We’re about to kick off another year, resolutions have been made, lots of parties have been attended, a bunch of milestones have been reached, and it hopefully feels good to get some closure on a year and plan for another.
I’d like to challenge you to add one more resolution to the list, and instead of thinking of it as a resolution, treat it as a habit, a lifestyle, a core part of your duty as being a member of your startup community.
As a bit of background, my startup Administrate is founded in Scotland, backed by Scottish investors, and a member of the fledgling Edinburgh startup community. Using the term fledgling to describe a group of companies that has produced two unicorns (Scotland has the highest rate of unicorn production per capita in the world) seems a bit weird, but it’s true. Like most non-Silicon Valley, non-Boston, (dare I say non-American?) locations, the community here is fairly young. Most of the founders and senior management teams are first timers here. All of us are trying to tackle the inherent challenges of building a sustainable business while learning as fast as we can, hoping to not commit that fatal mistake (last piece of learning?) along the way.
It Doesn’t Get Easier, You Just Go Faster
In cycling they say that it never gets easier, you just go faster, and I really believe the same is true with startups. This stuff is really hard. Even when things are really rewarding, you know you’re on the cusp of making it, you’re getting that positive press coverage, you’ve just raised money, you just signed that huge deal, whatever the milestone is, it’s still really, really hard.
And here’s the thing – if you’re a senior team leader or founder, there’s not many options for support. Your spouse won’t fully understand what you’re going through. Your board isn’t the right venue for a freakout. Your direct reports have problems of their own that they need support to help address.
Feeling alone is one of the worst feelings, but it’s also one of the most common in a startup.
I’ve found that the single best avenue for support as a founder, CEO, or senior team member is to talk with a peer, usually someone who is ahead of you on the journey. I don’t even mean support as in therapy, I mean support as in “I’m having this problem, how did you solve it?”, roll-up-the-sleeves style problem solving.
In the last 2 years, there’s been several key moments where I’ve received advice/suggestions/thoughts from members of our community that have caused me to rethink, come up with a plan, and have ultimately seriously transformed our company and helped make it one of the fastest growing tech startups in Scotland. Things would have been very different if I hadn’t had that time from others who were ahead of me on the journey.
Take the Pledge
Spend 30 minutes every week helping other startups within your community.
You can spend an hour every other week, two hours with one person, etc., I’m not bothered about the mechanics, but just make sure you’re investing. You can still run a highly structured calendar, you can ask people to come with a specific question or problem, you can implement this however you want, but the key is to be available, be supportive, and spread as much knowledge as possible. Even if you don’t know how to help your fellow startup, refer them to someone who might, or tell them to read a book or go to a conference.
The funny thing about this is that the people that helped transform Administrate by spending time with me usually didn’t remember the conversation when I went back and thanked them. I’ve had several instances of the same thing happening to me when someone mentions what a great help I was and it turns out it was a 10 minute conversation at a party. These things add up, but they can only do that with consistent attention, over time.
The other interesting thing about this is that it’ll help you run a better business too! Taking your head out of your problems to focus on something else can provide clarity, and I’ve never found a situation where I couldn’t learn something from another company.
If you think I could be of help, let me know! Hit me up on Twitter, email (if you don’t have my direct email, send it through the main Administrate email), phone, etc. Sometimes it’ll take a week or two to get something arranged, sometimes it’ll be via the phone, but hopefully it’ll be helpful.