This morning, I woke up early and drank a cup of tea in front of my Christmas tree while flipping through a book I'd received many years ago. In the Company Of Woman by Grace Bonney showcases advice and insights from 100+ women creatives and entrepreneurs, and this morning, it brought me some much needed inspiration. Buy yourself a copy here.
I then wrote out all the questions each of these great women in the book answered. It was a great reflective exercise to think through these questions and then be able to articulate my own answers, which you can see below. I encourage you to take these questions and create your own answers.
Writer, Educator, Entrepreneur
1. What did you want to be when you were a child?
I was once shown my pre-school yearbook where, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I responded that I wanted to be “a stranger”. I still don’t know what that means. I also remember wanting to be a veterinarian and help people in some way.
2. Best piece of business advice?
Be patient and focus on the task at hand. You will have a lot of distractions trying to pull you off course, but you are responsible for reminding yourself of where you’re going.
3. Favorite thing about your workspace?
All my books, my giant drafting table desk, and my dog on the floor.
4. Fear/professional challenge that keeps you up at night?
Being behind. I tend to be an anxious person, so my big fear is that everybody else has it all figured out somehow and I’m still struggling.
5. Has learning from a mistake ever led to success?
I guess the “mistake” I learned from was staying at a job I hated for too long because I thought it brought security. The realization that I physically cannot subject myself to meaningless, soul-crushing work led me to my dream job and the resolution that I will only do work I’m proud to do.
6. Biggest overall lesson in running your business?
If your body is failing because you are not taking care of yourself, you will not be able to run your business. Take care of yourself first and set boundaries.
7. Quotation/saying that inspires/motivates you to be yourself and do what you love?
I love the power of words and find many different quotes inspiring. To pick one from my favorite book: "...many places you would like to see are just off the map and many things you want to know are just out of sight or a little beyond your reach. But someday you'll reach them all, for what you learn today, for no reason at all, will help you discover all the wonderful secrets of tomorrow." - Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
8. Greatest success/something you’re most proud of in business?
I am probably most proud of starting my first business as a sophomore in college. It was my first step well beyond my comfort zone to attempt to bring together the things I cared about in order to help others. It also resulted in a Raymond Von Dran IDEA Award and a Kauffman Entrepreneurship Engagement Fellowship which, at the time, was needed validation that I was on the right track.
9. What does the world need more of? Less of?
More intention, less indifference.
10. Woman or women past or present that you admire or look up to?
Melinda Gates for her generosity, J.K. Rowling for her imagination, and Maya Angelou for her insights.
11. Personal/professional motto?
Watch with glittering eyes… – Roald Dahl I always hope to be curious, in awe of this wonderful world around us, and maintain a sense of innocence.
12. What does success mean to you?
I’ve boiled down success to ultimately mean peace of mind. I simply want to be proud of the work I’m doing, get paid enough doing what I love, take care of myself, enjoy the wonderful people and hobbies I’ve surrounded myself with, and know my life is moving perfectly forward.
13. In moments of self-doubt/adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
Therapy, tea, tears, and books. I, unfortunately, take a little bit of time to rebound but have gotten more patient with myself when I need some self-care.
14. What would you tell yourself 10-20 years ago that you wish you knew then?
Don’t take everything so seriously. Fun does not equal failure.
15. Given $100M, would you run your business differently?
Yes, I would say no to small tasks and focus solely on a big passion project. Take some time to travel, write, and self-publish a novel.
16. Top 3 things someone should consider before starting a business?
17. No-fail, go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut?
Nature, exercise, and books.
18. At what point in your life did you first learn about your field of work? What called you to it?
In 2010, I was a sophomore in college when the Haiti Earthquake happened. I was a music major who did not like performing and did not want to teach music, but was fascinated with how the arts could achieve community outcomes. I then organized my creative friends to put on an event and raise money to donate to relief efforts. This was my first introduction to entrepreneurship.
19. The first thing you do every morning to start your day off on the right foot?
I try to meditate for 5 minutes and do some writing. It could be creative writing or writing some notes of gratitude. I tend to be inconsistent, but I notice my days start off better when I make the time to do this.
20. What would you do with 3 more hours a day?
Read, write, and/or go to the gym.
