work on will fail and on multiple levels; weer that’s your campaigns, channels, customers you go after, or people you hire. You will make mistakes and lots of them, but that just means you’re making decisions and taking chances.

In a way, it’s like A/B testing everything. I first started getting used to trying things when I worked for TIMWE. We did a lot of online ads, and had tons of different landing pages. We would test if a particular piece of content would sell, a new affiliate network, or a new banner design. It sounds basic, but this was in 2006 before Unbounce and Optimizely made it easy, we were running these experiments manually. The marketing team discussed our experiments as a group on Monday mornings and if it worked we’d do more, if not, we’d try something else. You can apply that to literally everything! Remember, each attempt is a learning opportunity, a teachable moment. The silver lining of any failure, is what you learn as a result. A friend of mine summarized it perfectly by saying, “Learning is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” I love that sentence and always look for what I learned in each project. If you can take your failure and turn it into an opportunity for growth, you and your company will be able to turn failures into success.

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Become a well rounded person

Even though you might feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day, taking time away from work to hone different interests, hobbies, and passions is good for business. Aside from it being a good stress release, it makes you a richer and more well-rounded person and opens you up to meeting people with different opinions, skills, and experiences than you. All my YC batch mates (Go Winter 14!) have some kind of interest that helps take their mind off work and do things with different people. They participate in a range of activities from stand up comedy, paragliding, and team sports, to climbing mountains, camping, building cities in the desert, and cooking. And me? I did my first triathlon on August 23!

The beauty of adding more dimensions to your life is that it will actually make you a better founder. Here’s a secret, as an entrepreneur you’re always selling the vision, the technology, the company, to investors, customers, employees, family, and friends. Selling is all you do, and it’s much easier to sell if you can create rapport with people around other things you might have in common aside from your company.

Remember you’re not alone

I hear these phrases time and again, “most startups are shit-shows”, “there is always something broken”, “the problems are just different when you grow”, “as a CEO I focus on the part of the company that is under performing the most and fix it.” Every step of the way, from idea to IPO, hell is always about to break loose and something that might kill your company is always about to happen. Not only do we all have some type of problem to solve, we all think we’re the only ones. We’re not, everyone goes through the struggles of building their business.

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I have a group of startup friends I have dinner with once a month just to talk about the companies we are building in a friendly supportive environment (with good food and wine). Find your peers, start a group, get together regularly, and talk it out. Just sharing dilemmas out loud is often half the solution, and as an added bonus, you say them to a room full of other entrepreneurs who can draw on their experiences and offer advice.

Practice your people skills

Dealing with other people is hard, and it’s crucial that you learn to be great at it. Find ways to make people do what you want even when you don’t have hierarchical power over them. No, I don’t mean be manipulative. What I mean is, make people want to work for you. Learn what interests the people you work with, how they want to expand their skill sets, and how you can help them. Knowing these are critical for a successful business.

There’s a new contract between companies and people. In the old days people were resources who gave themselves to companies in exchange for predictability, security, and a job for life. Today, that type of employment is a distant memory. There’s no predictability anymore, so instead of searching for jobs that can provide security, people want jobs that offer them the opportunity to learn, better themselves, and work in a variety of capacities. It’s your job to create those opportunities for them and to make sure your team is naturally aligned with where you’re going and want to be with you for the ride.

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Respect your co-founders

The way you communicate with your co-founders sets the tone for your whole company. You and your team of founders are the backbone of your startup and set the company-wide example of how to be team players. When business gets stressful, your co-founders are your support system and are just as invested in the success of the company as you are. Always assume they are doing the best they can and working as hard as they can. You didn’t choose each other randomly, it was a conscious choice to go into business with one another and when times get tough, it’s important to remember that they are invested and deserve your respect.

