The Entrepreneur: Caught in the middle?

Cycling in Ireland, The Cliffs of Moher
Cycling in Ireland, The Cliffs of Moher

“The winds here gust from all angles and can knock you off course quickly – just like in business.”

Do you know what the single most important factor contributing to a successful business venture is? 

It's not capital, it's not a cohesive team, it's not even a great product — although all those things are important, it's the grounded mindset of the founder that matters most.   

With a 68 percent failure rate amongst entrepreneurs today, there's a real problem that's been left unaddressed for too long. The effect of which is harming our entrepreneurs, our communities and our economy.  We overlook the person at the centre of the business. We focus on the structures of a company but not the heart.

We know two things clearly: entrepreneurism attracts people with a high prevalence for anxiety and that entrepreneurship can be one of the most highly pressured work environments in the world. You can see where this could lead.

But we do not connect the fact that the way we start-up and build businesses today does not support or protect the mindset of the founder. This disconnect has lead the industry to coin the phrase "founder's blues", which unfortunately has been accepted as the norm. And we miss the point. 

"You will never be the CEO"

The model of entrepreneurship today is mainly focused on innovation. We spend a lot of money — and rightly so — on products and services that we feel would disrupt, change and be attractive to the market. We spend the rest of our time pitching for capital in order to get the product to market as quickly as possible. Next comes focus on the customer, business model and finally, team. 

At no point during this process does the focus ever get back to developing the entrepreneur. There's a bad reason for this. The way we work today does not value the person. The person who is the heart of the business. 

Many founders of start-up businesses are told they will never be the CEOs of their companies.  And they believe this!

…who is most inclined to do best by their own ideas than those who thought the ideas up?  

We all have leadership qualities within us, so why not foster them before completely disregarding the idea that a founder can lead? Because, who is most inclined to do best by their own ideas than those who thought the ideas up?  With the right development, entrepreneurs become incredible leaders.

And the founder's mentality is really important to building longevity for any business. Really, no one will ever have as much in common with the product or service as the one who created it. The entrepreneur is to a great extent the culture and vision of the business.  

This fact is so important when considering what direction the business will grow and how meaningful this growth with be. But we miss it! Just get the product out and we’ll figure the business out later. And you can see where you land along the way. 

We all fall prey to expectation, but business growth expectations are quickly and more rampantly digressing to a state of unreality. This pressure can so easily implode on the entrepreneur who sees unreal expectations as imperatives instead of goals. 

Knowingly or not, we put incredible pressures on entrepreneurs – meet deadlines, commitments, and expectations. Make the projections real. For the passionate and driven entrepreneur — to meet these expectations they work longer hours, put band aids on the stress and in some cases put their lives on hold, but the one thing that is rarely done is admitting that there exists a problem, because the entrepreneur thinks that no one will understand — they suffer in silence. It is not acceptable to say “I need some help managing all the pressures and who came up with this number anyway?”

The investor mantra is that entrepreneurs must execute. We value founders for how they deliver results. There's talk about vision, culture and customer centricity but what it really comes down to is making the numbers. And that delivery can often come at a tremendous cost.

The entrepreneur feels isolated and unable to talk to anyone. Many believe no one will understand. Most talk to family although that is often just venting. We don’t talk with friends as we mostly don’t have them anymore (who has time?). And investors – right, they’ll be open. It is better to just suck it up and try to push to the finish line. 

Strengthening the Core

For a business to grow and prosper, the entrepreneur needs to invest in developing them self ahead of the company. Putting time into building your strengths, protecting your energy, gaining perspective and honing your judgment is the critical step to growing a successful venture.

Although venture capital and private equity investment talks about the importance of the team and the founder, I personally think it is lip service. What is talked about and what is done is two different things.

As a founder what can you do to strengthen the core of your business – meaning you?

You need to set time aside to invest in you. Right, who has time? My experience is that if you don’t take time now you will have plenty of time later when your business flops. We spend way more time thinking about what we should have done rather than investing time up front to do things right.

Much of the investment in building your core starts with questions.  It comes down to understanding who you are and how you need to grow – not what people need from you. 

What's the win you’re working towards? What is your vision and why does it matter? What are your values and how do they affect your business? What experiences brought you to build this business? What do you need to help you handle it all? What are you going to do to invest in you, so that you make the right decisions to build the business? 

Answering these questions seems simple (although often not easy) but helps you understand what you need to do to get from here to there. We focus too much on results: it is the journey there that matters most and how you will do it. The experience can be a rollercoaster or something that doesn’t make you hurl. Your decision.