21. Which of your traits are you most proud of?
I’ve grown to love my intensity. I love hard, laugh harder, protect fearlessly, and feel deeply. I used to think it was all too much, but as I got older I realized how much effort I made to water myself down to a version I thought was more digestible to others. I’m proud of the effort I make to better understand myself and the world around me and be more authentic.
22. What tool/object/ritual could you not live without in your workday?
My notebook/planner. I’ve had many over the years and feel lost without it. Recently made the switch from Moleskine to Leuchtturm1917 brand.
23. Biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting/running a business?
Starting a business and putting yourself “out there” means you sacrifice the safety of blending in; the anonymity of mediocrity; the lack of ownership or responsibility.
24. What characteristics do you most admire in other creative women?
I very much admire those men and women who resist the temptation to overthink and are resilient to any and all factors that might prevent them from creating.
25. Favorite thing to come home to after a long day of work?
My family, a stocked pantry and clean dishes so I can cook something delicious, a good book I’m particularly enjoying, and maybe a craft beer.
26. Where were you when you came up with the idea for your business or discovered what you wanted to do?
At Syracuse University.
27. What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
Creating and maintaining healthy boundaries.
28. How important is it to share your time with people who do what you do or share your background?
I tend to value solitude, but I do see the value in sharing ideas. I don’t think people need to do what I do or share my background because I love learning from people with a wide variety of experiences that are different than my own.
Contrary to the “go BIG or go home” mentality seemingly synonymous with entrepreneurship, Paul Singh poses the question, “How do we teach another 50,000 people in our community to make an extra $1,000 a month with skills they already have?”
Paul and Dana Singh, co-founders of Results Junkies, have traveled the world for the past 10 years with a simple investment philosophy inspired by the book Moneyball. The basic premise is, when evaluating a company, they are not necessarily looking for home run hitters, but for players they can count on, and assist if necessary, to simply get on base. They have invested in about 2,600 of these base runners in undervalued markets across 56 countries, understanding that amazing companies do not solely reside in Silicon Valley, New York City, or Boston and nor should investors. For the past week, Paul and Dana parked their Airstream Classic home at The Tech Garden, Central New York’s premier business incubator, to see what Syracuse, New York has to offer.
During their stay, amongst a flurry of other activities, they hold a roundtable discussion on how communities could be building more effective entrepreneurial ecosystems. In addition to challenging the status quo of where great companies are founded and built, the Singh’s call into question the economic development practice of seeking to attract big, “unicorn” employers that will supposedly save the economy. Lookin’ at you, Amazon HQ2. Instead, the conversation centers around how communities can better combat entrepreneurship stereotypes (i.e. must be high risk, wealthy, young, etc.) and provide encouragement and support to everybody who hopes to start a business in order for economies to build a large portfolio of smaller company players. In addition to Results Junkies, many Upstate New York ecosystem players are in attendance for the conversation, including The Tech Garden, GENIUS NY, Upstate Capital, SBA, SBDC, MACNY, Syracuse CoWorks, Syracuse University, and more. Below are some of the myths addressed and outcomes of this conversation.
Myth #1: Cost of Entrepreneurial Admission = Your First Born Child and Mental Health
Paul started his first business after being fired from AOL in order to make his car payments; a familiar story of entrepreneurship born out of financial necessity. He shares that as both an entrepreneur and investor, he does not have formal training. To be an entrepreneur, you do not need to have an epiphany, tell off your boss, risk your life savings, and hope it works out. Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs are actually very good at risk mitigation. Keep your job as a security anchor, but start that side hustle. In the age of the gig economy, the question to ask is how communities can make it as easy as possible to take the first step.
Myth #2: The Highly Ambitious Reside Exclusively on the Coasts of the US
Ambition is equally distributed across the country. There was a time when economic ability and output directly correlated to your physical location. however, today the ambition and success born out of that high ambition is not reserved for the East or West Coast metropolises. Both Paul and Dana build and sold successful businesses from small communities in Virginia. In Upstate New York, we see the constant stream of graduates from our top higher education institutions rush to New York City, Boston, LA, or San Francisco under the simple assumption that that is where ambitious people must go in order to experience success. Cities across the US should now improve how they tell their success stories, and leverage that story to retain talent. Once retained, there is still an opportunity to teach people how to hustle and develop other functional skills.
