As Thanksgiving preparations get under way in our household, I find myself appreciating more than ever the tradition of celebrating the bounty of our labor and finding joy despite the hardship. Here are four things I’ve learned to be thankful for along the journey of founding a startup.
During a recent meeting with the founder of another startup, I jokingly asked, “Have you started sleeping all night yet?”
He laughed. “No, and most nights, I don’t even think about going to bed until well past midnight.”
It may seem like an odd thing to be thankful for, but having something that matters, something that we’ve put our all into enough that whether it works or not keeps us up at night – I’ve come to be grateful for what those sleepless nights have done for me. There is an edge to living, and intensity of daily burdens that comes when we choose to start our own business. And when we’ve found others who believe in us and our vision enough to throw their lot in with ours, to back us and help us and encourage our efforts, it not only creates a tremendous burden of responsibility, it also gives us courage to move forward when doubts and fears might get the better of us. So when I find I can’t sleep, when solving a problem for my company weighs heavy or, in the dark of night, I find myself thinking through options to be sure I’ve weighed the costs and benefits before moving forward, I am grateful for the purpose and clarity of vision those late nights bring. If you’re in the early days of founding your own company or have been at it for a while, try embracing the quiet of the night and the value you’re gaining from the thoughts that are keeping you up while everyone else sleeps.
Founding a startup is a lonely business, whether we are going it alone or have co-founders to help carry the load. So much of our time is spent in our own heads, working through the big ideas and solving the sometimes seemingly insurmountable problems that lie between that big idea and success – it can be very easy to become disconnected from others. The longer I’ve spent growing my company, the more I’ve come to value the support and encouragement available through the myriad of networks and groups with common interests to my own, both locally and nationally. Along the way, the friendships and connections I’ve made with individuals have greatly enriched my life and opened my eyes to the struggles and challenges others are facing that are not unlike my own. The shared experiences go a long way in bolstering our courage when we need it and give us a great sounding board when we have something to celebrate. If you haven’t joined a local group, think about it; you may be surprised at the energy you can draw from your connections from others.
It’s easy to be thankful for those who have our back, who believe we can move mountains with a single stick of dynamite and drink our Kool Aid by the gallon, but I’ve increasingly grown to appreciate the naysayers and curmudgeons who are a part of our network. To be sure, in too big of doses, they can sap us of our focus and energy, but those who are skeptical, who find fault, who complain – they keep us grounded in reality and force us to answer the tough questions. I’ve learned to welcome the negativity, assess the complaints for validity, and to challenge my own thinking when the complaints are proven to have merit. It is much better to have a friend find fault while we have time to pivot and change than to crash and burn due to our own failure to consider the flaws of our own ideas. If there is a naysayer you’re struggling with, learn to embrace the challenge of hearing them out. Maybe what they have to complain about is pure nonsense, but maybe not. You’ll never know if you don’t listen.
It takes a unique customer to be willing to take a chance on a startup. When you don’t have a proven record, all you have to offer is the quality of your product and your own integrity. And, thus, I’ve grown to truly appreciate our first handful of clients who helped my company establish a reputation and a track record. Some of our first clients were cultivated and others sought us out, but all of them have my utmost gratitude for their faith in me, their confidence in our product, and their loyalty to us as we grow.
And beyond the benefits I’ve gained from founding a startup, this Thanksgiving, I am deeply thankful for family, for precious, loyal friends, for my wonderful children and for a spouse who believed enough in me to agree that having two startups in one household was something he was willing to take on. Without his support, encouragement and help, without his tough questions and willingness to be my endless sounding board, I would never be at the place where I can write a Thanksgiving column celebrating what I’ve learned after four years of bootstrapping a startup in one of the toughest economies our generation has seen. It hasn’t been an easy road, and I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way, but today I find myself grateful for it all.