Resilience and entrepreneurship - a personal take

(Originally posted on LinkedIn, on November 7th, 2017)

A few weeks ago, I was invited to talk at a coaching event about entrepreneurship and resilience. While preparing the talk, I reflected on what had happened since my partners and I founded 24symbols, and the role resilience had for me to be still here after all these years. I found six elements that I found of value (after reading a few books), and I wanted to share them here.

#1. Actionable optimism

I am not a pure optimist at all, as anyone who has ever met me for more than five minutes knows. I consider myself more of a stoic, someone who cares about issues but that tries not to be affected by them -though I do the first much better than the second-. But I am clearly someone who sees opportunities with optimism. If something doesn't work, I am sure we can do something else to continue our path. It may be hard or difficult to find. It may even be too late when we find it. But it exists.

#2. Moral compass

While running a business means you never know what is going to be of you and your company in two years, and therefore, flexibility is key, one must always have some red lines. For me, winning is NOT everything. I would not have any issue in closing down the company or leaving it right away if those lines are crossed. It can be pushing a marketing campaign too far, or being forced to have some undesirable partners on board. I need to feel that, if I am going to continue rowing as hard as I can, I will always feel proud at the end of the lake even if the trip was not completely successful.

#3. Support in others

I am not the best at this, but I acknowledge that the startup ecosystem is wonderful in supporting or, at least, listening to each other. There is always someone next to you with similar issues that is willing to listen and try to help. This "don't worry I've been there" support becomes really meaningful when things don't go well or options are not clear, and definitely keep resilience at a higher level. I'm my case, working with incredible startups that come from programs like Tetuan Valley, is just wonderful.

#4. Contingency plans

Obviously, a stoic approach is more than being passive, but "hoping for the best, preparing for the worst". For me it is quite related to the actionable optimism, but going one step further: what if that doesn't work also? Is there a Plan B or C, even if they are outside of the current project? This doesn't mean that we WANT to close down the startup, but that even in the worst case, there is no black hole to devour us. It's true, sometimes it's hard to find that contingency plan: we are too young, or too old. Our domain expertise is too obscure, or is too deprecated. Nobody knows me, or everyone knows my project failed. But in most cases, there's a new opportunity there - not being "happy" about this: sometimes there's not, and the problem we face is bigger.-

#5. Growth mindset

I have read in many places that one of the best ways to strengthen our resilience is by having an uncompromising growth mindset. Only thinking in growing is how the rest of the points mentioned above integrate and work.
While a growth mindset is clearly positively correlated with resilience, I have found many companies with impressive resilience JUST BECAUSE THEY DECIDE NOT TO GROW. Or, at least, not in the way we typically understand as growth. Basecamp is the one that always comes to my mind. An incredibly successful company that could very probably be a unicorn right now, but that decided to limit themselves to a manageable number of people and projects, with great-but-not-insanely-great salaries, and hunger for becoming, as Ryan Holiday aptly defines, a perennial seller.

#6. Systems thinking 

Last but not least, my engineering mind finds it quite comforting when I can match the situation I am running into as part of a system I trust. I won't go into details thee, but since my mentor Eugene Shteyn first told me about the 5-element analysis, back at his Stanford course on innovation and creativity in 2008, I have always come to it in order to grasp a feeling of the stage my company, or my product resides as part of an industry or an ecosystem. When I'm successful, then I have a better understanding of where things may go and, therefore, can think of a more viable plan.

Summary: Stoicism

Since I started reading about Stoicism a few years ago, I understood my approach to life and business relied a lot -thought not all- on this philosophical ideal. And most of the points mentioned can be appointed to it. A company, like a personal relationship, will undergo constant ups and downs. Only if our main goal is to keep the project up -within the limits that our ethics, morality or pragmatism state- we will find the resilience and drive we need to make it happen. And if we have done it that way, we will feel contempt regardless of what finally happens, as we gave our best effort.

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