It’s Lonely In Here

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

*Name changed


Give Yourself Time to Recuperate

It’s been an incredibly hard week. At all levels one can think of. But that’s what trepping (my shortcut word for entrepreneurship) is about. One tends to think of the entrepreneurial challenges as these really hard ones that a few brave through. The revenue challenges, growth troubles, team problems, issues with clients, and skirmishes at the tax department. But that’s really a usual day at work for treps (entrepreneurs).

Then there’s all that personal stuff to be taken care of: this week, atop the usual issues of having a dementia ridden elderly person at home, I found myself in the flurry of buying a new car, selling the old one, and then closing the week with the kid not doing well in school, going against her usually easy conquests at studies.

You know, these are not really hard issues, if you think of it. If you manage your time right, say No to a few things, focus on the key things, and stay balanced, you can slay the week.

But the fact is, I didn’t.

I am just exhausted. And happy to see my bed, and sleep for straight 10 hours.

If you look at what happened, there’s nothing out of the ordinary, this week. A client mail asking to take a pause in the billing cycle. Warning bells ring, cash flow issues ahead. If you’re an entrepreneur, then you know this. You’re up against this frequently, if not nearly all the time. This was followed by a call, where we set the intention to get things smoothened out, get teams aligned and focused on the same goals, and move ahead. Fairly common in an agency life.

But for once, this call wasn’t easy. I am of the opinion that we have done our work, and gone the extra mile several times in the past three months of an inbound marketing project just to get the client team comfortable and achieve their goals. I think process improvements are in order, and my team is ready for that. The client team is of the opinion, that there are no results, cleanly ignoring that the website went live just 27 days ago. And yes, there need to be process improvements, cleanly ignoring that the laid process has not even been followed by their own team.  

To avoid a game of ‘he said, she said’, and to be focused on the end game, which is to have a successful project, I went into the call agreeing to the pause in billing while we got things in order. And we ended the call with the right intentions going forward and to have a game plan with buy-in from all stakeholders.

Phew. Why does it have to so hard? Doesn’t anyone get inbound marketing? Why is the agency at fault for issues at the client’s end?

These were some of the questions running in my head.

And I am sure the various people on the client was thinking: they seem to be doing a lot of things, but there’s nothing to show for it. They don’t get strategy much. They don’t get execution much. Etc etc.

This happens all the time. And we have processes in place that tackle a lot of these issues. And still we falter, as each client team is different, and you need to have modifications in your process to enable smooth functioning.

It’s just a thing to be done so we can get back to the fun bits of creating great content for them, have a good ABM plan running, hit the ball out of the park with their social media and ads, and so on. The numbers are already looking good, and we are going to have fun with this.

But I was exhausted all the same.

Once the call was over, I headed straight to the car dealer’s where the car awaited us, and so did all the paperwork, the demo, the explanations, the ceremonies (they actually played devotional music, rang a temple bell to create an aura of sacredness for the purchase).

I was beat.

And trying to get my head around the last two hours: the stress of trying to not lose a client, which had exhausted me and the excitement of buying a car, which I wasn’t feeling. My friend heard about it and said, I should learn to see the humor in the situation.

That was Tuesday evening.

Then came Thursday morning. Weekly brainstorm with one of the co-founders on what’s next for the business. And got to hear some harsh things, about my work. I saw that what he said was valuable, and right for the business. But he isn’t exactly the diplomatic kinds, and doesn’t have a way with words when he sees incompetence.

I was already smarting from the call of just a day ago. And here was more; pride being attacked.

But we are treps, right? Never beaten down, right? So I agree with him, say that I see his point. And as GaryVee says, triple down on work.

And that’s how the week ends.

Nothing new in this week that should have crumpled me up, really.

But think back two more weeks, and that’s where it really began.

I had a trauma of sorts. Coming smack up against the realization that you will be let down by people who you took for granted, who you think have your back, will take your side at the time of reckoning. The day of reckoning came, and I found myself standing alone with my handful of values that no one cared for.

I grieved for a bit. And two and a half days later was back to work. A week passed, and I started to taste normalcy. The week ended. And then that Tuesday that I mentioned earlier happened.

So, here’s the thing. It’s not so much about the challenges. It’s about the fatigue of having a challenge after challenge.

And here I had thought I had overcome that a long ago.

But as with all things, you just find a new level to find your ease with.

Here’s my new finding this week. When a core belief of yours get challenged and you’re trying to put your head around it, your stamina to handle the rest of the stuff can go down. You might need extra support, or time out or meditation (or whatever helps you resolve and let go). Treps like me are used to being on our own and will not immediately see this. If I had sought support or taken some time off, I might not have finished the week this exhausted.

Sure, some of us think we don’t have the luxury of a time off. I do. I have great co-founders, a great team, clients who would understand. But I don’t allow myself that. I should have.

I can see it is detrimental. And why it has been this hard. I haven’t allowed myself the time to recuperate, integrate and find my bearing again. And without that, more challenges, even minor ones, will drag me down.

You need the stamina. I am telling this to myself, and any entrepreneur reading this who is like me.