The struggle with entrepreneurship is that nobody tells you what to do. An entrepreneur starting their own company or project is forced to build their own path forward. That’s part of what makes it enjoyable. There are many glamorous stories about how entrepreneurs built cult of personality companies by launching a concept and battling through adversity to become successful. These stories are fun, but they make it hard to understand what most entrepreneurs experience. It’s rare that success stories truly focus on the struggles of maintaining momentum in the face of constant adversity.
Starting a company from the ground up is a lot like learning a subject in school. You start out from complete ignorance, you ask questions and you seek to get a grasp on the general field which you study. After some study, you begin to have an idea of where a gap exists, an area the teacher can’t explain (and thinks you’re being difficult). You think you’ve found an opportunity that doesn’t yet exist.
You ask more questions, gather details on this topic and start to build a plan for how to exploit the opportunity. But because what you’re planning is new and never been done before, there is no roadmap. No guide to tell you what to do or how to make it happen. It’s a lot like charting a path through dense jungle, you’ve got a machete and you need to cut your own path forward. The machete represents your ability to ask the right questions and develop answers to those questions. It’s only as useful as the person wielding it.
I joined a startup early in my career that was taking a novel approach to a well established co-working industry. The industry traditionally catered to post revenue businesses and entrepreneur types. These spaces were not ideal for entrepreneurs that needed an inexpensive place to be productive. So the company I worked for sought to provide work space at an hourly and affordable rate to democratize access to productive environments. What’s key is that they didn’t have the winning formula. They had an idea and sought to figure it out on the move. This was my first true lesson in entrepreneurship: Start with an idea and ask questions along the way. Keep the answers that work and refine the questions you ask on an iterative path to process improvement. Ultimately, the goal is to find success and traction as you push aggressively through the process. Iterating quickly and establishing momentum.
This exposure also showed me the dark side of entrepreneurship. Mainly, what happens when you don’t know what questions to ask next? Ultimately this translates into the question of how are you supposed to keep momentum when no one is there to tell you what to do? When you lose momentum and can’t determine how to move forward, doubt starts to creep in. Standardized education does not often teach this kind of momentum driven and iterative process. It tends to produce individuals that excel at optimizing and gaming preexisting systems. It takes a certain type of skillset to push through stalled momentum to keep the iterative cycle moving forward.
Momentum is one of the most important aspects of launching a project and getting traction. Crafting ambitious goals and aggressively pushing towards them is what is glamorized in the press. It’s the sexy side of entrepreneurship. But with lofty goals and an attack focused mentality it’s easy to burn out when you hit a roadblock along the way. The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones that are able to find the happy medium between aggressive goal setting, growth mindset and methods for how to manage themselves during adversity.
The best methods for addressing adversity are usually created from pre-existing formulas. Ie: you build the process to follow when you lose momentum, prior to it actually stalling out. The fix for stalled momentum is going to come down to the individuals network. Who they connect with to build perspective, challenge their assumptions and experts that may have an idea for what questions to ask next. Sometimes it may simply be a fresh set of boots on the ground such as a friend that is called in to carry some of the workload for a week or two.
The key that I’ve learned from my co-working experience and trying to launch a company of my own is that momentum is everything. The ability to take stock of the situation when you get stuck along the way and build a path forward is what sets the successful apart from the rest. So when building something new, take time to focus on how you’re going to handle the adversity on the way and what you will do when nothing seems to work.