There comes a time in every startup when, as a founder, you realize your business idea isn’t going to be as easy to execute as you imagined. The feeling is excruciating, but it doesn’t mean this is the end.
In fact, it’s only the beginning...
Every great story has a conflict and every startup rams into an unforeseen problem that turns the rose colored idea into a disaster. I call this the Entrepreneur’s Pirate’s Plank.
You walk out on the plank with your startup idea and look onto the great big blue ocean. Then suddenly, you realize you have to jump off the plank into a shark filled ocean. You see your big idea wasn’t as foolproof as you thought and there may be huge flaws.
This has happened to every single startup I’ve been involved with, including the ones that were acquired by famous, billion dollar companies. I’m here to tell you you’re not alone.
Starting A Company is Hard Work, But it’s Worthwhile Work Too
The hero’s journey starts with a call to adventure and is closely followed by a trial. In the case of By Bartenders, the company I’m founding now, I found out that after COVID-19 is over I will have to pay close to $50,000 just to continue selling limited edition bottled cocktails in New York state.
Because of Prohibition and legacy laws, every state in the US where I want to sell would require its own challenges and a compendium of hefty license fees.
It doesn’t matter how often you run into The Entrepreneur’s Pirate Plank. It’s painful every. single. time.
In my case, I thought I was okay with the news. You can see me straight after talking to a lawyer. I thought, “Okay, the good news is that I have a lawyer and we’re going to get around this.”
Then I realized I wasn’t ok. There wasn’t an easy way to get around the law (obviously). I didn’t want to spend $50K per state just to enter into a market. It took me almost six days to go from hearing about the $50K+ license fees to being able to jump back in and work on the startup again.
Here’s me, six days into recovery after falling off of the Pirate’s Plank and falling into the deep red ocean. Finally, I’m back and ready to talk about it.
How to Find Startup Motivation, Especially After You Realize There’s a Problem With Your Idea
- Remember you’re not alone. I’m right here with you. In fact, so is every entrepreneur ever. According to the Small Business Administration, there are more than 627,000 new companies founded every year in the United States. That’s 1,717 new businesses every day.
In other words, you’re not only in good company, but there’s probably someone toppling over the edge of their Entrepreneurial Pirate’s Plank this very instant. It’s okay because this is part of the process.
- Take a few days to give yourself what you need (if you want). A lot of people say that when you have a startup idea, the most surefire way to get a strong start is to get working as fast as humanly possible. Under this philosophy, entrepreneurs are encouraged to rush ahead so they can get momentum and a win before they crash into an insurmountable problem that takes the wind out of their sails. In other words, it’s a trick to avoid self sabotage.
In some cases, this go-fast philosophy works, but at some point, no matter what, there is always a challenge. The secret to being a successful entrepreneur is never about the idea. The proof is always, without exception, in the execution.
The most important thing to understand about execution is that entrepreneurial success is a marathon that requires strategy and persistence.
The best runners don’t just know how to run, they know how to run the race. Applied to the startup world, this means you should understand your industry, your competitors, and how you’ll do business. Despite what people print about overnight success stories, successful companies are usually the result of years of work.
If you need time to absorb the new information you’ve learned and figure out what to do next, that’s okay. Starting a company is a huge investment. If it’s a success, it’s likely to consume your life. Taking a few days here or there may seem like forever when you’re in it, but in the long run it won’t affect the success of your business.
- Smart problem solving can be your biggest differentiator. I was a collegiate athlete and I had the honor of playing under Hall of Fame coach, Elaine Sortino. When we doubted whether we could give something our all she would always say, “If we could all skip, hold hands, and chew gummy bears, everyone would be a top NCAA Division I softball team.”
Every time I doubt whether I should push through and give more, her voice runs through my head. Sortino was one of the most winningest coaches in NCAA history (above Pat Summit, Bob Knight, and Jim Calhoun). She got there because she was whip smart, strategic, and willing to put in the work.
The great thing about hard problems is that they are hard. Very few people are willing to find a solution. If you’re willing to work smart and log more hours than anyone else, you’re the person most likely to come up ahead. And when you do make it through, you will have built an incredible moat around you. This moat will protect you from competitors and copycats, which in turn makes your company more valuable.
- Turn the problem inside out. Because entrepreneurialism is a labor of love, founders tend to hold their ideas close to their heart. Issues with the business can often feel like a personal attack, but that’s hardly ever the case for new founders.
Drop personal ties with your business idea and approach your problem like a puzzle. If you can muster up the courage to separate the issue at hand from you and your idea, you’ll have more space to come up with a solution.
- Remember, businesses today are lifestyle universes. In the past companies were rooted in products with strong margins. Businesses built a product and then looked for the target persona who would buy that product. Now, companies start with audiences and lifestyle universes.
Modern entrepreneurship isn’t so much about what you sell. It’s about how you align with the values of the people who will purchase your offer. If you understand your audience and know how to connect with them, you have more flexility than ever.
For example, Alo Yoga has clothes, a children’s yoga and meditation education platform, and a restaurant. The company is worth $200 million because they connect with people who want to live a healthy lifestyle and then sell products across that spectrum.
6. Get yourself back on track by learning to manage your fear, suggests Dr. Silja Voolma, behavioral psychologist and founder of Behavioral Design Global. Our entrepreneurial ideas are closely connected to our identity and sense of self.
The fear of failure we experience in pursuing ideas like that make easy to feel like the specific idea not working out or “failing” means that we as people, as individuals, have failed. Failure of self causes much more pain than the failure of an idea.
This makes it sometimes almost impossible to get back to work on your business after falling off the Entrepreneurial Pirate’s Plank. If you feel like you as a person are a failure, the risk of feeling like that again is a considerable fear for the human psyche to overcome.
Here’s what you can do to support yourself in the time you take after falling off the plank to make sure you get back up again and don’t give up on yourself or your idea:
- Soothe your nervous system which the fear has negatively activated with exercise, deep breathing or singing. All three intervene in the fear response directly and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for relaxation in the body and mind.
- Reach out to loved ones and friends or mentors who you know will give you positive encouragement. They can help you remember your value as a person and reduce the fear of failure.
- Write a list of all the accomplishments you are most proud of in your life. Make it a mix of personal, professional and community-based accomplishments. This will give you clear evidence of being a person of value in your life and community and ease the fear as well.
What if the gap between falling off the Entrepreneurial Pirate’s Plank and getting back to work stretches from the days to the weeks or even months?
This sometimes happens and there are two paths you can take if you’re worried you might not ever get back to work on your business.
- Investigate why this particular idea might be causing a particularly intense fear response. Getting a coach or therapist to help with this might help and can give you a helpful learning experience to help you make informed choices about your business. Some ideas we are just not ready to work on, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be in the future.
- Discern whether your delay in getting back to work on your idea after the initial shock of falling off the Entrepreneurial Pirate’s Plank has worn off is due to avoidance or a lack of knowledge of what to do next. In the case of avoidance, the best thing to do is to jump back into it together with someone.
Join a remote co-working session or do a quick networking call with someone in the relevant industry. In the case of lack of knowledge of what to do next, identify the area of skills in which you feel you need additional information and sign up for a relevant class or webinar. You can do this!
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