Tuesday, January 02, 2018

New INC Magazine Blog Post by 1871 CEO Howard Tullman

The New Year's Hangover That Startups Can't Shake
For too many entrepreneurs, the end of the year becomes less a celebration of what they've accomplished and more a sad review of what they've messed up. Try this remedy to cheer up a little bit.

CEO, 1871@tullman

The end of the year is always a tough time for entrepreneurs. You'd think that, after a few years, it's a time that even a first timer starter-upper would get used to suffering through, but that's not how things work in the business of building new businesses. Even the very best entrepreneurs are "glass half empty" folks who are always focused on what didn't get done in the last 12 months and-- even more importantly (or depressingly) -- what remains to get done on the long, winding and bumpy road ahead. The pressure never lets up; everyone eventually learns that there's no finish line.

I've said before that entrepreneurs are lousy at graceful gratitude and even worse at saying "thank you," not because we're ingrates but because we barely believe in our own successes and good fortune.  And also because we're forward-focused:  always climbing the next hill or facing the newest challenge instead of reflecting on, or celebrating, the past. (See This isn't always a bad thing and it's part of the psychology--or pathology if you prefer-- that also makes it possible for entrepreneurs to quickly get over their past hiccups and get on with their main job of making history and changing the world.

It also turns out that this seasonal entrepreneurial malaise is not a condition that anyone else can really help you get over. Friends, family, faculty and even most "mentors" aren't gonna make much of a difference. Mentors especially can be a mixed blessing. You won't actually know if a one-hit winner was smart or just lucky to be in the right place at the right time.  And it's especially hard to gain much great guidance from someone who "sold" their startup six minutes before the sheriff came to take away their keys and shut the doors. You never want to ask for directions from someone who hasn't been there and, with too many mentors, it's very hard to effectively convert their particular experience into something that means much to you. 

Whatever they bring the table, or try to, they're not living through it right now, so they really just don't understand.  All the empathy, good will and best intentions won't make up for the fact that you're the one in the soup and they're sitting on the sidelines. You learn in this business that money doesn't really care who makes it and that having a bunch of bucks says basically nothing about your brains or your business sense.

So, if there's no help elsewhere, you're pretty much stuck with looking inward. That's not the worst thing in the world because at least when you're alone you're with someone you love. I think about this a lot when New Year's Eve rolls around and I'm making a command appearance at any place that I'd rather not be, which is basically every place you can imagine. Yes, I know that it sounds like an inverse testimonial ad for Visa. And, if this admission cuts down on my future NYE invites, it's a price I guess I'll just have to happily pay. 

Okay. You're stuck with talking to yourself and what can you say to help get over the year end blues and back to business? I wrote a pretty good piece on this a while ago that's worth revisiting and, in case you're too lazy to link back, the three main suggestions are: (1) Get Past the Past as Soon as Possible; (2) Call on Your Customers While You Still Can; and (3) When You're Thinking About Quitting, Remember Why You Started.

But it was the last few lines in the post that were the most important to me - then and now:
            "...there's nothing in the world that a true entrepreneur would rather be doing than exactly what you're doing every day. Working on a dream, and doing it with a group of people who are as excited and enthusiastic about what they're doing as you are is the greatest privilege anyone can have. And it's you that's making it possible...."

 Being a leader is lonely work - always has been. You've taken on an enormous responsibility to yourself and your family, to your investors and your employees, to your customers and clients. They all look to you and depend on you, day-in and day-out, to make their lives different and better in important ways.

This is a journey that you take all by yourself, even as you find yourself constantly surrounded by others. You may go fastest by yourself, but you go furthest with a strong and dedicated team beside you.

And ultimately you will find that, even when and if your faith in yourself falters from time to time, what really matters and gets you through is the faith, the confidence, and the trust that you place in others that makes all the difference. You aren't a real leader until others believe that you are putting them first and serving a purpose greater than yourselves.   
Great leaders don't create followers, they create new and better leaders. Make that your most pressing project for the New Year.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.


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