Someone once told me, if you knew what it took to be an entrepreneur, you’d never start. As a founder, you’re solving your company’s toughest problems non-stop. When challenges are escalated to you, it means smart people on your team have already tried to solve them, but they got stuck.
In other words, it can feel like one big game of whack-a-mole–and that can be an incredibly lonely road. The good news: there are more entrepreneurs than ever before. A 2017 report found that twenty-seven million Americans are starting or running a new business. Your founder community exists; you just have to tap into it.
Find Your Bat Phone Friends
When I started LearnVest, I was in my early twenties, I had dropped out of Harvard Business School, and we were in the midst of the financial crisis. There were high highs (like being featured onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt), and low lows (like running into a product roadblock). My then-boyfriend, now-husband joked that when he’d come home to find me on the couch with a glass of wine and a cookie, he knew it was a tough day.
Some of the very best support I got during those early days came from friends who were in the same boat. I built a community of fellow entrepreneurs. We shared our war stories and more often than not, realized we faced incredibly similar challenges. It was critical that we created a safe space where we could trust each other and know that whatever we shared was 100 percent confidential.
One of those friendships–which I consider my “bat phone” friendships–was with Lucy Deland, a founder at PaperlessPost. The New York startup ecosystem was not what it is today, but we would walk the Westside Highway, clear our heads, and talk each other through our biggest challenges. She is one of the hardest-working, most strategic, tech and product-oriented people I know. Fast-forward, and I’m honored to now call her my Partner at Inspired Capital, our newest venture.
How do you find your people? Start with other entrepreneurs you know. Ask your network for intros to fellow founders (if you have investors, they’re a great resource). Go to local meetups. Building these deep relationships takes time, but I promise the effort is worthwhile.
Take Part in a Community
Individual relationships are vital for getting you through the tough times, but it can also help to be part of a larger community. There are tons of professional organizations and entrepreneurship groups that can provide you with a larger support system and broaden your network.
When you’re looking for a formal business advisor, it’s wise to prioritize people who have deep expertise in your industry. But when it comes to your founder network, think bigger. People from different sectors will have valuable perspectives and advice to share. That’s one of the reasons I’m such a supporter of Chief–the vetted women’s network, because they bring together true peers from vastly different companies who can have candid conversations that lift everyone up.
Get an Executive Coach
I could go on for days about the value of hiring an executive coach. Growing up, I was a competitive diver. When it comes to sports, we all know how critical it is to have a phenomenal coach–someone who gives you feedback and tells you how to improve at every turn.
Why don’t we look for that same coaching at work? I’ve worked with phenomenal executive coaches over my career, and I highly recommend it to other entrepreneurs. When you’re heads down, sprinting toward your next finish line, it can feel like a luxury to step back and reflect. But it’s a necessity.
As you get started, don’t be afraid to date a few coaches until you find someone you click with. Once you’ve found the right person, use this time to reflect on how you’re doing, ask where you can improve, and hone in on your priorities. Many coaches will start by interviewing your colleagues and executive team before they dive in, and I’ve always found that to be incredibly valuable. Your coach will be a pillar of your support system, and those conversations give them full context.
Has a new entrepreneur asked for advice? Perhaps a family friend wants your input on their next career move? Taking the time to help others can actually pay you back in dividends. While you should always be judicious with your time, studies show that giving to others is actually helpful for your own mental wellness.
Science backs up the idea that you feel good when you’re able to share. Supporting others lowers stress for both people in the equation, which is truly a win-win.
Last but not least, think about ways you can structure your life to feel more supported across the board. One of the great privileges of being a founder is that you get to make key decisions about how and when you work. Maybe that means you choose an office that reduces your commute time. Or if you’re having a tough day, you decide it’s OK to head home an hour early.
Be kind to yourself. Building a company is hard enough.