The Lord of the Skills
Resilience: that one skill that binds them all. An epic reflection on resilience from a first-time founder.
As flatmate founders, Tanya and I spend our Friday afternoons reflecting on the past week and what we've been learning (are you really surprised we do this? We're building Wonderpath). As a founder, you're switching many hats and therefore you're collecting various skills along the way. But if you were to ask, what is one skill you need to constantly deliver on? Hands down, this skill is resilience.
Let me confirm by saying: it is tough out there - it really is. Our Nos or Not yets score is in the double digits. We've been compared. We've been through a pivot - in startup lingo when your product and business model changes (small or massive ones). We've seen teammates go. We've felt overwhelmed just by looking at our never-ending to-do list. We've had panic attacks knowing our bank balance.
Being a founder is a game of resilience. And it is actually what surprised us the most. You expect it on some level. But surreal when you actually experience it.
The good news though is that resilience is a muscle and can be strengthened with reflection, practice, and experience. Every time you hit a roadblock and decide to keep going, you strengthen your resilience.
A great way to look at setbacks is the way Thomas Edison did before he discovered the incandescent light bulb: I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.
So, how do you build your resilience muscle? Here are my reps.
Deeply know your why
As a founder, you need to have a crystal clear understanding of why you’re in it. Sometimes you know your why naturally and then discover your path. Sometimes you are on an exciting path and then discover your why. It's not an easy task but very much worth exploring.
Here are 3 very big why’s for me on why I'm creating Wonderpath.
Entrepreneurship is my dream job and my calling where I get to wear many hats and learn a ton of new stuff.
Fell in love with the problem. I became obsessed with how people build their self-awareness at work, exchange feedback, and develop professionally.
Building a business with Tanya. Hands down, I would not be doing this without my friend, flatmate, and co-founder Tanya. This became clear in 2017 and was constantly reinforced since then.
Last month, we created a vision board on Miro and crafted our personal purpose statements (here is a guide if you want to craft yours). Knowing why your co-founders are in it is a great way to build trust, openly communicate, and have each other’s backs. Every now and then, when we have dark days, we go back to that board, get reminded of our why, and recalibrate our compass.
Prioritize thinking time
As a founder, you get so much input from all directions. And you need to prioritize time to reflect. To zoom out of the to-dos and the calendar so you can sit and think. Our advisor, Ben calls it your dedicated thinking time.
I have always been an extrovert. I gained so much energy from talking and interacting with other people. And as part of that, I did some of my best thinking in those moments.
The past few years, I slowly realized that this started to change. While I still enjoy interacting with others and get a lot of inspiration from great talks, I do need more time and more space for myself to process my thoughts.
As such, I've been adapting my habits to give myself this thinking time. So, I started writing more and labeled it as thinking time. I created a playlist for myself on Spotify which I called Writing Flow. My writing ritual looks something like this: I find a nice cozy spot, put on some music from the said playlist (DM me if you want it), and start writing.
Thinking time comes in many shapes and forms. You need to define what thinking time means for you. What are the best conditions for your thinking time? What time of the day? In which space? Are you solo or with others?
Amplify your strengths
As a founder, you’ll be exposed. For real. People with a ton of experience will challenge you on every single aspect of your business. It's unavoidable and I highly recommend it as your business grows. The best way forward is to know and amplify your strengths.
Amplifying your strengths will help you stay focused and confident throughout the highs and lows of startup life. It will also help you recognize the areas you need more support and seek mentors and team members that will complement you.
As a first-time founder especially, it's normal to not have answers to everything. This is why playing on your strengths comes in handy. It is your edge.
Personally, I know that I'm great at getting things done. Execution is my edge. If an unknown assumption comes up, I find a cheap, hacky way to execute and validate or disprove the assumption.
For Wonderpath, we were challenged on whether people outside your organization would care enough to share feedback with you. So, I started an experiment. You can read more about what happened in the tread below.
As a founder, you will reinvent yourself along the way and that takes up a LOT of energy. Taking care of yourself and how you re-energize is the not-so-secret rep (remember, we're still building the resilience muscle).
Firstly, find your support system: friends, family, flatmates, founder friends, mentors. You are as strong as the strength of your support system. And a great co-founder is undeniably part of that support system.
We tend to be much more critical of ourselves. At times, it is challenging for me to recognize when I need to take a break. Tanya has been an immense help for me as she will say in her serious tone: Yo, you need a break.
Secondly, discover your unique ways to re-energize. I'll share below some activities I do to re-energize in two categories.
Your money-saving re-energizing options: going for a walk, reading a book, people watching from a bench, Netflix, and chill (for times I really don't want to hear my own thoughts), spend the afternoon with your family and friends.
Your money-splurging re-energizing options: take a mini-vacation, remote work from somewhere with lots of sun, visit a Greek island, go and eat some good food, go for wine-tasting.
For the ones that prefer something in the middle - I hope you have a bike. Hop on the bike and go for a long ride.
So important, yet so easy to forget.
As a founder, you chose a difficult path of high risk and statistically a very low probability of high rewards. So, at least make sure you prioritize having fun.
I remind myself how awesome it is to work with my best friend and flatmate. How often can you say that you laughed so much at work that tears come out of your eyes? I am lucky to recount many such occasions.
Fun and joy actually are part of our purpose statements. We openly discuss failures, decisions that didn't go well, and we don't take ourselves too seriously.
Some final reflections
At this point, if you ask me: ‘Daf, here comes someone who gives you a good amount of money to sell Wonderpath. What do you do?’. I would say no way I’m stopping now. It’s difficult to explain in words. It’s a strong feeling that urges me to keep going. I’m curious and excited to see where we take Wonderpath.
I suppose that’s how you feel in a run. Before the run, there are all these thoughts and doubts to make you put it off. Once you start though, there is momentum. You're moving: a force of nature.
Being a founder is a game of resilience. It's all about how you adapt, re-energize, and bounce back when something doesn't go as you hoped or planned. Because that will happen. It will happen many times.
And yet, we keep running.
Credits: Some of the materials we share are from our offsites with Ben and some of the joke credits go to Tanya.
PS: Our core job is building Wonderpath, but once in a while we’ll write here and share our learnings with you. If you’d like us to cover other topics in the ecosystem of co-founding write to us!
For more updates follow us on Twitter: WonderpathHQ, Dafni Chontou; Tanya Sharma
I love this article! The authentic and open spirit is great. I never read newsletters, but this one caught me from the first lines. Keep up with the great work! Sending hugs from my vacation, also in central Italy 🌞