Do you find your mind wandering off, thinking about finally starting your own business? Or maybe wondering how to get “unstuck” with what you have already launched, but just can’t seem to “get it going?” Are you finding yourself excited about what’s possible with your idea, yet finding it tough to actually take action from that excitement?
Well, if you answered “yes” to any of these questions, congratulations! You have officially joined the majority of the population that were once in your shoes and have grown to become successful, thriving founders of all types of ventures across all types of sectors. Now what happened between where you are now, and where these founders were? I want you to consider it wasn’t a Harvard Business degree or winning the lottery, or even becoming a self-trained prodigy in excel or spreadsheets. No. For the sake of this article (and your success), I want you to consider the difference was all from the mass that sits between your ears – your mind.
The biggest factor for founder success has and always will be mindset. As someone whose journey literally went from “student to CEO” – epic failures, humbling learnings and all – I’m sharing my personal 5 tips to leverage “just” starting out on your founder’s journey, and the powerful mindset to bring to it.
Stop Pretending to Know Everything or Thinking You Need To
One of the biggest realizations I had early on in my founder’s journey was noticing this odd obsession I felt with “needing to know” everything. Even if there was literally no evidence that I needed to. For example, my formal background and training was in Philosophy and Pre-law while in University. I went to school in Silicon Valley (arguably the “hub” of business for a lot of traditionalists), and my “dream” was to become some hoity toity corporate lawyer, work with one of the world’s greatest law firms, make a ton of money, THEN do what I really wanted to do – which was work with women to advance their power, equity, and opportunity in the world. I spent my days going over mock-trials, practicing torts, and learning to form arguments based on thousand-year-old philosophies. I had no clue how to balance a business budget or form a business plan, let alone know what the words “value proposition” meant.
My point? My obsession with “needing to know” how to be the “perfect founder,” or needing to know everything about business overnight (which is impossible, by the way), was not only unrealistic but was coming from a place of fearing I was an imposter. Someone who had “no right,” let alone no experience, to be a founder. But that’s exactly the point — sometimes our need or desire to “know everything” BEFORE we do something actually stops us from going out into the world and actually have experiences that lead to learning. And ultimately, eventually discovering the things we keep trying to know about. There will always be things you won’t know as a founder. The life of a founder is surrounded by risk and making choices based on both what you know and plenty of what you don’t. Take 2020, for example. Even the world’s leading industries and multi-billion dollar companies has had their founders and leadership face uncertainty in these times. The spirit of entrepreneurship alone thrives in spaces that seek out innovation, and innovation lives in uncertainty. Learn to embrace uncertainty and you are already setting up a firm foundation for founder success.
Ditch the “How” and Go for the “Why”
So, if you’re anything like me, you like to know how. How do you get from point A to B? How do you make your business sustainable? How do you get investors? How do you scale? Heck, how do you start? The list goes on. From my experience, I have learned “how” is really difficult to execute if you have no idea “why.” Simon Sinek dedicated an entire book on this three letter word called, “Start with Why.” A synonym for your “why” in business could also be your mission statement, or your vision.
For me, my “why” was so strong, it led to me declining my dream law school acceptance and instead diving head-first into social entrepreneurship. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I knew why it was so important to me. When you are connected to your why, going about how, becomes clear.
Tell Me Who Your Friends Are, I’ll Tell You Who You Are
Growing up as a first-generation Filipina-American student, I have always felt a close connection to my family, my mother in particular. I remember that growing up in grade school, she would always share at the beginning of a new school year, “tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” It was a sentiment her grandparents shared with her growing up in the barrios of the Philippines and is something she imparts to my brother and I even to this day. So what does this have to do with being a founder? Who you choose to surround yourself with, especially as you start your founder’s journey, will profoundly impact your performance.
When I first started out in the social impact space, I remember walking into my fellowship in Washington, D.C. where I worked at Ashoka (the place that coined the term “social entrepreneurship”). It was the first time I felt simultaneously so inspired and also intimidated by those around me. They all were so well-versed, experienced, and frankly, smarter than me. It was at this moment where I learned I never want to be the smartest person in the room. And if I am, well, I’m in the wrong room. This mentality shift early on in my entrepreneurial journey was both humbling and inspiring for what would ultimately be my vision for InHerShoes and every other venture I would come to create. Surround yourself with people who can teach you something, share a different perspective, and ultimately challenge you to grow. The company you keep can make or break you. I didn’t know it then, but this mindset would go on to help me grow from a founder into a manager, and ultimately, a leader. Every lesson on your founder’s journey can serve as building blocks for the growth of not just your company but your capacity to lead your company into a future equipped to navigate the ups and downs of startup life. And it can all start with who you are choosing to surround yourself with.
Curiosity Did Not Kill the Cat
You have probably heard the old English proverb, “curiosity killed the cat.” Well, the cat wasn’t an aspiring founder trying to bootstrap its way to a sustainable business on a shoestring budget and pipe dreams. For many new founders going from student to CEO, resources are scarce and what you envision is grand. It’s this “deficit” that can often trap new founders into thinking there is little to no possibility to move forward with their vision. For founders that find themselves here, I challenge you to consider that curiosity is a renewable resource that is always available to you. You just have to learn how to utilize it.
Before starting InHerShoes, I had over 100 informational interviews ranging from founders across different sectors, entrepreneurs to intrapreneurs, even former professors and instructors I had. From those 100 plus informational interviews came over 25 incredible opportunities that were “leads” taking me closer and closer to actualizing what I envisioned. Thinking back now from where InHerShoes is and where we were, we would not be where we are if curiosity was not part of my approach to problems and turning them into opportunities. Coming from the mindset of being eager to learn is a priceless practice for any founder – whether you’re new to the game or seasoned with experience.
Learn to Enjoy Practice as Much as the Game
Did you ever play a sport? Or maybe an instrument? My parents enrolled my brother and I into piano lessons as kids, and it was the epitome of “practice makes perfect” for me. I hated it. I was terrible at following instructions, always forgot my sheet music, and I just wanted to “be good at it” already. I still should not be allowed near any piano anytime soon, but what I lacked in musical harmony allowed me to gain the value of patience and consistency over perfection.
The founder’s journey is nowhere near linear, let alone easy. According to a recent study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, entrepreneurs created 774,725 new businesses in the year ending March of 2019. Just from looking at historical data and trends of startups and new businesses, you can expect approximately 155,000 of these businesses to fail within the first two years. Only 25% of new businesses actually make it to 15 years or more. How is this connected to piano lessons, or baseball practice, or any other thing you probably needed to put work into? Your business, idea, and venture is going to take a lot of time. There is no such thing as an “overnight success.” If you are serious about being a student to CEO, be prepared to accept you need to learn to enjoy the process, the practice, just as much as the game itself. Being a founder is more than just being a visionary. You have to be willing to put in the work to make that vision come to life. In changing times like 2020, there is no such thing as “business as usual.” The future of work is changing, and we have to learn to pivot with it. Learn to enjoy the process of founder-hood, and you’re already well on your way.
So from one founder to another, let me know what you think about these 5 mindset shifts. How is your founder journey going?