Psychology is the most under-appreciated, yet most important part of building a company.

We hear a lot about the external journeys of startups.

Mitchell Harper – Big Commerce co-founder shares

Everyone talks about startups being akin to roller-coaster rides. There are high highs and low lows. The highs are easy to deal with — you celebrate with your team, share the victories with your friends and partner and maybe even down a few beers that night. What’s harder to deal with are the (seemingly constant) lows — when things don’t work out as you expect them to. Examples include having an important employee resign, a potential investor pulling a term sheet at the last minute, a competitor winning a big partnership deal and employees passing away.

When things fall apart, what do you do? How do you talk to yourself?

Joel Gascoigne, CEO and co-founder of buffer says “I believe that when you’re building a startup, itpsychology is as much about developing yourself as it is about developing your startup.”

You need to come to terms with uncertainty and being uncomfortable.

Ben Yoskovitz, VP Product at VarageSale, a venture funded startup based in Toronto says “Don’t start a company as a tech person if all you want to do is code. If all you want to do is code, then get a job coding. Starting a company means to do a lot of things you’ve never done, and a lot of things you won’t be comfortable doing. Get used to it. Make the uncomfortable comfortable.”

I recently saw the movie Everest, and I can understand how sexy it is to aim high, have a lofty goal and go for it. I remember though at one point, one of the guides told a climber”…stop looking at the peak, focus on your next step.”

Everest is based on a true story where several mountain climbers lost their lives in 1996. I was amazed that despite reaching the peak, coming back down from Mount Everest was equally challenging and risky.

It was a great metaphor for me about life. There is always ebb and flow, up and down, birth and death. Nothing stays the same for long. And that’s OK. But are you psychologically prepared for this? Are you mentally prepared to enjoy short-lived summiting with large expanses of desert-like tracks in between?

As an owner you need to find a constant source of inspiration and learn steps to decision making that serve your best interest if you are to move forward.

So much is placed on the shoulders of goal setting and the oft used metaphor of climbing a mountain. Yet the ever shifting quality of life defies goal-setting and the strategic planning approach of the mountain climbing metaphor.

How do you prepare for divorce? How do you navigate if one of your children dies? How do you deal with an illness? What about if you find yourself bankrupt? What about those good friends who are laughing at you behind your back?

James Altucher, bestselling author and entrepreneur suggests that sometimes we have to cross the desert in our heads. The stories we tell ourselves that create not only who we are but who we aren’t: the excuses, the fears, the angers, the anxieties.

He shares his own experience “It’s a long journey. It’s painful. I often feel like stopping and saying, “Ok, I need to stop here” knowing that if I do it will be the end of me. And often I do stop. And it takes a lot of energy to get back on that journey I started so long ago. People on every side laugh at you for trying. But they don’t know why you are doing things. What motives you have. Only you do. If you let them dictate your motives you will be stuck behind that desk. You will avoid the experience, which is so much more powerful than money. You will resent. You will excuse. You will get angry. And eventually, you pass away stuck in a prison where the doors were unlocked all along.

Ask yourself right now: “What is the WORST thing that can happen?”

Mitchell Harper suggests –

Suppose your company fails. What’s really the worst thing that can happen? You have to start again? So what. Your lifestyle takes a bit of a hit? So what. Your pride gets crushed? So what. You have to tell investors you’ve lost their money? That’s hard to do, but they’ve baked your small chance of success into their models. The odds of everything falling apart are so small that most times it’s not even worth considering — and that’s from someone whose been so close to the wheels falling off dozens of times in the last decade. You might come close, but the wheels rarely, if ever, fall off.

The next time you feel down/upset/angry/frustrated/like shit, remember this quote “Some men storm imaginary Alps all their lives, and die in the foothills cursing difficulties which do not exist.” ~Edgar Watson Howe

Become aware of how you feel and do whatever it takes to manage your own psychology — because in the end that’s really all that matters.

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2 thoughts on “Psychology is the most under-appreciated, yet most important part of building a company.

  1. I feel like having an internal locus of control is vital when it comes to making anything you create successful. Those who assign too much power to external factors create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

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