Affecting change hurts

Working at startup takes it toll. Ambitions are running high, ressources are always stretched, a lot of processes are not in place, and getting the right talent to join the mission is super hard. There is absolutely every reason for why days and weeks can feel like an almost eternal struggle. But that’s just the nature of how it is to be building something from nothing.

When you feel the struggle, it’s super important to remember that there is the good kind of struggle and the not so good kind of struggle.

The latter is the internal one, where you struggle because you don’t have 100 % alignment in the team about where you are going with the business, or you have some friction between various functions in the team, because your processes for how to do things are not completely done yet. Yes, it can be super painful, but it is something you work your way through, as you gain experience, figure out what works and what doesn’t and get into a modus operandi of only doing the things you have found out works best and provides the most progress for you.

The former – the external struggle – is the really interesting one. Because while you would think that struggling is inherently a bad thing, you could also argue that in some cases it might actually be an indication that you’re starting to make a dent.

The reason I make this counterintuitive claim is that struggle is an indicator of friction. And friction is an indicator of change taking place. Thus the more you feel the pain, the more you get feedback from the market about your product or service being a different take on the status quo and upsetting people a bit, the more you’re scratching where you need to scratch in order to have an opportunity to affect change and create impact.

Just for clarity, I am not talking about struggling making the product work or getting to product-market fit in the first place as a good thing. Those are still the kinds of struggle, you want to get away from by fixing the underlying causes as soon as possible. But struggle in terms of people noticing what you’re doing, asking critical questions and maybe even giving pushback and fighting you a bit? Absolutely.

Understanding this dynamic is super importent. Because when you do you also understand that there is some friction and pain you need to deal with in a positive way, since it’s something you want in your life as an indicator that you’re moving the needle and creating an impact where it matters.

So with that comes the obvious question: How to you deal with this pain of the struggle in a way that doesn’t end up killing you?

People have been in this position before, and there are plenty of things to learn from them. Some of them have even been in the position, where the pain and risk was much more lethal and where it was truly a matter of life or death in the most concrete terms. Learning from them and how they coped might give some insights into how you can think about this.

One of the most prominent thinkers and examples of how to deal with pain and struggle and not succumb to it comes from the Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher and Jew Viktor Frankl. Frankl spent 3 years in Nazi concentration camps, and while there he had an epiphany that afterwards formed the basis for his groundbreaking work:

People may do whatever they want to you. But even in the most gloomy of times, when all seems lost, you still at your core fundamentally control how you let circumstances impact you. You always have the freedom to decide for yourself that you won’t let even the biggest struggles break you.

That’s a super powerful realization coming from someone who would have had all possible reasons for giving up. And it’s a great opportunity to get inspired on how to be resilient and never give up. Stay strong, stay in the fight and prevail in the end.

So, in dealing with pain for the achievement of a later greater good, there is a lot of things you can do yourself by working with how you think, act and react to externalities. But you’re not alone, and you need that kind of enduring mentality to be present in the wider team as well.

This is where the role of the right recruitment comes in. The advice is pretty basic: Focus on recruiting people who share the vision, you have for your startup. People who have the same visualization of what it’s like when you’re there, and you have reached your ambitious goal. People who can feel how that would be like, and desperately want to get to that place. People who are willing and able to fight and see through the struggle(s) to get there, and understand there will be many roadblocks, challenges and issues before achieving success.

Of course it is also crucial that the people you recruit for the team have the right skillsets, but given a choice I would argue that sharing the same set of beliefs and ambition is the most crucial. Because if you get on the track, you’re hoping to get on, you will be challenged again and again by circumstances, and you need team members around you who will stand, fight and win the fight with you. Period.

You can help them along the way by ensuring that you carve up your success metrics into smaller bites, you can achieve within a limited time frame and celebrate, when its time to do so. Those little starts and stops in terms of putting in the hard work, celebrate success and start over again will do you a world of good in ensuring that you keep energy and stamina high, even as the challenges come at you left, right and center.

Just make it a habit to do the work that’s needed to affect meaningful change. Because the results are worth fighting for. Even when the process hurts, and you just want to quit. No success comes without making a real hard effort.

(Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash)

Be problem-driven

There are quite a few really good arguments for why you should focus on the problem rather than the solution, when you’re trying to build a successful company. But there is one that I think takes the prize as the most powerful one:

By focusing on the problem, you broaden the opportunity for yourself, your company and your future success.

Why?

Because you start being less solution-focused. Not agnostic as such because there will always be something that you do that you need to put into the product to give it the real edge it needs. But less solution-focused.

You may start out developing and shipping one product, get a good reception and perhaps even some decent traction. And once you can see that the core fundamentalt of what you’re doing seems to resonate in the market, you can lift your gaze and start thinking about what’s next.

And this is where focusing on the problem rather than the solution enters the picture:

By focusing on the problem, you will see more opportunities just by looking. And others may present themselves that you would otherwise not have noticed. And this gives you opportunity.

Instead of being strong in a niche, you can become stronger in a space – and maybe even grow to become dominant of an entire industry.

Because you chose a laser like focus on the problem.

Looking in retrospect, most companies don’t become wildly successful by just doing one thing or having one product. They become wildly successful, because they understand the market they are in, the jobs, pains and gains of their customers and constituents – and the problem space they’re working on.

