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I’m Going Around In Spirals

8 weeks into a new muru-D batch there is a common look of confusion, frustration and exhaustion on the face of many of the entrepreneurs. You may think you’re going in circles, but really, you’re going in spirals.

This is normal.

No matter how old, progressed or awesome your startup is, when you enter an acceleration process there is a point at which this feeling is almost guaranteed to occur. It’s due to a few reasons.

Firstly, the honeymoon period is over. Both for being in the accelerator and also for your startup. What you may have come into the program with as a vision and plan has probably been significantly challenged or even completely disproved. This is actually good. Whilst it feels terrible, it is much better to have this feeling now than after three years of hard, hard work.

Secondly, you have had at least 20 maybe as many as 100 tiny bits of feedback and advice from mentors, advisors, random drop ins and anyone who has a moment to voice an opinion. Most of this will be unfounded, much of it will be conflicting, some of it you ‘know’ is wrong, and a lot of it just might be right. This might feel damaging at times, but it’s priceless. It’s pressure testing your business, your plans, your team and you. You can’t ignore it all and you can’t do it all. You have to listen, think, filter and act. I know I will only invest in a company that has said a firm no to some of my feedback.

Thirdly, whilst you were under pressure before, you’re under even more. Turn up, build a product, build a team, talk to customers, get advisors, attend masterclasses, stand up and pitch 3 times a day to visitors, prepare a trip and collaborate nicely with your cohort. If this hasn’t felt impossible a dozen times, then you’re skipping something. Acceleration comes at a price of harder work and additional priority pressure.

This may all feel unfair and maybe unnecessary at times, but it is normal. Though knowing that it’s normal doesn’t make it any easier.

What may help is knowing that if you persist and if your team works together, then you will come out the other side stronger, better, and ready to start executing.

It feels like spinning wheels or going in circles, but you’re not. You’re going in spirals. Even if it feels like you’re back in the same spot, you’re different, your business is different, your thinking is different.

Every time you learn something new about one part of the business, it can change all other parts. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. A new customer who values your product, may change the business model and may even mean the name you picked doesn’t make sense. Constant change, but if you’re flearning then you’ll be moving forward. Even if it is only incremental improvement and actually feels like a step backward, it is progress towards the end goal.

Here is one of my favourite quotes that summarises this.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T. S. Eliot

So here are my tips for surviving this period and coming out the other side as fast and strong as you can;

  • Embrace the chaos. Don’t try to avoid the tough chats, the pain, the frustration, the annoyance. Know it’s going to happen and spend your energy getting through it.
  • Focus. The less you do, the more time you have for your focus. It gives you back time. If you feel like you need more hours in the day, start by cutting out things that are not 100% required right now. It’s not never, it’s just later.
  • Speed. If you’re focused, you can move fast. Not to be hasty, but to do more laps. Shorter laps means more learning cycles and getting to success faster. Especially when you have limited resources.
  • Flearn. Failure without learning is useless. Make sure you ask the question about why it failed. More than that, ask yourself what was your thinking when you did it. What was the root cause.
  • Talk. Talk to your team, to other founders, to the alumni, to advisors and to the muru-D team. Find someone you can be honest with. Speaking it out loud makes it easier to deal with and you’ll probably hear back that you’re doing ok.
  • Mobilise. You can’t get through it alone. Mobilise and lead your team regardless of your role. Get people working through this. Get interns, advisors, Telstra people, everyone working with you to get through this. (HT to Terry).
  • Vision. Remember why you’re doing this. The goal of a startup is to be a company. Remind yourself and your team why you’re doing this on a weekly if not daily basis.

Again, it’s not easy. Worse of all, despite all that, some businesses will eventually fail. One thing is guaranteed. If you persist, if you work hard, if you apply the principles you’re learning, even if your business does fail, you will keep going and you will eventually succeed. 98 and three quarters percent guaranteed. (Google “Oh the places you’ll go” for some more good advice from a doctor.)

Enjoy the spirals!