It’s equally important to never let doubts or unspoken pain fester. Everyone is human and falls prey to outbursts that come across as disrespectful. At Unbabel we call that emotional debt, and unlike technical or sales debt, this isn’t the kind of debt that you can afford to pay back later. A startup is like a relationship and when doubts and resentment begin to build up, they are bound to surface in the throes of another issue. So don’t let it build up and have the tough conversations about your stress, fears, and needs, and listen to those of your founders and your team. Make sure to find ways to make everyone feel valued and part of the team. As a way to avoid a build-up of emotional debt, take company trips and do something fun to build a strong connection between each member of the team.

These tips are helpful for every entrepreneur who wants to navigate successfully through the minefield of living the startup life. Implementing these key strategies will help you develop yourself personally by having a grounded sense of yourself and becoming more well-rounded and empathetic. You’ll grow your business by remaining calm in the face of failure and looking for the next opportunities. Finally, you’ll be better equipped to nurture your team by removing emotional debt and promoting an environment of mutual respect. If all else fails, listen to your gut and remember that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

Featured photo credit: Navigator/ Thomas Abbs via flickr.com

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Be Happy at Work and Find Fulfillment in Your Career

How to Be Happy at Work and Find Fulfillment in Your Career

If you’re going to spend 1/3 of our life at work, you should enjoy it, right?

Trust me, I know that’s easier said than done. Difficult coworkers, less-than-desirable tasks, or even just being in the wrong position can all lead to a lack of enjoyment and fulfillment in your work.

But what if I told you it doesn’t have to be this way? Or better yet, if you struggle with all of the above (and then some), what if I told you that enjoying your work and finding fulfillment regardless of those obstacles is possible?

Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you because I was there too. Before implementing the tips below, I struggled to get through each day, much less find real fulfillment, in the office. Now, even after the toughest days on the job, I still come away with feelings of pride, accomplishment, and fulfillment. The best news is, so can you.

If you’re ready to make those hours count and find happiness and fulfillment in the office, then read on to find out how to be happy at work and find fulfillment in your career:

1. Discover the root(s) of the problem

For this first step, we’ll need to think back to 8th-grade physics (humor me). We all know Newton’s 3rd law, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When you think about it, the same can be said outside of physics, and we see this law play out in our daily lives, day after day.

Simply put, all the issues we deal with in the office (and life in general) affect us in a noticeable way.

If you’re appreciated at work, like the work you do and receive frequent praise, promotions, or raises, then this will probably have an altogether positive effect on your life in the office.

But what if we reverse this? What if you feel under appreciated, get passed up for promotions, or get denied raises? This is sure to affect the way you feel at work on a negative level.

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So, before you can implement the steps of feeling happy and fulfilled at work, we first have to discover the reasons why you don’t feel that way already.

Think about it, write a list, or make a mental note. Run through all the reasons you’re dissatisfied in the office, and don’t hold back. Knowing the exact obstacles you’re facing will make overcoming them that much easier.

In fact, as a side-challenge to this article, I recommend picking the top three reasons contributing to your dissatisfaction at work and using the following tips to tackle them.

2. Practice gratitude for an instant uplift

Did you know the simple act of feeling grateful can increase your happiness and make you more fulfilled at work?[1]

Well, it’s true, and it’s scientifically proven.

Dr. Lisa Firestone notes that practicing gratitude “reminds us of what we lacked in the past.” Meaning, it serves as both a boost to happiness and a bit of a wake-up call that things have been or could be, much worse.

Trying to conjure up feelings of gratitude can seem almost impossible when your work situation seems bleak, but hear me out: There are incredibly easy ways to get started and it doesn’t involve trying to “force” yourself to feel grateful about things that stress you out.

For an instant pick-me-up, try this:

Find a loose piece of paper, a blank sticky note, or anything you can write on, be it physical or digital. List just three things that you are absolutely without-a-doubt thankful for in your life.

Now here’s the trick: Don’t just list what you’re grateful for, you have to list why you’re grateful for them, too.

