After I published the blog last week, I thought I knew what I was going to be writing about this week. But as with most things in life (and entrepreneurship), things turn out otherwise. They say, it’s all for the good. So, while the topic is a little sad, I hope I can show you that it’s worth your weight in gold.
I came out of the weekend all prepped to conquer the week. I had had an insightful discussion with my acupuncture doctor, and he had made me see something which I knew already but had sidelined in the course of life. So I came in all geared up with a Hell Yeah!
And I ran into my co-founder, Abhinav, worrying his head off about cash flows. He handles the finances, so there’s more pressure on him as he views his spreadsheets week after week. Expected payments had not come in. He was starting his week with a Hell No!
And boy, this was more hell than usual. Heartbreaking hell, close to ‘let’s close the business’ hell.
Bootstrapping is goddamn hard.
In frustration, he said, “Let’s go meet Sam*”. He had never met Sam, only exchanged a few emails. But he wanted to hear Sam talk about his business, strategy and challenges. Why Sam? Because he is in a similar business as ours, also bootstrapped. So I asked Sam, and he was happy to meet.
Meeting Sam is always a joy. He is an entrepreneur, is principled, thinks a lot like us, is as passionate about his work as we are, has a loftier vision and bigger dreams than we do. And is the best in the business.
And seeing Sam and Abhinav talk was joyful too. Like two kindred spirits meeting. Challenges, solutions, ideas, growth, people—all the usual shop talk of treps.
But the loneliness was unmistakable. You’ve heard this before: Being an entrepreneur is a lonely ride. Even your supportive spouse won’t get the whole and soul of it. It’s good to have business partners, as invested as you. Then it may not be that lonely. Even so, it still is.
While working on a lofty vision that goes beyond profits, of doing something for the nation, or creating an awesome authentic workplace, the daily challenges of cash flows, clients, team and whathaveyou are something to be solved. In whatever way you know best at that point in time. You can look inside, or ask for help, talk to others, sign up for courses, or get into mastermind groups, and then learn to play it differently. So you move to the next level. Or you do nothing of the sort, and continue dealing with stuff with what you know. Sometimes this is an easy decision, most times it’s not. Most times you just can’t see through the fog. You just hope that the milestone is right in front when the fog lifts. And through it all you tread a sliver of a path, precariously balancing yourself, brave face up, so no one knows your private hell.
No one can see how precarious it really is. Maybe it’s your ego. Maybe it’s failure staring at your face. Maybe it’s the fatigue of challenge after challenge. No one can see it exactly the way you do.
And then it’s just plain lonely. Someone asks, why is that you do what you do? Why do you have to do it? Why do you have to struggle so much?
And the trep might reply with a different set of questions. Why don’t you see it? Why are you happy with a job that gives you no joy? Why are you not the go-getter, learner, risk taker, I knew in college? How come you stopped reading? Why is all your time spent discussing politics or binge watching some web series or the other? Why are you not doing anything about what you crib so much about?
But many of us don’t even say that. We just know all of us are different, on different paths. And it’s okay, whichever path you take.
We just chose the hard one (but, isn’t that just a point of view?).
Because we are happy building workplaces where people find themselves. We are happy staying a small team of 10-15 people, proud that we support that many families. We would be happier if we could support more, and that’s our effort always. We are happy building communities of what we believe in, helping each other out without any hesitation. And so on.
Back to Sam. His success metric is not the revenue target he hits, or the profits he makes, or how many houses he owns. His personal metric is what a phenomenal child he has been able to raise because of his entrepreneurship journey. He is already successful by that standard. But not by his lofty goal of creating employment for hundreds and thousands of people in the country. So he strives.
As I sat there and watched the two talk, it made me think of a similar conversation at a cafe a few months ago. We were with another entrepreneur who runs a company that’s rapidly growing, 250+ employees, offices all over the world. And while it’s clear success on all fronts for him, the loneliness was palpable. “You know, I can’t have this kind of a conversation with many people on a daily basis. So, yeah it can get lonely. And difficult. I had to see a therapist, and that helped.”
I thought back to many years ago. I was on a flight back from Hyderabad after a startup event. I was with another entrepreneur, she had won an award for her dream project there, but no investor had shown any interest. Put it down to lack of sleep, gruelling conversations, and then returning with little hope—she gave in to her tears. The courage, the persistence of over four years—all given up. And probably that was the point that led her to quit her business in a few months. She went back to a job and is doing phenomenally well. A few weeks ago, her Facebook memory threw up photos from that time, and she admitted it’s still her dream project.
There’s a price being paid for the lofty ideas and goals people have as they start up and scale up a business. And it’s not talked about a lot. All we see are funded companies making it big, but not enough of bootstrapped companies slugging it out, every single day. Therefore people with stars in their eyes about starting up don’t fully realize what they are getting into. They should.
My advice to them: Talk to entrepreneurs you know, and get a feel of their journey. And look within if you have it in you. If you do, welcome aboard!
And to the ones feeling lonely through their mission, I have this to say: seek each other out. Talk a while, laugh a bit, shed a tear or two, get inspired by someone’s little breakthrough. It becomes a tad easier. Knowing there are others exactly like you. That’s what meeting Sam did to Abhinav. He came back with renewed enthusiasm.
I saw this on Twitter today, and that captures it all for me.
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” — Tom Hanks