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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 February 17, 2020

How to Become Smarter: 21 Things You Can Do Daily

How to Become Smarter: 21 Things You Can Do Daily

Although many people believe intelligence is limited to those with high I.Q.s, there are a number of potential methods to boost one’s cognitive abilities and become more effective at various professional and personal pursuits.

With enough motivation and determination, anyone can expand their mental capabilities and become smarter. Integrating new habits into your regular routine and providing proper stimulation can sharpen your intellect quickly and leave you inspired to take on new challenges each day.

So how to become smarter?

Brain health is an important key in complete physical health. The list below includes the best brain-engaging activities in daily life.

Inviting Novelty

To create new neural pathways and strengthen the brain, it’s critical for people to continually incorporate new experiences and information into their lives. At first, these moments might feel useless, but eventually, you will find yourself looking forward to quiet moments alone.

1. Visit New Places

Whether this means studying in a new coffee shop, taking a different route to work, or traveling to a different country, displacement is good for the brain. This might be difficult to recognize in the moment since it usually feels rather awkward – at least initially. At the coffee shop, you can’t order the “usual.” You have to study a new menu, pick something you have never tried before, and make a decision.

While this seems simple, people enjoy the comfort of habit. We like to know what to expect at all times. When you travel to a new country, the language is strange, the customs are unfamiliar, and the culture presents a strange new rhythm of life. Adjusting to these new elements forces the brain to tackle new, unexpected challenges.

Learning how to communicate through a language barrier forces the brain to develop creative ways to express needs and emotions. Listening to new music, trying new foods, and navigating foreign streets all work to challenge your brain’s capacity to adapt to new situations.

2. Continue Your Education

Adult education is one of the best investments of time, money, and energy you can make. While education is valuable throughout childhood and adolescence, adults often underestimate their ability to learn new concepts and skills.

Challenge yourself to take a class, academic or creative. Voluntarily choosing to continue education provides a perfect opportunity for your brain to create new connections and build higher intelligence.

Also check out these 15 Ways to Cultivate Continuous Learning for a Sharper Brain.

3. Read and Watch the News

This is one activity that maintains the appearance of habit while nurturing healthy brain waves. Setting aside half an hour every morning or evening to read a newspaper or watch the news will help your brain stay active.

Digesting new information is a good daily habit. The news introduces interesting topics to consider, and will leave your brain churning with new information.

4. Read

Reading is the most basic way to facilitate brain activity, but it often presents some of the most diverse opportunities for stretching brain capacity.

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Reading provides practical assistance by introducing new vocabulary, presenting examples of proper grammar usage, and showing the elegance of a well-written sentence. However, this is only half of the magic of reading.

Whether you choose fiction, non-fiction, historical literature, or poetry, reading offers an opportunity for the reader to make big-picture connections between the literature and real life. In this way, reading is an alternative way to make your brain travel to a new place.

As your imagination works to create tangible people, places, and experiences from the words on the page, your brain is rewiring to understand all the new information.

Here’re some great books to read:

5. Approach Work in New Ways

The workplace is a canvas for new experiences. Regardless of what type of job you might hold, everyone is at one time or another presented with opportunities to think outside the box, problem solve in a creative way, and contribute fresh ideas to the team.

Instead of stressing over each new problem, it’s important to relax and starting imagining alternatives for reaching an end goal.


Challenging Yourself

Like a weightlifter who develops muscles, one must exercise the brain on a daily basis, pushing it just beyond its current capabilities. As Albert Einstein once said,

“One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.”

This quote encapsulates what I believe about the brain. With enough focus and stretching, the brain can truly surprise people.

Underestimating yourself holds you back from success. When people begin believing in their abilities, they often go beyond what they thought was possible.

6. Do Brain Training

Organizations like Lumosity offer fantastic daily brain training. With puzzles and games designed to increase neuroplasticity, Lumosity was created to challenge the brain to make new connections.

A group of neuroscientists at University of California Berkeley developed this program to provide stimuli for the brain to push it to adapt and re-train itself in uncharted territory. Success stories abound concerning the results of this public experiment.

You can also try these 11 Brain Training Apps to Train Your Mind and Improve Memory.

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7. Ask 5 Whys When Encountering Problems

One of the most standard problem solving solutions, the 5 whys still provide a solid start to uncovering the root of a problem.

Asking a question gets the brain working to find an answer. Instead of worrying about the problem, always start by asking why.

Learn more about this problem solving framework here: How to Solve Any Problem Efficiently with 5 Whys (Step-By-Step Guide)

8. Eschew Technology to Keep the Brain in Shape

Technology does wonders for the modern world, but in some ways, technological dependence stunts the brain’s capacity for problem solving, adapting to new environments, and being a reliable resource for practical things like simple mathematics and navigation.

Try going on a trip without a GPS. Work a few algebra problems without a calculator. Make your brain work for you; you’ll see the results.

9. Foster Creativity

Finger-painting in preschool was not only a fun activity; it helped open up the mind to new possibilities and ways of solving problems. An artistic mindset creates new opportunities to find new solutions, fresh inspiration, and peaceful confidence.

The blend of these elements in both personal and professional environments allows ordinary people to shine by becoming an innovative thinker and inventive leader. Find ways to incorporate creativity into the dull grind of daily tasks.

Take a look at these 30 Tips to Rejuvenate Your Creativity.

10. Draw

You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate the benefits of drawing, which cultivates brain activity in a unique way. In addition to nurturing basic hand-eye coordination, it sends synapses to neurotransmitters to help more permanently and vividly store your memories.

From doodles on a piece of scrap paper to charcoal portraits, drawing is a healthy brain activity for everyone.

11. Paint

Painting is an extension of drawing. It feeds the same areas of the brain; but unlike drawing, painting often introduces new and unfamiliar textures and colors to stimulate the brain.

