So much has been and is being written about entrepreneurship and how startups can grow and flourish and yet almost nothing ever gets written about the challenges and the problems all startup entrepreneurs face.
Your young business will demand your time 24 X 7 and you will be expected to take responsibility of everything in the company – from leading and strategizing for the business to ensuring the coffee machine is working and the toilets are clean! It is a very lonely job at the top as an entrepreneur and you need to retain your sanity throughout your journey.
Based on my personal experiences of building Guardian, I am sharing some of the key non-business related factors that must be kept in mind by startup entrepreneurs.
Manage your health and follow a daily routine
I started my entrepreneurial journey when I was 46, a very late age in life and I definitely could not afford to fall sick or do anything that would jeopardize my health. I was betting my career, my family’s future and my entire credibility on this venture and there was no way that I could fall sick and stall my journey before I had achieved what I had set out to do.
Work pressure while building any new business will be very intense and an entrepreneur has very few choices except to stay well and stay fit. He needs to build the stamina to keep going, in the face of all possible adversity. Falling sick is not an option that can be considered.
There will be many moments when every entrepreneur wants to throw in the towel simply because the stress becomes unbearable yet unlike any other individual, it is important for an entrepreneur to keep going because the light at the end of the tunnel is the achievement of his dream. No matter how much stress you may carry inside you, it is very important to “appear” absolutely calm from the outside.
It is therefore important to stay fit and healthy and to ensure that you and your family are protected in the unlikely event something goes wrong either in the business or in your health. One decision I took when I started Guardian was that I have to remain fit and healthy. I could not afford to fall sick and therefore I would have to “will” myself into staying healthy.
Don’t let your mind give up
So many battles are won or lost if the mind accepts defeat or gives up too easily.
When I chat with entrepreneurs who started their dream company but gave up or stopped or professionals who gave up the “joys” of a corporate battle for supremacy to become an entrepreneur, I know that they gave up the fight because they had not built the internal resilience in their own minds to stay the course. Like a game of golf where one plays much better golf when one’s mind is at rest, success and failure in your Startup is also all in one’s mind.
I have found that giving up is very easy and several times in my own journey both as a professional as well as an entrepreneur, I have had the temptation to give up and call it a day because all choices seemed to be tough and insurmountable. As I look back at my life, I wonder what kind of a person I would have been had I given up each time my body told me to stop but my mind forced me to carry on.
Every entrepreneur must develop mental strength to take on tough tasks and select from equally tough choices.
Remember that the joy of achieving a difficult and possibly insurmountable task that seemed impossible also gives its own high.
Don’t lose sight of your personal life
In your desire to achieve all your goals you will not think about the time you are spending at work. Being your own boss is a great feeling. You get to choose which 18 hours of the day you will work!
As an entrepreneur, I always encouraged my colleagues to take leave every year. Whenever someone told me that he was working over twelve hours per day on a regular basis, my response to him was simply “If you cannot finish your allotted work in office time, you are either over worked and need an assistant or very inefficient.”
Similarly, when someone told me that he had not taken any leave for so many years, my response to such people was “You have not done the company a favour. I would like you to take your leave and come back to work rejuvenated.” I have never refused any manager his leave whenever he asked for leave.
I have often spoken to entrepreneurs who tell me that they don’t have the time to take a vacation and I have never believed any of them. If a person cannot take time off for himself and give his mind and body a rest, then there is a problem brewing in the long run for such an individual. It is important for every individual to take time off and spend time with one’s family.
Build internal resilience and stay calm
It is very important for anyone embarking on any journey to build strong internal resilience. A number of times people fail to complete their journey because they give up too early. For you, giving up must never be an option. It is more challenging and probably more appropriate to lean into the storm rather than running away from it.
Every entrepreneur has to develop a “thick skin” and learn to accept all kinds of comments about himself and his company. Developing the ability to stay calm in the face of adversity is an important quality and should be developed very early in your entrepreneurial life. This will serve you very well.
Remember to set your own compensation
Most entrepreneurs who want to build large businesses and want to create institutions tend to overlook their own compensation package in the belief that since the company was “their own”; they should first build the company before adding additional costs of their own. This is an entrepreneur’s unique way of saying that he is trying to conserve cash by not spending anything on himself. This is a big mistake that most entrepreneurs make.
When you bring in external shareholders and then private equity funds you will soon realise that no one will appreciate the so called sacrifice that you thought you had made for the company. The standard response you will get from your investors will be “Why didn’t you take a salary? We did not ask you not to compensate yourself”.
No entrepreneur should undersell his own capability. Not compensating oneself or under compensating oneself is making a sacrifice that no one will appreciate in the future and not worth doing in the long run. Most entrepreneurs make a lot of sacrifices. Cutting back on your salary or not taking a salary must never be a sacrifice that you should make.
When money is needed at the end of each month to pay staff salaries and pay the bills, everyone will look towards you and expect you to have the answers.
The Buck Stops at your desk each time and every time.
Ash Garg is a coach at CEO Coaching International, the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of 5 best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye; The Buck Stops Here – Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur and The Buck Stops Here – My Journey from a Manager to an Entrepreneur.