In less than two years, there have been three suicides by prominent participants in the Las Vegas Downtown Project, an innovation startup city with 300 projects, funded by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. There are now reports of layoffs. All too familiar for the entrepreneurship community at large, these events put a spotlight on the hardships and hurdles of starting a company.
Creating a business is unimaginably challenging–mentally, emotionally and physically. It’s a 24-7 commitment that engrosses your mind at every waking moment, robs you of sleep and personal time, and puts many entrepreneurs on the brink of financial ruin.
I know this all from personal experience. I started two companies by the time I graduated college. Today, I am CEO of two venture-backed global tech businesses, MobileROI and MyCityWay, headquartered in New York with teams in five countries from Macedonia to India.
Being an entrepreneur is not something that I would trade for anything (I spent years on Wall Street), but that’s not to say that there are not things I wish someone had told me when I was starting out. Below are five lessons that I wish I could have learned in a startup 101 course:
Running a startup is not about finding every opportunity possible and chasing it, or pleasing everyone. It’s about constantly being in the process of avoiding what’s not important or critical for the growth of your company right now.
This can be everything from spending money on a type of marketing, hiring for a role that is not essential for growth at this stage, negotiating a deal where you feel your company is being slighted, or following “experts” ideas for product or business strategies. Don’t try to do as much as you can. Instead, try to figure out what you, your company, and your product can do without.
One of the biggest drains of energy is keeping secrets–and this holds true for anything in life. Being truthful is empowering because it allows you to focus on what’s important and pushes you to always pick the right path. Any time I need to make a critical decision or perform an important action, I ask myself, if everybody knew about this right after it was done, would I want to hide anything? If so, I don’t do it.
Things often get challenging as an entrepreneur. After all, more often than not, there is a small team trying to compete with colossal incumbents with a morsel of the budget. Every situation, meeting, and pitch is not rosy, and pretending otherwise can be detrimental.
The first step to solving a problem is accepting that it exists. Entrepreneurs are programed to be believers and optimists and many times they might not accept the reality of a hard situation. If you go to any entrepreneurs’ meet-up and ask those present “how are you doing?” or “how is your company doing?” the answer would invariably be “awesome.”
Entrepreneurs need to gather the courage to say that things are not great when they are not, and investors need to change their lens and not view this as weakness. (We all saw where the “awesome” of the last dotcom bubble got us.)
You need to remember to take care of yourself to maximize what you can humanly do. I hack my brain through a combination of eating certain super foods like Durian fruit early in the morning and following a predefined strict sleep schedule (in bed by 10 p.m. and up between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.). To rest my senses and increase focus, I follow 35-minute unplugged “work sprints” at least six times a day (or more depending on schedule), where I do not check email or answer phone calls. After each session, I have the same effect as if I have taken a power nap.
Meditation is how I start and end my days. It keeps me sane and helps me gain the ability to make hard decisions. Even if meditation has never been a part of your life, I would highly recommend every entrepreneur explore it as a way to recharge your mind.
As entrepreneurial programs start to become more available at universities and mentorship programs expand, I hope that lessons go beyond creating business plans and balancing the books. I hope that real-life lessons on traits and decision-making, as well as actionable ideas on how to keep emotional and physical health in top shape, will also be a core part of the curriculum.
Incubators, accelerators, angel investors, and VCs should also make this a standard part of their onboarding process. While there is a large community of entrepreneurs, it can be a very lonely place to be. Create connections with fellow entrepreneurs in your city, be truthful to yourself, and never be afraid to ask for help or advice.
—Puneet Mehta is CEO and Cofounder of MobileROI, the first context and situation aware mobile marketing automation platform. Before co-founding MobileROI (and MyCityWay), he worked as a tech executive on Wall Street, where he built automated, algorithmic technology platforms to help high-frequency traders predict and act on market changes.