90% of startups fail within their first year. This can be due to a variety of reasons, in fact, we covered many of those reasons in this article here. But what does it really take to survive the ever-terrifying “Valley of Death?”
On October 28th, 2020, goLEAD McGill and DotsLive set out to answer that very question via an entrepreneurship panel with some of Canada’s leading experts thriving in the startup space; albeit they would never admit to this being the case. That was the general consensus from the very beginning of the panel, each speaker noted time and time again the absolute importance of a founder being honest with themselves and acknowledging their weaknesses. The two founders on the panel were humble when sharing their expertise, admitting that most of that knowledge they acquired was only after it was learned the hard way.
Shiva Bhardwaj founded Pitstop In 2015. It is a company that utilizes data to predict mechanical failures in cars before they happen. And this was perhaps the perfect fit for his highly particular skill set. Having worked in his family-owned dealership and was fascinated by the computers installed in automobiles (which then lead to a job working for Blackberry), He realized that data was the key to allow for quick iterations and could come up with predictive insights that could then be put into action. Since then, he has recently closed his Series A and the company is continuing to grow steadily.
Alex Theodorou founded Neurofit VR in 2019, and it is what he calls “Fitbit for the brain”. Neurofit utilizes VR technology to help patients in their recovery journey by providing them the rehabilitation they need while connecting them with healthcare professionals from around the country. Since its inception, it has been utilized in our 1500 sessions and is continuing to be more in-demand with the complications provided by COVID-19.
Sarah Applebaum is a long-time mentor for startups and recently rejoined Pangaea Ventures as a partner. Her expertise spans from all sides of the spectrum, from her cultivated expertise in building entrepreneurial teams, scaling early-stage ventures, and venture financing, she is known as a prominent startup community activator and advocate.
These three individuals truly were able to paint a picture of what kind of characteristics a startup founder should possess if they want to be successful in this endeavor:
Resilience — Be Like a Cockroach.
It is not going to be an easy journey, that much is certain as any number of challenges can present themselves from funding falling through to hiring mistakes to just bad business moves that could really set the company back or outright terminate it. Bhardwaj views it as almost having to be like a cockroach. “You are going to get stepped on,” he proclaims, “that endurance is critical, you have to be able to keep moving forward.” Part of that resilience is at a certain point, knowing that sometimes you just have to do things in order to survive. “You can’t be close-minded or precious about your ideas…it is all about getting agile with your feedback and iteration, getting that process down is key.” Bhardwaj would know best, as he is constantly improving upon Pitstop’s capabilities to better predict mechanical failures, a job that is never quite done.
Passionate — Work on your Why
It is not an exaggeration when they say an entrepreneur works 24/7, the business can really consume your life. That is why working out your “Why” — why are you doing this? Why do you get up every morning — is key. “There is nothing glamorous about this life, especially in the beginning,” says Theodorou. “That is why [when you are looking for co-founders] you have to see that they have the same passion as you do.” Bhardwaj also mentions the importance of his secret to work-life balance. “ your life should be set up to enable you to go down that entrepreneurial path.” If you do not have the right or environment at home, then it only makes goal achievement that much harder.
Charisma — Sell your Vision
We all have the image of Steve Jobs when he first unveiled the iPhone, how he sold this seemingly ridiculous idea with merely the tone of his voice and the strength of his conviction; and we all believed that this was a product we needed to have. Applebaum notes that when she hears pitches from founders, it is their passion levels that she notices first. “Authenticity is super important, don’t be going through the motions.” She states. It is one of the reasons why her company will often provide acting classes for the founders of more mature startups. Charisma is something many naturally possess, but anything can be taught and it helps when you have passion for what it is you are doing, and it definitely gets others excited. Applebaum suggests starting small, practicing selling your vision with friends and family who know nothing about your business. If they buy into it, then that is already a good sign.
Grit — Failure Is Not the End
No one knows everything, if we did, then life on this planet would be rather stagnant. The three panelists noted the importance of embracing failure and changing your mindset towards it. “You have to realize failure is okay. It is only bad if you did not learn anything from it,” says Applebaum. “You fail and then you pick yourself up and you do it again…that’s what leads to accelerated learning and implementation.” Theodorou laughed as he reflected on all the ‘Nos’ he has received. “The No’s are important, you analyze them and try to determine what is the theme there. Once you do that, it only makes the Yes’s that much sweeter. You are not selling to everyone which is also something you have to be okay with.” All in all, everything mentioned is proof that you truly can have what it takes to run a startup, it is up to you to accept the challenge and keep on pushing forward even when you feel like you have the whole world against you — that is just proof you are making progress.
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