A week ago, I opened my Sprouter Weekly email (always full of great articles and advice for start-ups), and the following advice from founder Sarah Prevette stared me in the face:
Confidence is everything in a startup.
Founders need to believe they can move mountains, take on their competition and defy the odds.
Unfortunately, over time, stress can take its toll and many entrepreneurs lose their backbone...
Remember who you are and reclaim your swagger.
It was exactly what I needed to read. Many years of trying to figure out a start-up idea can definitely tweak these monkey brains of ours into overthinking everything and losing faith in our vision.
Confidence is everything in a start-up. People invest in confident leaders--whether they are VCs, business partners, employees, or customers. But it's a vicious cycle that we live in. Confidence leads to success, but success also leads to confidence. So when things are rocky, so is your confidence, and from there, it's a downward spiral.
You must stop the spiral and get back on track. I've found several ways to get my swagger back after the biggest blows to my confidence, and none of them involve standing in front of a mirror repeating self-affirmations. Here are a few:
Get Out of the Office
This technique works for me every time. There is an inertia that comes with staring at the numbers daily, working on the same problems and bugs over and over, and revisiting arguments and conversations with your co-workers (who are staring at the numbers and working on the same bugs). But it's not easy to leave the office, because it feels frivolous and uncertain.
Get over those feelings. It needs to be done, especially when you are the front person to an organization. I find the longer I'm away, the stronger I feel. It's not a vacation, either. I get in front of peers and potential stakeholders and show them what I'm working on and get their feedback and ideas. There are all sorts of fringe benefits to getting away from the day to day.
Focus on What Works and Stop Tinkering With What Doesn't
Think back to when you last felt your mojo rise and try to pinpoint what did it. For me, it has always been about presenting Buyosphere to audiences and groups of people. Even the negative feedback was full of positivity and hope. When I'm staring at a screen, I can't get reactions. At some point, I agreed to cut back on presenting so I could focus more time in the office. That was a big mistake. I'm working on rectifying this now, and I'm definitely getting my mojo back.
Eliminate the Naysayers and Devil's Advocates
When I first heard this advice, it was in IDEO founder Tom Kelly's amazing book, The 10 Faces of Innovation. It seemed so counterintuitive to someone who sought so much input on her ideas, but the advice was and is solid. You already have plenty of fear and self-doubt to throw you into a loop already. Surrounding yourself with people who constantly question your decisions is a sure way to lose all your confidence and conviction. And no, you shouldn't have legions of sycophants following you around, either. In my experience, people who say, "Yes, and..." leads to way more innovation than "That'll never work." Negativity can lead only to the spiral.
When I compare those start-ups that have money, users, and exits with those that struggle with all three, the major difference I see is confidence in the leadership. Confidence in the idea, the vision, and the ability to execute. You probably had confidence when you started out; otherwise, you wouldn't have made the leap. It's keeping it that is the trick. Remember what made you take the leap, and keep soldiering on.