Feeling lost as a founder happens to us all at some point.
You might be being told ‘No’ more than you expect after pitching new customers or investors.
You might be seeing changes in your industry and feel that pivot options are in short supply based on what you’ve built.
You might be trying to balance being a parent and/or partner with building a company and you’re fatigued and running low on answers.
It’s part of being an entrepreneur. And no one said it would be easy.
Getting back on track relies on one simple truth
Getting back on track when you lose your way relies on understanding that people’s capacity to process information decreases as fatigue and pressure increase.
And it’s a cumulative effect.
The longer the pressure or fatigue, the lower the processing power until, eventually, it renders a person more or less paralyzed. At this point it doesn’t matter how capable you think you are at problem-solving (or strategy or marketing or coding or growth hacking or leadership…), your mind becomes an echo-chamber of the same thoughts.
If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably also felt anxious, can’t sleep well, drink more caffeine, don’t feel fully present for your family or team but still think that working harder is the solution.
It doesn’t take much to see when a founder is on track to get to this place. They usually look exhausted (and they’re trying to hide it, which is impossible by the way) and they use a statement like this:
‘I’m the founder, I’ll work it out’
Yes, you are and no, you won’t.
This is a ‘brave face’ statement. It’s made by people full of pride, hoping that the answer will just present itself as long as they just keep working hard.
I’ve made this statement countless times before realizing that sometimes the reality is you will lose your way. The good news is that there is a way to negotiate these times. And perhaps not surprisingly, it takes practice to move through these times because as an entrepreneur it doesn’t just happen once.
Losing your way is the result of losing perspective. Recapture it.
The steps that follow have become somewhat of a prescription over the years for me and those I mentor.
Step 1: Revisit your original inspiration
Starting a venture, for most founders, is usually a well-considered decision (and usually a step that comes after a fair bit of side-hustling and experimentation). That single decision to start is usually born from a repeated experience combined with a nagging desire to create a new order.
Whatever that experience was, the one that started you on today’s journey, find evidence of it. The first text you sent to your friend telling them you’re going to start a business, the street corner where you saw the need hiding in plain sight, or the disappointment you had when a product let you down and you thought you could do it better.
Whatever it was, find it.
It will show you how far you’ve come.
Step 2: Call your mentor
If you don’t have a mentor, get one.
If you have one, call them and ask for help by explaining how you’re feeling and how you’re framing the issues that are making you feel the way are feeling.
Be vulnerable. Tell it how it is. Mentors are a founder’s safe place because nine times out of ten, we’ve been there too! Let them hear what you’re thinking.
As difficult as it might be, pay very close attention to what they have to say. More often than not, they will be helping you break down the issues that feel insurmountable. The value they will present you is perspective.
Step 3: Sleep + Exercise. Repeat.
Get home, switch off your phone, put it anywhere that isn’t your bedroom and sleep. Wake up the next morning and exercise. Then turn your phone on.
Beyond the immediate benefits to your brain’s chemistry, you’ll become reacquainted with the world. And perspective.
Step 4: Complete a business model canvas
This one-pager (and I prefer the free one from leanstack.com) helps ask the fundamental macro questions that are essential to any venture. The speed at which founders run and adjust often means that they will lose sight of who their target customer is, how they want to make money (compared to how to actually make money) and a suite of other fundamentals.
Get reacquainted with the business model you’re building. Not only will this show you how far you’ve come, it may also show you what changes need to be made for you to regain an even footing. Every time I’ve done this, it’s provided much-needed perspective.
Step 5: Pay it forward by helping others
‘When we help others, the focus of our mind assumes a broader horizon within which we are able to see our own petty problems in a more realistic proportion. What previously appeared to be daunting and unbearable, which is what often makes our problems so overwhelming, tends to lose its intensity.’ – Dalia Lama
A final note about this hypothesis
The root causes of most things that result in a founder losing their way can be identified and managed when they have perspective.
This is a hypothesis that I’ve seen proven time and time again. This doesn’t mean that difficult decisions are made easier. It means that those decisions can be taken objectively.
Tactical, day-to-day issues will always conspire against perspective. That’s why it’s our job as entrepreneurs to recapture perspective as often as possible.
If you learned something new, let me know by leaving a comment below, thanks!