Building the Mindset for Startup Success

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Danielle Carruthers is co-founder and CEO of theSedge.org, a peer collaboration network where social mission organizations meet to exchange social enterprise ideas, best practices, and learn how to implement revenue strategies to increase financial self-sustainability. This blog post was first published by FEW, an international organization that promotes gender equality in entrepreneurship around the world, founded by Start-Up Chile participants. 

I have coordinated countless events, ranging among topics of young professionals, women in business, environmental sustainability to social innovation. I led my university’s business club to top 5 out of 40 in a national competition. I managed a $200 million dollar real estate lending portfolio. And most recently I was selected out of thousands to start a business in Latin America, awarding me two crucial and elusive ingredients for my start up — money and time.

Here’s the best part. Chances are you and I are very similar. It is easy to be swept up thinking that those around you are accomplishing extraordinary things, thanks to some special skill — some special gift or special luck — that just wasn’t in the cards for you. I speak from experience. If I read that list of accomplishments as a younger woman, it’s guaranteed that I would never expect it to belong to my name before I hit my 28th birthday. But now that it does, I realize it’s not so hard to believe. If you are reading this with skepticism, trust me when I say, you can do it too.

You don’t always know where your journey will take you but you deserve to create a ride for yourself that you will never forget.

I hope to become wiser in years to come but even in my short journey so far, here are my thoughts on the mindset it takes to reach your most ambitious goals and aspirations.


CONFIDENCE & HUMILITY

As a woman in business, the topic of confidence tends to be a sensitive one. Some believe you need more of it, or that you need to “fake it ‘till you make it.” I tend to agree. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, women are constantly selling themselves short, and worse — apologizing for it.

‘Faking it’ is one way to mitigate weak confidence but it requires practice, guts, and a dedicated blog post of its own. Alternatively, chances are you are already an expert or authority in a certain subject. Any business person worth her salt has a tendency to compare herself to the respected idols and mentors in her field. This gives us a level to strive towards but it can also be discouraging to feel so far from the standards we set for ourselves.

Remind yourself of your abilities by jumping out of your regular circles and diving into new ones every once in a while. Not only will you glean some new perspectives on your subject (always valuable), but you will build new perspectives of yourself and your abilities as an authority.

There is a limit to constructive confidence. The desire for a confident air that doesn’t let a sliver of weakness peak through can paralyze you. I used to be unjustifiably afraid to start learning something new, like soccer for example. Why would I possibly want to try something that I knew I was going to struggle with? It would become immediately apparent that I had no clue what I was doing! I still catch myself thinking like this sometimes. Now, I remind myself that everyone has to start at the beginning at some point. In fact, one of the fastest ways to earn respect and trust is to show a level of vulnerability and humility, so don’t be quick to write these emotions off.

LESSON: Boost confidence by recognizing your abilities, but never let being a newbie stop you from learning new skills.

TEAMWORK & LEADERSHIP

Let’s jump back to my opening paragraph for a moment. None of these feats were accomplished on my own. In each and every case, I was part of an amazing team that made it possible to reach these goals. I never forget that. Be cautious of your success stories reaching a level where key players are disregarded; I have seen first hand how this leads to bitterness and resentment.

Part of having an incredible team is being a respected leader. I heard once that the best leaders surround themselves with people smarter than they are. If this is not yet the case, a leader’s job is to make the team look as good as possible. ‘Looking good’ in this sense means achieving and exceeding team goals. Therefore, you are a successful leader when you provide your team with the resources, training, encouragement, and a work environment that will best allow them to excel.

LESSON: As a leader, your job is to build and support a team smarter than yourself, and it’s crucial to recognize your team when hitting success milestones.

EFFICIENCY & PRACTICALITY

Nothing kills a good idea faster than inefficient time management and poor planning. Time management can be a struggle for some, but there are a few tricks to improve this skill:

First, surround yourself with people who get sh*t done. Notice how I did not say ‘busy people’. Efficiency is not about being busy; it is about tackling the to-do list in a timely manner. Fueled from the energy of those around you, take a few minutes to sit down each week and consciously plan. Combine tasks or errands that will maximize your time, and don’t forget to make time to stay connected with loved ones.

Another surefire way to whip yourself into efficient productivity is to take on slightly more than you think you can manage (note: not recommended for chronic over-achievers). Having more on the to-do list will force you to optimize your work schedule in order to keep up — just be sure to always deliver on your promises.

Now, corkscrews are bound to be thrown into even the best-laid plans. Here is where practicality comes in. You may have a beautifully efficient plan for the week (or for your entire business), but when new information comes to light you need to be ready and willing to adjust. Make decisions with the information you have at hand at any given moment, but it’s crucial to remain flexible and practical in your execution.

LESSON: Practice great planning and time management, but remain flexible to calibrate the course as new information becomes available.

REALISM & OPTIMISM

In business (and especially in start-ups), success takes a certain concoction of realistic optimism. You need to be optimistic in order to truly believe in the creative disruption you aim to accomplish in your field. Optimism is vital to remaining levelheaded and on track while ‘nay-sayers’ inevitably try to pull you off course.

At the same time, this optimism is useless unless you can balance it with the realism needed to make calculated decisions and mitigate possible risks. Optimism without realism robs tangible results from being seen or experienced. Realism without optimism does not disrupt systems from the current status quo. In either case, no lives are changed for the better.

I’m of the view that it is a fairly safe bet to remain incredibly optimistic for your long-term vision for the change you hope to create. To reach that ‘big hairy audacious goal’ it is necessary to first break down the steps of how to get there. Set realistic objectives constrained by realistic assumptions.

LESSON: Reach you long-term optimistic vision with short-term realistic steps.

CONTROL & TRUST

This is the most important lesson of all. You are the creator of your own journey. Nothing drives me to shake my head in wonder more than hearing others make excuses or “let’s just wait and see what happens” statements.

When you chose to operate with an internal locus of control you take accountability and responsibility for the results you experience. You do not blame external factors such as your colleagues or clients, the industry you operate in, or even the economy. Taking control of your actions and outcomes in this way is a powerful shift in thinking — and results.

All the above said, no matter what kind of superstar you are, there will always be setbacks and challenges along your entrepreneurial journey. As creative creatures, without challenges and the resulting growth it forces upon us, we would be deeply unsatisfied if our endeavors were just a breeze.

Never forget to embrace the setbacks life throws at you as learning opportunities. Trust that no matter how tough things feel at any given moment, if you wait long enough everything will fall into place.

LESSON: You are responsible to create the outcomes you want. If it’s not going as planned, trust that you’ll be better off for the course-correction in the end.