You should apply that approach to yourself and your company too.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Control vs success

There is nothing as potent to pave the way to success as being in control.

There is nothing so blocking to success than to insist on being in control.

To some being in control is an all positive thing; it enables you to define the path to follow forward and ensure the necessary decisions are being made and the focus is on relentless execution towards a goal. The bigger, the better.

To others being in control comes with such a daunting sense of responsibility that you would rather not have it and potentially not do anything at all for the sheer fear of what happens if or when something goes wrong.

Some loathe not being able to be in control and will walk away from a potential opportunity just for the lack of being able to be in control. Others loathe being controlled and not being in a position to challenge the course of action, i.e. exert control, and will refrain from putting themselves into that position.

And some just hate that excess talk about control can ultimately block every path to future success.

Because at the end of the day some sort of control is needed to achieve great success.

Because if there is one thing that remains certain, it is that great success does not arise from a completely lack of control.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Grand ideas do matter

There seems to be a general misconception around the notion of ideas;

Since everybody can have them, what becomes important is whether you do something about them and – more importantly – how you do something about them.

Let me try to explain while I think this is inaccurate in a startup context:

Even if everybody can have an idea, and the important part is putting some work into making it happen, all ideas are not equal.

Ideas suffer from the same fatal flaw as the idea about agile work methods;

As long as you work in increments, it doesn’t matter what you work on, because you can always toss it quickly if it goes nowhere.

While that particular argument makes logic sense, in reality it becomes a license to not think too much about what you do and why, and I think that is a totally flawed approach.

The same goes for ideas; if the idea doesn’t matter, because you can always get a new one, you don’t make an effort into getting the original idea and the result risk becoming…meeh.

What you should do instead is work on the idea itself. Challenge your idea, make it sharper and ask some tough questions of it.

Make every effort you can to ensure that when you decide to put some real work into figuring out whether it’s desirable, feasible and viable, it is actually something really worth doing.

For this you have all the tools available for testing your assumptions and hypothesis. And instead of falling into the trap of thinking that those are the important tools and the original idea matter less, use it to spur your great idea on and tell yourself that no idea, you can come up with, is so grand and/or complex that there aren’t immediate ways to test it properly.

Be ambitious, for God’s sake, rather than lazy. That’s all I am saying.

And now go and look at those ideas of your again, challenge them and go as big as you can when you start testing them.

That’s how stars are born!

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Hello launch pad!

Yesterday was a super important day for our inQvation Studio-team; it was the day where we got the final formal board approval for our first spinoff.

While it has been in the works for a while (and we have been recruiting for the team for some weeks now) there is always something special about getting that formal mail saying “GO, GO, GO!”. It is definitely one for the archives in the best possible way.

It has been a little over a year since I joined the tiny Studio team (2 people, including me) to help turn great ideas into promising startups. The journey to this point has not been straight forward at all, and we have tried numerous approaches and learned a lot.

But we made it to the launchpad. And for inQvation Studio that’s what matters; we made it from a blank sheet of paper to actual startup.

In order to get there we have, as I mentioned, been forced to try a lot of different approaches to figure out how to do it, as we went along. You can obviously take a lot of inspiration from how others have approached it, but there is a big difference between reading, thinking – and doing. And I do think that you have to go through the steps yourself to really get it under your skin.

Did everything work? No. Was everything – in hindsight – the right things to do? No. But we kept pushing, kept learning. And we moved forward. One step at a time.

I am a big fan of rocketry and the history of NASA, and one of the most inspiring stories ever to me is the story about the race to the Moon back in the 60’s.

What’s important is that it is not only a story about rockets and astronauts. It is a story about vision, courage, the will to go the extra mile and figure things out as you go along. About bold ideas and early test rockets exploding at the pad setting the big project back. About resilience in the face of adversity. About overcoming doubt. About picking yourself up time and time again. And – most importantly – every little success that made the giant leap possible.

We’ve now arrived at the launch pad. Now the real work begins. There is a lot that needs to happen and go well, before we can light up the candle and head for the Moon. And the journey to the Moon is long and fraught with danger. Stuff can go horribly wrong.

But MAN! The view upwards towards the clear skies above and beyond the launch pad is just beautiful!

Onwards and upwards!

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

3 big goals for 2020

Hello 2020! It’s a new year and with that comes fresh opportunity including the opportunity to set really ambitious goals for the coming 12 monts. So naturally, I have done that on behalf of my work as Head of Studio at inQvation.

In 2020 I want us to co-found at least one startup taking on a really big problem that affects +100M people worldwide.

I want us to develop a project from idea to startup with an experienced entrepreneur-in-residence, where we use our combined strenghts and experience to make a mark. Maybe we could even combine it with the above goal?

And finally, I want us to create “A Path To Success” for great talent within the startup space in Denmark, where inQvation becomes the ‘go to’-place for those looking to unleash their potential to bring great tech solutions to people who have the problems and pains to match.

Ambitious? Yes. Doable? A stretch but if all things align right, why not? Realistic? Not if we don’t try.

(And then of course there are all the other things that comes with being part of a great team that pulls together when needed :-))

(Photo: Pixabay.com)