4min readSelf 19 July 2019
Being an entrepreneur is lonely.
Everyone says it but I don't think I really understood it until last year when I had a scary wake-up call that my body was not going to be able to keep up with the abuse.
I wasn't sleeping, I was putting junk in my body (and then eating kale and shopping at Erewhon like somehow that made it all better), I didn't exercise, I was constantly stressed out and working myself up over things I couldn't control. The list goes on. Sometimes, when we are so passionate about something, we don't see or hear the repeated signals that something is wrong. Starting a company can be like that.
Let me say it louder for the people in the back: starting a company properly, is like that.
I have always said that there is some level of delusion necessary to start a business - and I still think that's true. Embrace it! If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. To be even remotely successful, you have to pour your soul into what you are building and cannot let outside influences dictate your next moves. Frankly, if you were a reasonable person, you wouldn't be doing it at all.
In many ways you are unique but it's super important to remember that you are not alone and you are not the first person to feel this way.
Last year, a series of unfortunate things happened to me that threw me into a tailspin. I shut myself off from the world and isolated. I was suffering from what a dear friend of mine calls, "terminal uniqueness." I was absolutely certain that I was the only one going through what I was going through and nobody could ever possibly understand. It's funny how human beings can do that, and it's even easier when the issue is something that is seen as a weakness. To be honest I even had a little zing of fear posting this because it would be admitting to the world that last year was really hard. But here's the thing, humans are amazing, resilient beings and asking for help is one of the strongest things we can do. One of my personal heroes, Sophia Amoruso, is a perfect example of a successful, resilient entrepreneur. Her "failure" at Nasty Gal brought her to the mega success that is Girlboss.
Social media may have a lot of down sides but the biggest upside is watching some amazing founders tell the truth. Maybe that is a post for another time. I know it helped me get out of my head and realize that my situation was really not that bad - and truly not that unique.
I bet, right now, you are thinking about a situation or feeling where you believe you're the only one who feels that way. I promise that whatever it is you aren't. You probably don't believe me, but that's okay, I will prove it. No matter what it is, mental illness, physical pain, tragic loss, major mistake, god forbid you are human, there is a way out and someone has done it before.
When we're ready, if we pay attention, there are people who are talking about what we are going through, almost exactly. We live in 2019, where there are literally instagram pages, podcasts, blogs and more dedicated to the things we're going through right now.
I just started recording a podcast called, The Truth Is…, to start talking about this more specifically. No question, problem or scenario is too stupid, taboo or untouchable so feel free to comment or email me with any questions. I will do my best to answer and if I can't, I promise to direct you to a resource or person who can. In the meantime, I wanted to share some books that cover a variety of subjects that we don't talk about enough as women or otherwise. Hopefully one of these will help take some your blinders off.
You got this. We got you.
Brené Brown is one of my personal heroes. Like Sophia Amoruso, she talks a lot about the mistakes she has made both privately and publicly. She has dedicated her life to studying shame - in fact, you should watch her Netflix special about it! - and has written a ton of thoughtful books on the subject. In 2019 (much after this book was published) the need for showing public perfection on social media is at an all-time high. I highly recommend this one - and frankly, every one of her books. Pro tip: get the audible version if she is the narrator herself.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz
This is my all time favorite book about business ownership. I read it once a year at least. Ben Horowitz is a visionary and writes honestly about starting a business. If you have ever wanted to start a company, read this book first.
Almost 10% of natal-born women suffer from this invisible but debilitatingly painful disease. Invisible physical pain can play a massive role in your day-to-day life and even more frustratingly so, in your work balance. Especially when it arrives once a month.
My friend Michael recently published this book about his experience with his addiction and entrepreneurship. While his addictions are specific (gambling & cocaine), the book is honest and in its entirety talk about many of the feelings that plague all business owners. Anyone will take away something solid from this book. Highly recommend.
Mel Robbins talks a lot about how her life was falling apart before she started this book and came up with her 5 second rule. Sometimes it's helpful to hear how far someone went down one direction before they decided to turn around. No matter how far you go one way, you can ALWAYS go another. Remember that.
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19 AugustFresh Voices
Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses
Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.
I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.
I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.
The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony
The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.
I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.
I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.
I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke
I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".
It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.
I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.
From Paper to Digital
We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.
The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.
I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.
I second guessed myself all the time.
A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.
I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.