Entrepreneurship is hard. When people ask how my company is doing, with a smile I affirm how great it's going but what a rollercoaster ride it has been.
What they don't know is that was code speak for there are more "down" days than "up" days. This is the life of the entrepreneur.
Few entrepreneurs ask me how my company is doing. Perhaps all of us in the startup community already know the answer. We are all going through that journey, hitting the obstacles and overcoming the challenges. We all speak the same code.
However, it is the "up" days that motivate the entrepreneur to keep going, much like a round of golf. That single eagle amongst dozens of bogies keeps the golfer coming back to the course.
My Journey Began in Thailand
In Thailand, elephants are a symbol of fortune. For me, they were my impetus for wanting to make a difference in the world. On a chance trip to an elephant farm in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I met a family who single-handedly breeds and raises elephants to save a species from extinction.
If one family devoted their lives to making their impact, imagine if everyone was empowered to give back to the world every single day. I left my rising career in the corporate world in fall 2013 to launch PopNod, an online shopping destination and app with brands that make a difference. In 2015, PopNod launched a second shopping app for social good, Wynk, that integrates saving and giving into people's everyday lives.
1. The Lonely Profession
Having worked in large Fortune 50 corporations for 11 years, I miss being part of a large team, the kitchen and hallway talk, and the closed-door conversations. Especially in the early stages of a startup, entrepreneurship is a lonely profession.
Even so, being in a lonely profession forces me to reach out to people and develop new relationships. My former government-centric, Washington, DC-based world became filled with a community of passionate non-profit leaders, creative individuals in fashion and retail, and other game changing entrepreneurs from across the country.
2. The Comparison Syndrome
On a trip to SXSW during my first months of PopNod, I was bombarded by companies left and right who were touting their quick rise to fame and fortune. You read about these startups in Forbes, Inc., and TechCrunch, and it is difficult to not ask yourself "why not me" or "should I be doing what they're doing." What initially felt like frustration is now my motivation to create my own special journey. Not all companies are made the same way, and following their paths and not my own would be unfair to myself and my company.
3. You Second-Guess Your Decisions
When the buck stops at you, there's no one to blame but yourself.
Many times, startup life feels like a sprint. We want to see immediate results, and we hope to out-pace our competition and peers (see The Comparison Syndrome above). As a result, our natural instinct is to minimize the amount of errors or so-called failures, and we start second-guessing our decisions.
I soon realized that mistakes are good and are even advantages. The more mistakes I make, the more I am able to refine my business for the better. Being a nimble startup, my journey to "better" is much quicker than that of larger companies. This has provided the inspiration for our team's mantra,
"Doing something with purpose is better than striving for perfection."
4. External vs. Internal Validation
While working in the corporate world, I was used to receiving unsolicited feedback, compliments, and recognition for my performance. The positive external validation motivated me to learn more, perform well, and work even harder. As entrepreneurs, external validation is much less common and we must find ourselves relying more on internal validation. In my opinion, this is what distinguishes the successful entrepreneurs from the unsuccessful ones. Without the internal energy, passion, and belief in your vision, there is no fire to fuel your success.
Rollercoasters Can Be Fun, Too
Even with all the ups and downs, I am truly enjoying this rollercoaster ride. One day, I walk out of a 5-hour meeting with a woman who opened a school in Senegal for young girls to prevent them from being married off at the age of 11. The next day, I meet with remarkable women who are elevating the underground fashion scene in Washington, DC.
I cannot ask for a better journey than this.