Resilience for startups – what are the differences for founders and staff?

With thanks to our Burners Driven who gave us permission to publish Resilience for startups – what are the differences for founders and staff? written by Jurie Rossouw – CEO of Driven

The startup rollercoaster is a concept that founders are painfully familiar with. One moment you feel elated as a clear path opens to world domination, only to then have a horrific flood of dread envelop you as cashflow evaporates and you come face to face with corporate oblivion… yet again.

I run Driven, a startup that helps people and businesses build resilience through an AI-powered virtual coach, located in Fishburners’ Sydney hub. Given my experience in resilience and being active in the startup community, it’s given me some perspective on the challenges we all face.

And let’s face it – startups are tough. There are many statistics floating around, but the simple reality is that most don’t survive. And of those that survive, it’s never a smooth ride. Even if you make it big, it doesn’t mean it gets any easier – it just means you have different problems to solve.

A veritable challenge bonanza

Oh, there are certainly no shortage of challenges in startup life; however, challenges for founders and employees can be quite different.

Challenges for startup founder:

  • Need to do everything. Ages ago when I was looking at business process models, I saw on from Boston Consulting Group that narrowed it down to about 187 processes that a business needs to have. Now cram all those processes into one person and see what kind of schizophrenic experience that produces!
  • Ain’t no comfort zone. People often say, “Hey why don’t you get out of your comfort zone a little?”. Well if you’re a founder, you’re probably longing for just a brief glimpse of your long lost comfort zone.
  • The positive façade. It’s extraordinarily hard to know who you can trust enough to let out how you’re truly feeling. I think as a society we’re getting a bit better with this lately, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to allowing founders to express vulnerability without investors, staff and others quickly losing confidence. Work on this, people!

Challenges for startup staff:

  • Unclear what’s happening. So much of what’s going on is happening in the head of the founder. Especially with founders often so much of the nitty gritty work in crazy hours of the day. How do you even get to know what’s going on?
  • Severe limitations. Startups are strapped for cash, time, tools, procedures… you name it. There isn’t enough of anything, yet you have to somehow do everything. How do you manage?
  • Stressed founders. Given all the stuff the founders have to deal with, it often results in a lot of stress, frustration, anger and despair. These emotions often flow through to staff who may not know what’s going on or what to do about it.
  • Constant change. Do we even need to explain? From sudden vision shifts, major pivots, new tools, a new client that wants different things. There’s no end to all the sources of change. But hey, you wanted to be a ‘disruptor’, so get used to being disrupted!

It’s dangerous out there. Take some resilience

If you want an easy and relaxed job, startup life isn’t it. But if you have a burning desire to make a real difference to this world – solve some important problem or do something big, then this is the place to be. And if this is you, then you owe it to yourself to invest in your own resilience.

But what exactly is resilience? I summarise it as advancing despite adversity. This means you are able to continuously advance towards and achieve your goals despite the challenges and adversity you face along the way.

What does this mean practically? It means you:

  • Have a clear sense of purpose and goals that you are working towards
  • Can keep your cool when disaster strikes and you need to face a challenge
  • Are resourceful, and can anticipate and plan for challenges before they happen
  • Can build a strong support network of people who can help along the way
  • Are persistent and maintain your motivation and discipline regardless of what happens
  • Invest in your own health, including good nutrition, exercise and sleep

Over at Driven I’ve been working in the field of resilience for a while now, and these aspects are really the key to build your resilience. This is important to know: Resilience is not something you are born with – it is something you learn and you continually develop. Really, it is a way of life.

What is resilience like in a startup?

Developing these resilience skills personally and individually as both founders and employees is important. It helps to build the toughness to keep striving for success, combined with mutual empathy of the personal impact of taking on such a worthy challenge.

Putting it into context, here are a few examples of what it means to invest in resilience in the startup world:

  • Always refining and reinforcing your vision for what you set out to achieve with your startup. This is the most important part – why are you doing this? Does your motivation run deep enough to help you survive the tough challenges ahead?
  • Always invest in relationships with people and building your network. So much of the early survival of startups are dependent on connections and help from others. Are you getting out there often enough to meet the right people?
  • While you’re working crazy hours to make some magic happen, don’t neglect your health. Keep making sure you get sleep, eat healthy and do some exercise, otherwise your health can quickly become a big disruption that brings your business to a halt.

If you can keep these concepts in mind and continually invest in your own resilience, then the startup experience changes drastically. It changes from feeling like “OMG what have I done”, into an attitude of “Bring. It. ON!”

The emotional rollercoaster doesn’t go away, but you get better at managing the ups and downs and appreciate the overall ride more.

As a founder in a resilience startup, I can say that it’s been a massive help to me in building a business from scratch. If you’d like to learn more about resilience, I recommend checking out the 6 domains of resilience.


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