Myth #3: Adults are a Lost Cause so Just Focus on the Next Generation
Investing the time to educate and train our youth to take control of their economic outcomes is a crucial, long-term play for our society and economy. However, in the short term, communities need to develop more on-ramps for adults. Adults have existing experiences and skills that they can monetize more immediately. They need the opportunity to develop more technical skills and understand how they can employ technology to further themselves and their businesses. For example, teaching a bricklayer or plumber how to use digital growth hacks, like Facebook ads, to increase their sales pipelines. Young people may have been brought up on technology, but many have lot to learn when it comes to emotional, social, and communication skills.
Myth #4: We Have the Internet. If You’re Not Succeeding, You’re Not Trying.
Success is at the intersection of what you’re good at, what you like to do, and what a lot of people might want. Unfortunately, our education system and society fails to teach the skills required to know these things. People are not taught and rarely practice the self-awareness needed to know what they are good at or what they like to do. Why? Because it is much easier to continue meeting expectations than figure it out. This ability to understand and meet expectations is what successful students and employees are built on. Finally, without an understanding of ourselves, it is very difficult to be empathetic and intuitive enough to understand what others might want. In addition, there is an assumption in a more holistically connected world that everybody has access to everybody else. However, there are communities where the connection and infrastructure still doesn’t exist. Yes, some places still don’t even have WIFI. Therefore, there is still a need to provide inclusive opportunities for people to connect.
Moral of the Story
Paul Singh shares that English is the only language that the word for entrepreneurship is a noun. In every other language, it is a verb. Verbs require action. Our entrepreneurial ecosystems should be built around getting as many people as possible into the game. Moneyball suggests that winning is a numbers game, and perhaps this applies to our cities as well.
To empower another 50,000 people to earn just $1,000 more a month for themselves, the Upstate New York entrepreneurial ecosystem can focus on:
1. Educating people that entrepreneurship does not require immense risk and can be done in conjunction with their existing jobs,
2. More effectively celebrate and promote its success stories to retain talent
3. Offer technical training to adults, and
4. Ensure that there are inclusive opportunities to connect all aspiring entrepreneurs with peers, prospective mentors, partners, and investors
The Startup Genome project was able to analyze 3,200 companies from around the world to attempt to diagnose why only 1 in every 12 startups succeed. The main reason for failure is premature scaling. Companies who scale prematurely are referred to as inconsistent.
Successful startups need to have a good product that scales effectively into a large market. There are five dimensions that must be balanced in order to scale properly through the various stages of growth. They are: customers, product, team, business model, and funding. Founders who are able to effectively and appropriately manage these five dimensions depending on what stage the company is in, are able to be the rare consistent startup.
You can see the full report HERE. Based on the resulting data, here are some tips:
1. Spend a LOT more time on customer discovery. You need to thoroughly understand the problem you are solving, validate that people are interested in your solution, and know who the target users are. Too many startups spend a large majority of time and resources on product development in the early Discovery phase.
2. Don't be afraid to have unpaid customers in the Discovery and Validation phases. Your users during these stages are providing the valuable data and information you need to succeed in the Efficiency and Scaling phases. When you have refined your business model and are ready to scale, it might be a good idea to find a way to reward your early adopters. By including these users throughout the process, you are building brand loyalty and getting crucial feedback.
3. Don't be hands off in the product development process. You've now taken the time to really understand your users and the problem you're trying to solve for them. Outsource as little as possible to make sure all of these insights are incorporated into the solution you create.
4. Stay lean up front; party in the back. While you are doing your customer discovery, building your minimum viable product, and gaining your proof of concept, do not worry about hiring employees or raising capital. Consistent startups who have figured out how to manage the five dimensions see 18X more funds raised and 50% larger teams during the Scaling phase as opposed to their inconsistent fellow startups.
Many founders have a hard time objectively recognizing which growth stage they are actually in. Like the child who claims they can't wait for adulthood, only to be disappointed when they get there too fast, young companies need to evaluate and wait until they are truly ready to scale. Spend your "childhood" playing and getting to know your customers and building a great product for them to try and validate. In your adolescence, self reflect on the younger stages to refine a strong and sustainable business model. And then finally, you will be able to share your vision, invite others to join your team, and confidently be able to ask for the funding you truly need to grow.