Painters often have a keen sense of awareness towards their surroundings. Engaging in painting encourages people to notice minute details of the world around them. Focusing the brain in this manner brings a heightened state of alertness.

12. Play an Instrument

Learning to play an instrument also has outstanding benefits for the brain. Hand-eye coordination, memory, concentration, and mathematic skills all improve through playing an instrument. While some are more challenging to learn than others, any instrument facilitates increased and improved cognitive functioning.

From training your fingers to master complex musical passages on the piano to counting the beats in a musical measure, instruments force various regions of the brain to work together to create music.

13. Write

Like reading, writing encourages vocabulary growth, grammar skills, and use of proper syntax. Writing helps the brain store information more effectively and fosters better memory skills. Studies show that students who regularly take handwritten notes during college classes consistently score better on tests.[1]

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Writing forces a person to pay attention to their memories, experiences, and internal dialogues – a combination that increases brain function altogether.

Learn more about the benefits of writing: 5 Benefits of Writing: Why You Should Write Every Day

14. Role-Play

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and your brain starts to rewire to help you think like a different person.

For those struggling to form creative ideas, role-playing can help the wheels start turning in the brain to help develop unique solutions for difficult problems.


Working with Others

Although logical intelligence is important, emotional intelligence plays an equally vital part in overall success. Interacting with others helps people expand beyond their own limited thinking, gain new ideas, and see things from a different perspective.

People are challenging. Smart people often enjoy isolation because it protects them from being critical of others. However, this discomfort is necessary for truly smart people because it pushes them outside their bubble.

When you start to believe you have all the right answers, start collaborating with others to expand perspective.

15. Teach and Share Information with Others

Whether this is achieved virtually or face-to-face, pursue colleagues and peers to share experience and wisdom. Fresh faces and new ideas spur inspiration and create an amplified learning environment for the brain.

By creating a network for sharing ideas, your brain starts developing a new network for formulating and executing innovative concepts.

16. Talk to Interesting People

No two people share the same life experiences. Everyone interprets information uniquely, stores memories differently, and digests daily life with their own intellectual flare. This makes collaboration a necessity for brain health.

Although we are all inclined to think our method is the best approach, gaining perspective from another person helps our brain consider new solutions and new techniques for both personal and professional issues.

Whether the conversation is centered on religion, finances, politics, or diet trends, people should practice being a good listener. Silencing your own thoughts while the other person speaks is often challenging, but the brain needs discipline to stay sharp.

17. Work in a Team Environment

Collaborative environments are essential for enhancing brain activity. Some people who enjoy working independently dread the moment when they are forced to participate in a team-focused workplace. However, these independent individuals are highly intelligent and can benefit the most from a little teamwork.

Author Steve Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, focuses on the benefits of collaborating with peers and coworkers to develop original ideas and effective strategies for their execution. The modern workplace continues to shift towards this team-oriented approach.

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Cultivating Physical Health

The body feeds the brain, and keeping oneself in top physical condition is crucial to adequate fueling and operation of the brain. Lack of motivation, mental fatigue, and absence of inspiration are typically connected to poor exercise, diet, and focus.

18. Exercise

Studies constantly show people who exercise regularly have higher I.Q. scores.[2] In addition to maintaining a strong body, people who exercise regularly actually stimulate brain cell growth. A process called neurogenesis occurs during rigorous exercise, which increases the production of neurotransmitters. With side effects like increased dopamine, active people enjoy less stress, better concentration, and more energy.

Dr. Michael Nilsson of Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden conducted extensive research on the topic.[3] “Being fit means that you also have a good heart and lung capacity and that your brain gets plenty of oxygen,” the doctor said. His research focused on over a million Swedish military men, and Dr. Nilsson found a direct correlation between physical fitness and high scores on I.Q. tests.

19. Pursue Athletics

Multiple studies have shown active children typically do better in school and have a better chance of continuing their education after high school graduation. Although athletic pursuits can feel grueling at the time, the overall benefits of intense physical activity are wise for your future.

Whether it’s finding one thing you are good at, like basketball, running, or lifting weights, or trying something new every day, maintaining an athletic routine is important for optimal brain health.

20. Meditate

Controlling and calming the brain is as powerful as enhancing activity through instruments and puzzles. Doctors have been studying the effects of mediation on the brain for several years, and the results are impressive.

In one famous study, Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin collaborated with the Dalai Lama to study what happens to the brain during meditation.[4]

Transcendental Meditation yields impressive results for the brain. People who struggle with fear, anxiety, depression, and other mental ailments should experiment with meditation to calm themselves and develop a stronger sense of focus.

Here’s a The 5-minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime to help you start meditating.

21. Maintain a Nutritious Diet

Children and adults interested in boosting brain activity should begin by transforming their diet. Research from the University of Bristol in England points to a strong connection between unhealthy diet and low I.Q. scores in children.[5] To begin reversing unhealthy tendencies, try cutting out excess fat, sugar, and fast foods, and start adding more vegetables, fruit, and lean meats. These 12 Best Foods That Improve Memory and Brain Health are good for you too.

There are also a number of unusual drinks proven to help brain function. Matcha green tea, raw cacao hot chocolate, and ginkgo biloba tea all show benefits for the brain. Some scientist claim ginkgo biloba helps pump more blood to the brain, improving circulation.

The Bottom Line

Creating daily routines to promote healthy brain activity doesn’t require the advice of a neuroscientist. While plenty of studies provide convincing evidence, increasing brain activity can be accomplished with a few basic steps.

Be intentional about your time and energy to start working towards a smarter and more fulfilling life.

More Tips about Thinking Smarter

Featured photo credit: David Iskander via unsplash.com

Reference

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