POSITION YOURSELF FOR HIGH PERFORMANCE
Regardless of why you’re starting a business and what skills and resources you bring, your performance as a founder will fluctuate from hour-to-hour and day-to-day. This is the nature of human striving. Some days are better than others. A key question for every startup founder is: What does it mean to bring my very best:, and what does this require? After twenty years of studying high performance and coaching business leaders to achieve new levels of effectiveness, it’s clear to me that most of us sit atop a deep well of energy and potential that is never fully tapped.
Honestly assessing your interests and needs in five domains— each of which can work in your favor, boosting your focus and performance, or work against you, diminishing or distracting your focus and performance—will help you to bring your best effort and energy to your startup challenge.
FINANCIAL NEEDS AND GOALS - What minimum personal income do you need to earn on a monthly basis over the first twelve to thirty-six months to be able to pursue your venture? What are your longer-term personal financial goals in pursuing this venture?
Most of us bring a minimum income need to our startup journey. As psychologist Abraham Maslow laid out in his hierarchy of needs,10 unless and until our basic survival and safety needs are met, we won’t give our full attention to higher goals and aspirations. If at all possible, take your income issue “off of the table” by identifying how much money you need to make during your startup process and then developing a game plan that will meet this need.
How you determine your income needs, and at what level you set them, is a highly personal decision that depends on many factors. The ideal scenario in launching a new business is to have minimal or no needs for near-term income, but this is rarely a sustainable situation. When he launched his first venture, Mark Kahn was prepared to operate for many months with no personal income. Several years later, when seeking funding for his second venture, he was in a different frame of mind. “Maybe it is both age and having kids and a family to support,” he said, “but I made it clear to investors that I would be leaving a job that pays me well, and I needed to figure out how to finance the business up front so it worked for me on a personal level.”
Longer-term financial goals are also important to identify. Are you looking to reach a consistent, stable level of income over time? Are you hoping to create an exit event after five or ten years that represents a large payout to cover your early financial sacrifice and create financial independence going forward? Your stance on these issues will frame your planning process and, more important, drive the sense of purpose and energy you bring to your founding role.
FAMILY SUPPORT AND ALIGNMENT - How aware are family members or significant others of your plans for the new venture and what it will require? How supportive (confident:, committed) are your family/significant others of this new venture? Who else are you counting on to support this venture? What is their level of support or resistance?
I include in “family” any loved ones or significant others who are a consistent, important part of your life. The most common cases are husbands and wives and children, who inevitably bear some of your startup sacrifice and stress. I know of quite a few promising businesses that were abandoned because the founder’s family was not adequately prepared for the stress or the risk associated with entrepreneurship. On the other side of the coin are people who achieve their startup goals but at a dramatic and painful cost. Tim Berry, founder of Palo Alto Software and bplans. com, has written, “Every class in entrepreneurship should have at least one session with somebody who got so obsessed with the business that they lost the rest of their life. It happens a lot.”11
Typically, this is an area full of entrepreneurial selling and sugar - coating. You want your family members to believe in what you are doing, to have confidence in your new venture and the future you are making possible, and, of course, you want to minimize their anxiety about risks and challenges of entrepreneurship. But the realities and requirements of your new venture will quickly make their presence felt in your home, whether or not you prepare your family for them. Spouses caught unaware by financial crises and unexpected late nights at the office are much more likely to resist or panic than those who are looped in and consulted on the front end. So it’s vital that you have honest and realistic conversations with family members about how the startup will affect or change your availability and schedule, how it will affect financial priorities, and how risks and challenges will be handled along the way. This includes listening closely to family members’ concerns and fears and discussing how they can provide help
And support. Don’t underestimate the positive impact on your entrepreneurial performance that family support will bring or the added stress and strain that will arise if these issues go unexamined and unaddressed.
TIME AVAILABILITY AND COMMITMENT - What current commitments of your time, other than your new venture, will remain in place? How many hours per week will be available for you to pursue your startup opportunity? How many hours per week do you expect to spend on this venture?