Only within the past couple years have I realized how much damage overthinking can cause in many aspects of life. I've spent a lot of time and effort to understand and battle my own overthinking, and want to discuss the impacts and potential solutions as it relates to innovators and entrepreneurs.
Spoiler: it negatively impacts your ability to be creative or innovative, because it tends to paralyze the afflicted into inaction. And as we know:
Perhaps hypocritically, overthinking does have some benefits (or so I tell myself). Overthinkers are typically very good divergent thinkers; able to identify multiple solutions to solve problems. We are also good at analyzing and identifying potential opportunities and threats, which help us strategize. However, more often than not, fostering our overthinking habits simply creates negative thoughts and anxiety, which is why it is time to confront your overthinking.
As an innovator, overthinking might manifest itself in a couple ways:
1.) You question your abilities, so you don't bother creating or taking any risks because research and planning is much safer
2.) You do bother, but end up focusing on perfecting your product or service and never launch, sell, or get it to your customers, because you feel the result could never be good enough
3.) You find the courage to create and go to market, but any criticism or setback makes you want to quit all together
For many, it's a combination of all three. Outside influences can impact or motivate, causing you to fluctuate between them. The Catch-22 of all this: there is plenty of research indicating that the worrying overthinkers have the highest potential to be creative (aka innovative). As a result, having such a creative imagination makes us prone to mentally conjure thoughts that are daunting and exacerbate our insecurities. Understandably, it's difficult to express ourselves through art, take a risk starting a business, or be vulnerable enough to share our innovations if our mind tells us that nobody cares, our business will probably fail, we're not good enough, or people will laugh at us. Don't believe these thoughts.
Don't let your mind limit your ambitions. Majority of entrepreneurship is putting out a product or service and constantly adapting to new feedback, technology, and experiences. The Lean Startup by Eric Reis is an excellent book that speaks to the importance of putting your business concept out there and being nimble and flexible enough to change quickly. As an overthinker, you will fight against the thoughts that you, your product, or your service isn't ready (Obvious tip: you will never feel ready). You also can't adapt quickly if you second or triple guess yourself or your team.
Taking action will always beat out intentions, so the first step is to make sure your mind is not preventing you from beginning to create or getting to market. After that, it's also very important to realize if your overthinking is causing you to be less productive and slower to adapt than you should be. If left unresolved, overthinking will hurt your business.
So if you've admitted to yourself that you are also an over thinker and are unsure how to battle it, here are some suggestions:
1) First, as cliche as it may be, mindful meditation is extremely helpful in strengthening the "observing" part of the mind, which is in contrast to the "thinking" part that is responsible for the constant bombardment of doubts and questions. Other healthy habits like exercise and good nutrition will support your meditation practice.
2) Taking it one step further, if you have a medical professional that offers neurofeedback training, I would highly recommend it. The process trains your brain to more easily transition from the limbic system (emotional, worrying, overthinking) the to the prefrontal cortex (rational, control, decision making).
3) Next, self-awareness is crucial. If you know and celebrate what you are good at, you are more likely to battle thoughts trying to question your value. Oddly enough, I think most of us are in the habit of meeting expectations, but are not aware enough to get to know our own strengths and passions.
4) Finally, the more you are able to fight against the paralysis caused by overthinking to take action, the less your mind can tell you it can't be done. If you are able to push through the initial fear, taking action and executing will actually build the self-confidence necessary to quiet your overthinking mind.
Overthinking tends to cause unhappiness and anxiety, and paralyzes potentially creative and innovative people into inaction. We must be self-aware to recognize it, deliberately battle negative and unhelpful thoughts, and push through and execute to prove ourselves wrong and shut our minds up. The more comfortable we are in our own skin and proud we are of our strengths, passions, and accomplishments, the more ammo we have to battle the thoughts that tell us we are not good enough or ready to pursue our passions.
Bottom line: overthinking can be a disadvantage, but it is far from an insurmountable problem. In the eloquent words of Gary Vaynerchuk, "You're the fucking best... go do shit," and don't let your mind tell you otherwise.