Startups are hard. You’re expected to pull a miracle in record time with the least amount of money and resources available. To add to that, you’re in a hostile environment like Pakistan where processes take forever, clients don’t pay on time, and partners regularly fail to deliver on time and commitments. Yes, everything is stacked against you.
Being an entrepreneur is unfun, unsexy and stressful. If you’re there for money and fame, you’re in the wrong place.
Over the course of making companies and advising startups, I’ve observed how poorly the stress is dealt with. Here are a few techniques on how to manage stress effectively:
Dealing with failure
By definition, your startup is working on something that hasn’t been tried yet in Pakistan. As a result, the chances of failure are really high.
Failures come in many shapes and sizes. It might not be a single failure that kills you but death by a thousand paper-cuts. And these small failures take a toll on you. On a typical day, anything can go wrong:
- The candidate you spent months in hiring doesn’t show up today or answer your phone either. In your gut, you know because he doesn’t want to come anymore.
- Your client didn’t pay today despite committing for the fourth time.
- Your development team wasn’t able to close the build today. Delaying the client delivery by one more day at least.
- The transformer in your vicinity busted and now the area is without power for the next few hours and you have to wait for Wapda to come to the rescue.
- On top of that, some moron banged your parked car.
All of this can happen in a day. These aren’t just failures but setbacks that take a toll on you and make you feel like you have taken 10 steps backward. Some days, it will be the opposite but such days are rare and far-fetched. It takes everything you’ve got to keep going, and eventually the winner is the one who is the most determined.
What’s worse as an entrepreneur is that your company becomes your identity. Anything bad said about your company feels like it is said against you. It gets very hard not to take all the setbacks personally.
It’s important to understand that you are not your company. Your company is an experiment, an entity you created that may live or die. You are the scientist, the experimenter. If your experiment fails, it doesn’t make you a failure, it gives you another case point for your next experiment and adventure.
Secondly, next time an investor turns you down, or you lose a customer or things don’t go your way, it is normal to feel down. You might end up being too hard on yourself and feel you’re not good enough. In situations like these, it’s important to remind yourself you’re not the screwup. So, here’s a quick hack to make you feel better after something shitty happens:
Make a list of your top 5 greatest achievements. Whether that’s closing a great customer, developing a great piece of code, getting a high grade in college, or winning a race or whatever.
Next time you’re down, think of all such achievements in your head and remind yourself that you’ve done it before and you’ll do it again.
Importantly, every time you fail, learn from it so you know objectively what to do and what not to do next time.
Work life balance
Another issue is the founder’s burnout. People at startups work too long and disregard their health, social and family lives.
I have met many entrepreneurs in Pakistan who take months to launch a website, take forever to improve their bugs or launch their next features.
My conclusion is that most founders waste too much time on things that either don’t matter or keep them busy without meaningful output.
At the end of your work day, take a look at everything you did in the 12-14 hours of work. Could you have done it in 10? How about 6 or even 4?
I bet, you didn’t need to spend those 12 hours at work 90% of the time. There’s also an element of keeping up the reputation of “he/she works all day!” It’s your work that should speak, not the number of hours you spend.
Being efficient is hard. It requires practice, self-assessment and evaluation of what you have been doing. Try this exercise:
Estimate how long a task is going to take, then challenge yourself to do it in even lesser time. The best tactic is to turn off distractions and keep a check on wasting time on social apps.
Dealing with a$&holes
Often times, you’ll get unfair criticism. Gossiping is a favorite pastime in Pakistan. As a result of nonconstructive criticism and mockery, people are afraid to venture into doing anything. Because there are countless people out there telling why or why not you should do a particular job.
The best strategy in such a case is to ignore all unqualified advice and criticism from people who lack the required credentials. Just as you wouldn’t take medical advice from a mechanic, you wouldn’t want a startup advice from someone who has never run a startup. Same is true for criticism. Unless the critique matters (like your target market) or qualifies, you should safely ignore.
What happens if someone is being mean to you? Like a manager at a company whom you were trying to buy from?
That self-important senior manager at a company wasn’t always the manager. He started off at an entry level position as well. Despite how arrogant he might be, he was also a college student and a schoolboy and at the end of the day, not very different from you.
People build themselves into these grand, all-important figures. Just remember they started small.
This advice can also be used when you are nervous and talking to someone while you meet them because they might be an important customer, a high-profile investor or potential player for your startup.
Stress is not fun and it will drop your productivity level. I hope the above help you in some way in reducing some of the weight on you. Have anything to add? Send me a tweet on @nash
Nasrullah is an entrepreneur, he founded Pring and is currently VP of Solutions at Convo.com. Have a question? Reach out to @nash