The implications here are simple. Getting a new business off the ground takes time, a lot more time than most founders ever imagine. It always looks simpler on the back of a napkin than in everyday life. Your ability to drive your startup forward will strongly correlate to how much time and focus you can give to it. Paul Graham said it best, “Most founders of failed startups don’t quit their day jobs, and most founders of successful ones do. If startup failure was a disease, the CDC would be issuing bulletins warning people to avoid day jobs.”12
Realistically, many people are not in situations that allow them to put all of their time into getting their big idea off the ground, at least not initially. Some founders would rather be part-time entrepreneurs for lifestyle reasons. And your time availability will be driven partly by the first two domains: your income needs and your family circumstances. But understand that the amount of time you devote will impact how quickly you grow your business, what you need from other partners and stakeholders, and, ultimately, how you define and achieve success as an entrepreneur.
HEALTH AND PERSONAL CAPACITY - What is the status ofyour physical/ emotional health? How do you develop and sustain your capacity for productive work (e. g., exercise, nutrition, social and spiritual pursuits, etc.)?
During more than a decade of working closely with senior executives to evaluate and improve their performance, I found that many of my clients had hit a wall of fatigue, stress, and resignation. They admitted that years of sixty - and seventy-hour workweeks had left them depleted. They were clearly not bringing their best selves to their work, but they saw no easy way out. The pipeline of challenges continued to flow at them with no break in sight.
In 2001, I began to share with clients a Harvard Business Review article, written by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, titled “The Making of a Corporate Athlete.”13 The authors had successfully distilled a set of principles governing the sustained high performance of world-class athletes (Olympic champions, PGA golfers, and professional tennis players, for example) and applied these principles to challenges experienced by business leaders. Their fundamental premise, later captured in their best-selling book, The Power of Full Engagement, is that bringing your best self, your “A game,” to any endeavor over a sustained period of time requires the systematic building of personal strength, stamina, and capacity on four basic levels: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual (see the resources list in Appendix B for more detailed information and references about this model).141 found these concepts to be consistently helpful to clients and to myself and have further found that these ideas are wholly useful for new entrepreneurs, who are always seeking more energy, more time, greater focus, etc.
To maximize your impact as a founder, become a student of your own effectiveness and performance. How do you manage and recover energy? Through what practices and activities do you refill your gas tank? How do you keep your mind sharp and uncluttered? Although these questions may seem obvious, I rarely encounter a new founder who couldn’t elevate his or her personal impact and performance by improving personal “care and feeding.” In addition to boosting your venture’s odds of success, these steps will add to your quality of life and work. Simply put, you’ll get more enjoyment out of your startup ride.
TRANSITION - What aspects of your prior identity or role will serve you well in your new venture? What aspects do you want to leave behind or will hinder you in some way? What unfinished business do you need to wrap up in order to fully focus on your new venture, without distraction or doubt?
You can’t live your former life and move in a new direction at the same time. Your former life includes obligations, affiliations, contracts, responsibilities, and personal habits. Of course, some of these will remain unchanged, but it is impossible to bring your full energy to a new venture until you make a clean break from prior roles and obligations that don’t align with your entrepreneurial goals. This usually involves tough choices. You want to stay involved in your golf group or continue to have breakfast every Friday with friends from your former job, but these will steal time away from the priorities of your startup. You want to be included in social events and fishing trips, take in concerts, and keep your spot on the neighborhood council. And you want to hang on to those favorite clients that you’ve had for years, who are lucrative but not aligned with how you need to spend time in building your new business.
William Bridges, in his classic book, Transitions, asserts that every new beginning starts with endings.15 Over decades of working with thousands of people, struggling to navigate major changes in their lives (e. g., divorce, job loss, or death of a loved one), he noticed that the concrete, external changes in our lives—moving into a new house or office, for example, or driving to a new work location—are easily absorbed by most people. What usually trips us up or holds us back is the thicket-like process of inner transition, where we hold on to expectations, beliefs, or attitudes that are relics of the past. The key to marshalling your energy for the future is to acknowledge what needs to be laid to rest, finish any unfinished business, and don’t look back.