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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 November 19, 2019

Work Smarter, Not Harder: 12 Ways to Work Smart

Work Smarter, Not Harder: 12 Ways to Work Smart

I imagine that like me, you say that you never have enough time and that you just cannot cope with 60 dozen things all at once.

How on earth do you get out of that spiral?

Many people never sit down and look at how to work smarter, rather than harder and even longer hours. But not you, you’re smart enough to try to learn effective ways to work.

So how to work smarter not harder? Here are 12 smart ways you should be following:

1. Improve Your Time Management Skills

Easier said than done? Well, no actually, because there are a few simple rules that can really help you to manage time better.

For example, when setting up a top priority task, you need to switch off the phone and ignore your email first. Then you need to abandon any ideas of multitasking as that will slow you down and ruin your focus.

Finally, set a reasonable deadline and do everything in your power to meet it.

“When you’re born, you’re born with 30,000 days. That’s it. The best strategic planning I can give to you is to think about that.” — Sir Ray Avery

2. Speed up Your Typing and Use Shortcuts

These days we’re all keyboard slaves. So why not speed up your typing and try to get rid of the two finger syndrome. In fact, when you save 21 days per year just by typing fast!

This is exactly what I am doing now, so I cannot honestly say I am practicing what I preach!

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But help is at hand. Try some of these apps and games to help you type fast: 8 Most Effective Games and Apps to Learn to Type Fast

Using shortcuts on the keyboard is another time saver and can speed up your work.

For example, press F2 to rename a selected file, while CTRL + I will put selected text in italics.

There are so many of these. If you make the effort to learn them, they really can be helpful.

3. Learn How to Use Productivity Tools

It is well worth downloading all the useful tools and apps that can highly boost your productivity. Take a look at these 18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools and install whatever fits your needs.

Now that is really a great way of working smarter, not harder.

4. Use Your Phone Wisely

Instead of writing emails, sometimes it’s better to pick up the phone and talk to the person responsible. It saves time, especially for important or urgent discussions.

If that colleague works in the same office, it is even better to go and talk to him or her. It gives you a break, you get some exercise and you actually make human contact which is becoming quite rare in this electronic world.

5. Keep a Tab on Your Tabs

If you are like me, you might well find that you have a ton of tabs open at the top of your browser.

In order to find the one you want, you have to search for them as they are off screen. Having all these tabs open slows down your browser too.

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One solution is to use OneTab which can keep a neat list on the screen of all these tabs when you want to quickly get to one of them or you want to remind yourself which ones you have open.

6. Use a “To Don’t” List

We all know about to do lists and I find that they are generally great. They give me a great sense of achievement as I cross off the tasks done.

But often, I find that we are doing non-essential tasks or ones that can easily be postponed. That is why many people recommend the to don’t list.[1]

Some people prefer to savagely prune the to do list while others prefer to have two separate lists, to do and to don’t. You just have to work out what works best for you when you are trying to save precious time to become more productive.

7. Expect Failure and Fight Paranoia

When failure rears its ugly head, some people get a bit paranoid and fear that this may become a trend.

Projects will go wrong and failure should be expected rather than feared. Learning lessons from failure and analyzing what went wrong is the best way forward.

“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.” — Richard Branson

And here you can find 10 Great Lessons Highly Successful People Have Learned From Failure.

8. Be Concise

Rambling on at meetings, in emails and even when introducing yourself to new clients can waste a lot of people’s time.

One way is to practice and sharpen your “elevator speech,”[2] which tells people in 30 seconds or less why they need your skills and how they can benefit from doing business with you.

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Just think of the many situations where this could be useful:

  • Making new contacts
  • Talking about yourself at a job interview
  • Meeting people at conferences or parties
  • Phone calls to new clients

9. Ask the Right Questions

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” — Naguib Mahfouz

How do you get feedback? The secret is to ask the right questions at the right time.

When you do this, you are gathering the information you need to help in decision making. This will save you time and you will be able to cut meetings to a minimum.

Forbes magazine reports on research that they carried out on asking the right questions.[3] When that happens, the positive effects are increased by 400%. There are also other benefits in staff motivation and a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.

Lifehack’s CEO Leon has shared about how to ask for feedback to learn faster: How to Learn Quickly And Master Any Skill You Want

10. Learn as Much as You Can

You should always be on a steep learning curve. Look at your skills profile and determine where you need to fill a gap. Talk to important connections and network in your niche.

Keep up to date on trends and developments. It is a fact-changing world. When an opportunity arises, you will be the best equipped to seize it because you have never stopped learning. Just another way of working smarter.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Gandhi

11. Look After Your Greatest Resource

No, your greatest resource is not time. It is YOU.

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If you do not get enough sleep, exercise and relaxation, you find that you become less and less productive. You begin to work longer and longer hours, which is the exact opposite of what you want.

What you should be doing is making sure you are in the best shape. It is useful to remember that you need a break of 15 minutes after every one and a half hours of work.[4]

Taking breaks and getting fresh air and exercise is one of the best ways of working smarter, not harder.

12. Don’t Fall into the Trap of Working Smarter and Harder

As a society, we are obsessed with doing everything smarter so we are more efficient and we save time all around.[5]

But the most important thing to remember is to accept when we are ready to switch off that computer and not fill up the time with even more work!

The Bottom Line

The key to greater productivity is to work smarter, not harder. Working smarter saves precious time and energy for the things that really matter — your life goals, your personal growth, your health and your relationships.

Stop working for more hours and start working smarter!

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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