Resilience — the ability to either overcome challenges or bounce back from setbacks — is huge in the world of startups.
As the CEO and co-founder of a growing company, I’ve learned that many entrepreneurs face similar challenges, such as finances and building business relationships. I’ve also learned the hard way, while building Voices.com, that there’s no way to avoid these challenges.
If someone had told me early on that I’d be challenged in these areas, I would have been able to identify these issues not as problems, but as tests that would make my company stronger. To help others working on their own entrepreneurial journeys, I offer some seasoned advice from two challenges I faced and how I overcame them.
Overcoming financial challenges
Money is the often the biggest challenge you face as an entrepreneur, as there is more depending on money than on anything else. Your own name, debt and general state of finances are tied to those of your startup. This is true for anyone who also has a stake in your company, which magnifies the scale of the challenge.
There are difficult choices you need to make every day, from the initial pitch to 10 years down the road (when you are making money and need to figure out what to do with it). It might get easier later on, but in the end you’re still required to make choices such as to bootstrap or raise venture capital, to hire or to pass on a candidate, to give out raises, to sign a new contract, etc.
What has helped me navigate this is having a game plan. As someone who takes comfort in planning, I’ve always had a roadmap of where I wanted to go. My first game plan started on the back of a napkin, and this strategic plan has since evolved into a living document that I update on a regular basis. Having clarity on this has helped the business maintain — and at times, regain — focus over the years. The game plan has made it easier to say “no” to distractions and “yes” to opportunities that align with our mission, vision and values.
Decide from the start how you’ll be funding your startup or your next wave of growth — and exactly what it will take to get there. Based on your past experiences, set guidelines for when to hire a new employee and when to pass. The same principle applies to granting raises. Many of these situations can be overcome with documentation, a written practice to set expectations and communication.
Overcoming customer challenges
As you take your first product to market, customer feedback will start rolling in. Anticipate both praise and criticism. Handling praise is easy and should be done gracefully with gratitude. However, handling criticism is a touchier subject.
For a truly disruptive business, you’ll get pushback from customers and entrenched providers alike, possibly even damaging slander. From my perspective, though, the volume and intensity of the feedback is a great indicator of how much you’re innovating within an industry.
As a rule of thumb, take all feedback seriously, but recognize that it’s not all valid. Consider your relationship to each source and whether or not that person is qualified to comment. Concerns voiced by actual customers are one thing; criticism from people who do not do business with you is different. Being able to distinguish between customers and critics will help you determine who needs a response and who does not.
I like to thank those who give praise by sending a personalized email or even calling them. By doing so, you’ll earn a customer for life and an advocate who may just feel compelled to stand up on your behalf in difficult times.
Navigating criticism should be handled with equal delicacy. As the owner, I feel it’s my responsibility to clarify misinformation by connecting one-on-one whenever possible. This might mean getting on the phone or replying to an email. At times, you might even think it’s reasonable to jump into the fray via social media to provide clarity. This is where you need to consider if the person you are answering is a customer or a critic.
Failing to make this distinction has backfired for me a few times, turning a small issue into something much bigger. Now that I have this customer-or-critic filter, the decision on whether to engage is easier. If they’re a customer: yes. If they’re a critic: no. Armed with this filter, you won’t go unknowingly into a trap. Critics dig pits that they want you to fall into, so be careful. Remember that there is a time to speak, and a time to be silent.
I’ve discovered that resiliency is something you can only learn by spotting the challenge for what it is: a test of your ability to navigate a delicate or complex issue. Being able to push through the pain, although seemingly counterproductive and at times unpleasant, allows you to come through the other side stronger.
Being able to overcome an obstacle takes perseverance, courage and the belief that what you’re doing truly matters. Is your business, your idea or your vision worth fighting for? If so, you’ll need to be resilient. With each challenge you overcome, you’ll find new ways of turning what some might perceive to be a mess into a masterpiece.