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For example, simply saying “I’m grateful for my kids” will probably make you feel good, sure, but what if we could amplify the warm, fuzzy feeling into real, lasting motivation?

Instead, write the reason you’re so thankful for your children. Is it because they make you laugh and forget about other stressors? Or maybe they help to remind you of why you go to work every day in the first place?

Whatever your reasons may be, jot them down and keep your list somewhere you can see it while you work. A quick glance at your gratitude list throughout the day can provide powerful, positive motivation to keep going.

Bonus:

If you can find just three things to be thankful for that specifically relate to your job, and list why those things make you grateful, your list can also help you find fulfillment in your work itself which can give you an even bigger boost of positivity throughout the day.

3. Take meaningful time for yourself

We all know creating a strong work-life balance can be crucial to feeling satisfied in our jobs, but rarely do we ever address how we’re spending our time outside of work.

Many of us survive a 9-hour work day and commute home only to find ourselves busy with our personal to-do lists, running a household, and taking care of a child (or 2 or 3, and so on).

If you spend all your time working, whether in the office or within your household, you’re going to feel drained at some point. This is why setting meaningful time for yourself every day is highly important.

Look, I get it: I don’t know anyone in the working world who can shun all responsibility for a 3-movie marathon or happy hour with friends whenever they feel like it. But finding time for yourself, be it just 30 minutes to an hour, can really make a difference in how you feel at work.

This works because you’ll have time to actually relax and let the day’s stress melt away while you enjoy something just for you. The to-do lists and stressors will still be there after you’re refreshed and ready to tackle them.

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No time for me-time? Try this:

If you have a busy household, you’ll need to capitalize on a block of time you know will be completely uninterrupted. The easiest way to do this: try waking up 30 minutes to an hour earlier than usual (or push bedtime back an hour if you’re a night owl, like me) and take time to do something you enjoy.

This could be reading with a cup of tea, catching up on Facebook, spending time on a passion project—anything! As long as it’s meaningful to you, it works!

Bonus:

Starting your day with meaningful time for yourself can set you up to have a positive mood that lasts well into office hours, and having your me-time in the evening can give you something positive to look forward to during the day.

4. Get productive and feel accomplished

Don’t you just love the feeling of checking the last item off of a hefty to-do list? That’s because self-motivation can be a huge driver of positivity and success.

When we accomplish something, no matter how small, it makes us feel good, plain and simple. Applying this tactic to your daily work can be the motivator you need to find fulfillment during the daily office grind.

While there are tons of steps to get more done at work, I’ll share my personal favorite: Prioritizing.

Now, many people handle prioritizing differently. Some like to tackle the little tasks first so they can spend focused time on the big to-dos. Others like to knock out the big items first and get to the smaller ones when they can.

No matter which camp you’re in, you may be missing one crucial step: Time management.

So how’s this work? When you factor in the amount of time your priorities will take, it can transform your productivity ten-fold.

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Say you have three top priorities for the day. You might jump into the smaller ones or the bigger ones depending on your preferred method, and then find yourself out of time and bringing work home with you at the end of the day.

This is prevented when you factor in time. Knowing how long each item will take, or deliberately setting specific blocks of time for your priorities can help you accomplish more in the same 8-9 (or 12) hours that you typically spend at work.

Try this:

Take a look at your priorities and consider how long they should take. Pop into your Google calendar (or Filofax, whatever works for you) and schedule time to work on your priority items around any important meetings or events of the day.

The most important thing to remember is to stick to your dedicated time.

Often, when we know exactly how long we have to work on something (and honor this time limit), we’re motivated to get more done on time to avoid taking work home at the end of the day.

The bottom line

There’s no need to waste 1/3 of our lives feeling unsatisfied at work. Luckily, you now have the tools to get started, take back your time, and become happy and fulfilled at work again.

The only question is — which tip will you try first?

Featured photo credit: Ellyot via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Psychology Today: The Healing Power of Gratitude

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