The startup journey can be a rough ride. One minute, it seems like you’re steadily ticking up a steep hill toward blue skies, then whoosh! Down you go. In the early stages of a business, there’s no stability. Revenue is uncertain. You have no idea whether the customers in your market want what you have — or how to get it to them. It can feel like the best (or worst) roller coaster you’ve ever ridden. Funding struggles can make the startup journey even rougher. Venture-backed startups face intense pressure to consistently grow their revenue, and according to the National Venture Capital Association, an estimated 25 to 30 percent of VC-backed businesses fail. I think the reality is a much higher number than reported. Other startups are funded from the team’s collective back pocket, so when the startup suffers, so does everyone on board. But the startup roller coaster doesn’t have to be a hellish experience. With the right attitude, you can make those highs higher and those lows much more bearable. Here are a few tips for holding down your lunch in the face of pressure and uncertainty:
Think about values, not direction.
Meeting deadlines and milestones are common aggravators in the startup world, and it’s tough to remain optimistic when the obstacles seem insurmountable. But when everybody is so focused on relentless forward motion — instead of doing their best and appreciating the present — it can be destructive to your startup’s progress. By focusing on your core values (e.g., making users happy) instead of where you want to be three months from now, every day of work will become more enjoyable, and you’ll gain unstoppable momentum.
Enjoy the high points.
Another reason startups suffer is blazing through the achievements that make the whole journey worth it. When you experience a “win,” take the time to relish it. This isn’t easy and has been, admittedly, something that I have too often glossed over. Focusing on your high points can help you stay on track when you hit a snag and remind yourself why you started your company in the first place. And if you have lots to look forward to, like social events with your team or celebratory beer breaks for good progress, you’ll be more likely to power through the low points.
Shift your perspective on low points.
If you see the dips in your success as failures, they’ll act like failures, which means slowing you down and stalling your motivation. But if you treat them as valuable parts of your journey — a failed experiment or even as a startup rite of passage— they’ll make you stronger, teach you valuable lessons, and allow you to keep pushing forward with confidence.
Keep lines of communication open.
You often don’t know you have a communication problem until something goes wrong. Then, when a problem arises, everyone starts talking. Emails fly back and forth. People freak out. Keeping lines of communication open when it’s business as usual is great practice for putting out fires. Don’t just communicate when things hit the fan. By then, it’s too late. Collaboration is critical in a startup, but this can only happen when people are communicating honestly with one another.
Practice good karma.
If you focus on keeping your users or customers happy, delivering what they’re looking for, and making their lives easier, they’ll be much more likely to become loyal to your product or service. This kind of good karma can really speed up your journey to success and put money in the bank. By staying focused on your values and your customers, celebrating the highs, appreciating the lows, and constantly practicing good communication, you can ride the startup roller coaster without losing your mind (or your lunch). When you finally crest that hill and get a good view from the top, you’ll be able to remember your humble roots with a smile. If you don’t appreciate the journey, even the best outcome will feel lackluster.
Zvi Band is the founder and CEO of Contactually, a relationship-marketing platform that maximizes value and drives greater ROI from personal and professional networks. Zvi frequently participates in thought leadership panels at Tech Cocktail, WordPress DC, DC PHP, and DCRUG events. He loves solving new problems and building new products and services.