Ok, I'm Outta Here.
If you haven't heard already, being an entrepreneur is HARD. It's extremely risky; there's a lot of late nights, salary loss risk, a lot of uncertainty, and the list goes on and on. These are the "known unknowns," so to speak, and they are challenging, but expected.
The real challenge, the single largest factor to prepare for is the steady flow of, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, "unknown unknowns," you must overcome on a daily basis. This cannot be overstated. As a leader in a startup, you will be confronted with a broad and largely unpredictable set of conundrums, and the only way to prepare is to anticipate their arrival with an open mind and a deep breath.
The transition period is unsettling because while you're trying to grow your idea into a tangible entity, you're thrown obstacle after obstacle that tests your perseverance not only mentally but physically as well.
I had a solid career in Brand Marketing at the largest food company in the world— a position that I had dreamt of earlier on in my career. I wanted it so badly that I got an MBA just to qualify for it. This coveted position would open the doors to significant career advancement opportunities. But something was amiss… at the end of the day, the organization of which I was part, while spinning a tale of innovation and respect for, "out of the box" thinking was entrenched in conservative and traditional ideas with deeply shortsighted planning. I said, "Ok, I'm outta here."
Soon after leaving my job, I learned the hard truth that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Rose-colored glasses blind you from the lurking dangers you need to path around. Being a realist is vitally important, and the faster you accept the situation that arises, the faster you can act to correct it. When you embrace this is a natural part of the entrepreneurial process, the resulting incremental success will help ensure long term survival.
I also learned the hard way that sometimes you have to come to terms with killing your "best" ideas. An early company of mine, a beverage line, was destined for failure. We had no major customers lined up, our formulation had too short of a shelf life requiring a tiny sales window, and it required a large amount of capital for the initial production. Don't get me wrong, the actual product would be GREAT, and I've recently seen a similar iteration of the product in the beverage aisle, but that's not always the point - at the time we were not capitalized to make that product and coming to terms with that notion is KEY. Venture capitalists call it "failing fast," and if it ain't gonna work, it's better to decide to can it, sooner rather than later.
A major career change will affect all arenas of your life, least of which are the relationships in it. It's been said that you should never work with friends or family, and I've learned the hard way that this adage has stood the test of time for a reason. This isn't to say it's impossible, but there will, like any other relationship, be challenges as your circumstances and dynamics undergo changes. This may be with your business partner, your family, or even your friends as your priorities shift to focus on your newfound project. If you're one of the lucky ones, your relationships may remain unaffected by the major adventure that you've chosen to undertake. If not, the good news is that you can prepare for the inevitable ups and downs.
Business partnerships are like any other relationship—you need to be transparent and explicit not only about what your expectations are for the business but also your relationship in the event that your venture doesn't work out. We all hope relationships won't sour, but it's good practice to anticipate and prepare for the possibility that it might. Take stock of your support system: Who will you turn to outside of your partnership to discuss problems? From whom can you get honest but constructive feedback? Whether a support system means finding a seasoned mentor in the industry, checking in more frequently with a therapist, or taking the time to destress with girlfriends at a weekly brunch, schedule me-time just like you would any other meeting or event.
Your Company is Not You
As an entrepreneur, you have to be flexible to pivot when necessary. So when my goal of starting a beverage line didn't pan out, I reached into my back pocket to see what other ideas I had in the past that could come to fruition. I took all those ideas and worked on them simultaneously to see which project could get the most traction. From this journey materialized DoggieLawn, an eco-friendly alternative to pee-pads that just seemed to naturally make sense for a busy pet owner like myself.
It's important to prepare for failure as much as you would prepare for success. Failure is a natural part of this process. And it's so easy to dwell on it when it feels like everything is falling apart before your eyes.
But if and when things go awry, be solution-oriented instead of ruminating over what could have been. Remind yourself that running into obstacles is normal, and success doesn't happen overnight, despite what our social media inundated culture would have us believe.
You can easily become overwhelmed, depressed, or even take it personally. This is why I advise women who are thinking of making the big shift from corporate to being their own boss to prepare for failure as much as you would for success. Your ideas and your company are not YOU. When you ditch a product line or shutter a company, you must not shutter yourself. Meditate on this notion before you even start - you'll thank yourself later.