Startup life can be full of unexpected twists and turns. Whether it be attracting clients, hiring employees, or just dealing with the daily chaos of founding a company, entrepreneurship is a guaranteed rollercoaster ride.
I asked three women entrepreneurs from the Arlington, Virginia ecosystem to share their advice about how to deal with the mental long game of entrepreneurship, managing the on-going surprise plot twists of running a company, promoting work-life balance as a mompreneur, and building a strong team.
It’s Just Chaos
Startup life is very much like running the 100 meter sprint, everyday. So expect a little bit of madness.
“To sum up startup life, I would use one word: chaos,” said Kris Lovejoy, CEO of BluVector. “Perhaps that recognition is in of itself the most unexpected [twist].”
Compartmentalize Your Day
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the chaos. But for your sanity, it’s important to focus on the things you can do right now to move your company forward.
“One of the best skills an entrepreneur can have is the ability to compartmentalize. The brain is wired to do this but too often we store information in ways that make us feel overwhelmed,” said Ximena Hartsock, Founder, President and COO of Phone2Action.
“Compartmentalization allows me to do lots of different projects in parallel and not necessarily in sequence and not feel stressed out.”
There’s No Perfect Work-Life Formula
Striving for work-life balance is good, but for most founders it isn’t realistic, especially for mompreneurs.
“Using the term work-life balance creates an unfair burden on women. There is no exact balance. Life is imperfect and unbalanced, and that's all okay! I personally have a 5Fs system: Faith, Family, Fellowship in community service, Friends and Fighting to protect people,” said Theresa Payton, CEO and cofounder of Fortalice Solutions.
“I track my time against the 5Fs to hold myself accountable. I encourage all women to find their right system. If you find one month you dedicated a ton of time to work, find ways the following month to spend more time focused on the other areas.”
You Need to Say No
If you try to do everything for everyone, including your family, you’ll find yourself burnt out before too long. Just remember, you’re going to have to say no sometimes.
“You'll never be able to do everything everyone asks you to do, and it's okay to say no,” said Payton. “Saying no is not a sign of selfishness. There’s a difference between dropping the ball and feeling the need to take on everything yourself.
To maintain your peace of mind, there needs to be things that are non-negotiable with your time and family.
“I do everything in my power to focus on my family when I’m home, so I don’t take calls or schedule meetings during family time,” said Payton.
Choose Your Clients Wisely
Founders may feel like they have to say yes to every client that walks through the door to gain traction, but saying “no” can be a positive weapon as you build your company.
“I would have said ‘no’ more often to client projects that did not fit our core strategy,” said Payton. “I would have accelerated our desire to create an insanely different cybersecurity consulting experience for our clients. We are not just doing a cyber security and intelligence assessment at Fortalice, we’re in the business of changing lives based on our unique approach to protecting nations, businesses and people.”
Hire Talented, Diverse People
In a diversity report by McKinsey and Company, within “the United States, there is a linear relationship between racial and ethnic diversity and better financial performance.” For these founders, having a team with different cultures, experiences, and backgrounds made a positive impact on their growth.
“Diversity is a word often used to address ethnicity and gender, but it means much more than that. I believe that diversity of backgrounds, age, political opinions, and lifestyles can be very empowering for a company,” said Hartsock.
“People who have different points of view arrive sometimes at different solutions of a problem. You always want the best solution so the more diverse your team, the wider the range of solutions you will have. After you have a diverse workforce, the rest is easy because your own employees bring their friends and help recruit others.”
Surround Yourself With a Supportive Startup Ecosystem
Having a strong support system within your ecosystem can provide the help you need to push through the tough times in the startup race.
“We have great female leadership in Arlington,” said Hartsock. “[There are women at] Rosslyn Business Improvement District, Arlington Economic Development, and CTA, all who are champions of women in tech. As a woman entrepreneur it is hard to find time to identify good opportunities but I know these ladies have my back.”
Your ecosystem also needs to work together to attract quality talent and fuel companies.
“Arlington is a magnet for talent, particularly in the cybersecurity sector,” said Lovejoy. “Talent, combined with access to educational facilities, good restaurants, and public transportation makes it a no brainer.”
There's nothing more valuable than a little help from your peers. These three entrepreneurs have some advice for women founders.
- “Surround yourself with people that will support you, but are also willing to give constructive feedback. Whether it’s friends, family or a significant other, make sure you’re with people who understand and respect your career aspirations,” said Payton.
- “Sales leadership is critical at any stage of a startup,” said Hartsock.
- “Try not to take yourself too seriously. At the end of the line, no one will give you an award for being the best “blah.” Live, learn and embrace the chaos. When you stop enjoying the frenzy, find something else to do. It’s just not worth it,” said Lovejoy.
- “Being an entrepreneur does not have to be lonely. Just like you make business decisions about what is best for your company, take your personal happiness as seriously and fix the areas that stop you from being content and happy,” said Hartsock
- “The best advice I ever received was from a teacher who told me that if I was happy my kids would be happy. There is a lot to unpack in that sentiment – and over the years I discovered she was right,” said Lovejoy.
Read more entrepreneurial advice on TechCo
The article was brought to you in partnership with Arlington Economic Development. Learn more about the Startup Arlington program.