Startup Right with Harmony: A letter to the startup: to the struggles and the realities (I)

 

Let’s start with a short story. Success is a very, very lonely road. Very few people are willing to endure the pain and sacrifices to be successful. It is an uphill battle, and along that road you are not going to see many friends; you’re going to see your shadow most often.

A client once told me entrepreneurship is his passion, it is what he has always wanted to do. Then I asked: “What will it take for you to make it happen?” He replied “Anything”. Unsatisfyingly, it wasn’t the response I had expected to hear.

Quite a number of the startups I’ve encountered have claimed entrepreneurship as their purpose on earth. It is something they claim they are destined or called to do. I do not doubt their driven purpose, but their will.

This entrepreneurial journey is uncertain – abysmal. Some folks question why certain schools of thought describe entrepreneurship as an impossible mountain to move. But, no matter how complex and challenging the art is reported or portrayed to be, the truth still remains that as long as human needs remain highly unsatisfied, unpredictable, and intricate, the process to solve them will surety not be a cheap task.

As the year’s curtains draw down in few weeks, I thought I would share some of the things that have shaped me into a better entrepreneur – through the failures, some debts, depression and its beauties. Following the long year of dealing with some hardcore startup issues and know-how, let’s now get more practical and dare to discuss the abhorrence many entrepreneurs lack courage to talk about.

 

Like most businesses and their owners, we draw up new or update our strategies for every new year from the previous year’s activities and reviews. My team and I were hopeful. The year ticked on a profitable note.

Knowing the unpredictability associated with running a growing business, our risks were mostly planned and SMART – (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely). Nobody said entrepreneurs are all knowing and this is not defensive.We’re no fortune tellers; we are simply ordinary beings with a sixth sense.

Circumstances unfolded in unexpected events. As pressure begins to weigh in on productivities and growth became stunted, life and business turn to run intrinsically stirring up emotions and limiting output.

My struggles: our struggles

“Being an entrepreneur is sexy for those who haven’t done it. In reality it’s gritty, tough work where you will be filled with self doubts. Entrepreneurs are survivors.” – Mark Suster, Entrepreneur, Angel investor and investment partner at Upfront Ventures.

The struggles are real. I must honestly tell you. Whether or not you are a startup, a medium scale or large company, the struggles are what they are. 2017 has seemed to be a more difficult business year especially in Ghana and for many SMEs. My team and I worked more and earned less. Measuring up to consistent creativity and competition got the best of our synergies – we were broke and broken.

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Around mid year of 2017, the struggles became more welcoming. I, gradually, as the lead adjusted to them. I was overwhelmed. Team motivation was thrown out of the window; I was a hurricane warning a possible destruction.

Funding of upcoming projects were on hold due to the break in our regular cashflow. A cashflow is what sustains businesses to keep operating in difficult times. Cashflow sustains productivity, demands and operations. Eventually my business was running out of cash.

Sexual temptations and harassments added to my loads of luggage. Balancing my personal stress and comforts with work, unstable economic challenges, and adapting to routines and habits just became an act. Experiencing this heap of challenges are normal encounters of most entrepreneurs, successful ones and struggling ones as well.

Not to deter you, these challenges, these struggles were nothing new: they are hurdles my team and I had faced during our inception. What was different with the current upheavals was me. I lost the will to get it together from the word go. Something changed and I was no longer in control. It did not stop me from functioning, but it did from identifying the problem until I hit the rock. That is the true state of many startup businesses and owners.

The realities

“Dear pessimist, optimist, and realist, While you guys argued whether the glass is full or empty, I have sold the glass.” – anonymous.

This is the realities of running a business. While you’re at ‘A’, your competitors are are at ‘D’ beating you to the game. The reality is that action must be consistent, leaving no room for emotional assumptions. The big contracts won’t just drop as manna from the heavens. Businesses have no miracles. Businesses turnarounds are work input, hard work, and team commitment.

You do not suddenly become the world’s most successful entrepreneur with an enviable net worth. The reality checks are many years of consistent hard work, sacrifices, bankruptcy, excessive burnouts, and depressions. Hold on for a moment, the reality check can, out of the blue, be sudden good fortune boom.

Wake up startup! It is all hard work meets potential and preparedness.

Shared depression

Nobody wants to say these words; I am going through depression. For some moment, I wanted to reassure myself, it was absolutely amazing to share my experience, then again, I’m concerned about who could take it out of context.

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So I took some time off work to have a self moment and introspection. Medically, I had not been diagnosed with depression. I just knew I needed a luxury of time for my mental and physical well being.

My life was not pathetic on the outside. It appeared beautifully and perfect to those that admired it but, within I knew I was carrying unwanted excesses. Being a not so outgoing person, the introvert I am, I enjoyed my comfort zone giving out brilliant excuses to avoid the company of others.

I didn’t have to wait to be told; how brave you are Harmony! To realize I had been enduring mixed and piled up pressure from work and trying to be socially perfect. I told myself how brave I was to admit that I needed to take a deep breath.

I may not have vividly expressed what my situation was, but I know many startups are faced with worst state of mental distress and worn out from the daily work load coupled with personal lives. You may not be self conscious and controlling to manage your burnout and depression like I did. Don’t be silent, you can talk to some trusted friends or a doctor for adequate precautions and assistance.

The core truth

It is important for startup owners and rising entrepreneurs to be adequately self aware to know what they do not know. Being an entrepreneur is neither a part or full time job, it’s a lifestyle.

The hard truth is every business have its time of big profits and losses. Business owners are allowed to grieve over those losses and groom themselves into successful entrepreneurs. Experienced entrepreneurs and the great teams have had these moments and it is not shameful to admit it can be difficult and awesomely rewarding.

My share of the business war does not mean I must keep going to battle unprepared. Knowing there is a war ahead is half the battle. Hard work and preparing for the challenges ahead doesn’t guarantee you success, but no work guarantees you no success. It can be compared to knowing the pill would be bitter to swallow, but failing to take it will be no cure for the illness.

The core truth: you can spend years building a business and fail in a day. Startups slave away for these hard moments, days, months and years on ideas only to gain little or no traction. If you can’t somehow clearly state and identify the problem, you probably will not be successful.

But, here is the bigger truth; just grow, learn, inspire and earn!

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