Building Resilience as an Entrepreneur

They say rejection is a regular part of being an entrepreneur…but this night was rough.

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getting your idea rejected

This photo is from August 15th, 2013. We were in school at UCLA and participating in an exhibit day where experts would come in and talk to us about our startup ideas (picture a farmers’ market, but for companies who are sharing out their ideas). 

Here’s how it went for us. 

-The founder of what is now a $100 billion company couldn’t see any difference between what we were doing and Google forms. 

-The founder of a form builder (who I was very excited to meet and get insight from since it was similar to what we wanted to do) told us that quizzes were a very small market and we should look elsewhere. 

-A guy who had been mentoring us before this exhibit night specifically pulled us aside at the end of the night to tell us that we just didn’t seem “in it” with what we were doing, and should consider trying something else. 

Not exactly the ticker-tape parade we were hoping for. At this point in the life of interact we had just launched a landing page, the product didn’t work, and no one had paid for it. All of the work was ahead of us and several prominent people we were looking to for reassurance had rejected our idea. 

Everyone says you face a lot of rejection when starting a company, but it was especially painful to have people we knew of and wanted approval from to say they didn’t buy into what we were doing. However, we took this feedback and turned it into a desire to prove out our idea. There were a few key reasons why. 

First, we enjoyed working together. Interact has three co-founders and even if no one believed in what we were doing, we still enjoyed working together. We’d spend long weekends holed up in an apartment just trying to get the initial version of interact up and running. Since I had very little to do I’d make food and chime in on product features from time to time, it was a ton of fun. 

On nights when we could get time to work on interact we’d work together and I’d write blog posts while the other guys drew up designs and focused on creating features for the product. There was a sense of comradery and we had each others’ backs. 

Second, we knew the product worked. Before ever launching it we had experience running a quiz in a completely separate context and because that quiz performed really well we knew that it would work for other people if they could just get everything set up properly. 

Of course it was a “see it to believe it” scenario, so it wasn’t easy to convince people to try out our hacked-together product, but at least in our minds we had conviction that if customers would just use the product they too would see how well it works for growing businesses. 

Third, we believed in ourselves (and each other). To this day I think my co-founders are some of the most smart and talented people in their fields, and I know they believe in me and my ability to see a vision and bring it to life. Even if “experts” or people from the outside didn’t see what we saw in terms of potential with the company, we believed we could do it, and that is powerful. 

I’m sharing this story because it’s almost easy for us to forget just how negative most of the feedback was when we were starting interact. I remember one person, out of hundreds who we told about interact, thinking it was a good idea. We didn’t have a great track record. So if you’re just getting started and aren’t hearing a lot of people singing your praises, that’s okay and I would say pretty normal.

How we handle rejection today (evolved view).

It’s been nearly a decade since those early days at interact, and our view of handling rejection has evolved over time. In reflection, much of what got us through was sheer determination to build something together, and that worked really well, but as all things do, our approach to staying resilient against rejection has developed over time.

The podcast “How I built This” has an entire series on resilience, and that’s not an accident.

If you listen to the stories of very successful people, who have built world-altering companies, it’s surprising but understandable that they still face really difficult challenges and rejections. Nothing is guaranteed in business and no matter how big you get you can still fail.

Continue believing in each other.

Honestly there is nothing more powerful than someone seeing your work and saying “wow, you’re good at this, keep it up!” not only does that make you feel empowered to keep going, but it also reassures you that you’re not alone in your endeavor. Of course if your compliments are not genuine that will become obvious very quickly and does way more harm than good, but when someone genuinely sees your efforts and gives positive affirmation you can move mountains.

Taking care of yourself.

From the NHS

1 in 3 of us suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed. However, the cost of all those sleepless nights is more than just bad moods and a lack of focus. Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesitycoronary heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy.It’s now clear that a solid night’s sleep is essential for a long and healthy life.

Even worse, chronic sleep loss and lead to memory loss, depression, and poor decision making.

If your business doesn’t work out it will take three years before you come to that realization. If it does work you will be working on it for minimum 10 years. Not sleeping for the next month while you hammer out this project WILL NOT be the difference between making it and failing, even if you feel that way right now.

The iron is you’re actually less likely to succeed if you push super hard, because you’ll make poor decisions and won’t be really present in your thinking when trying to solve problems.

Setting a culture at interact where “hustling” is not promoted or put on a pedestal is super important because when we’re faced with a big project and don’t know how to get it all done, there is of course the natural tendency to try and get it all done today. But that not only puts a strain on health, it’s also just not the most effective way to solve problems and build a business.

-Connection outside of work

If you are following stories about why social media is messing with our minds in negative ways, you’ve heard about how people end up in an echo chamber where the same ideas are being represented over and over again. When we hear something enough times it starts to sink in, and when ideas sink in we adopt the as our own.

This is true for building a business as well. When all we see are the same problems over and over again, it actually begins registering in our minds that this is all there is. That’s depressing because businesses always have problems, customers are always upset, someone is unhappy at all times, period. But having solid connections with people, nature, and the world outside of the work we are doing helps us reset those patterns a bit and not get sucked into a cyclone where all we see are the same issues constantly.

Something we very much promote at interact is dedicating time and energy to life outside of work, relationships, travel, spending time on hobbies. This really helps build resilience.

-Not feeling stuck

There was a turning point for interact when we went from “let’s keep going at all costs” to “let’s keep an eye on how our business is doing and decide how we want to proceed on a regular basis.” Somewhere around the 5 year mark we realized we hadn’t really stopped to think about what we wanted from our work on interact.

Up to that point we’d just put our heads down and worked to make something happen, but as time went on it became more of a question around where we were headed (in retrospect I would have done this from day 0). While we decided to keep going full tilt, we also put a sign post in the ground marking where we were at, and set a date when we’d check in again on how the company was doing.

This alleviates the “win at all costs” mentality that can be debilitating because it doesn’t grant permission to be tired, burnt out, or not sure if you want to keep working on the company. From what I’ve seen, when it feels like you have to do something it becomes less enjoyable. Even if you really like your work, feeling stuck in it can have a negative effect on your psyche.

A mentor of mine once told me “everything in life is a choice” the more you remember that the less you feel beholden to your circumstance.

-Focusing on your strengths

Robert Refkinn, founder of multi-billion dollar Real Estate company Compass, did an interview where he shared an excellent piece of advice someone gave him. The wisdom was “stop trying to fix your shortcomings, focus on your strengths instead.”

We totally agree at interact, and in fact we often shuffle around our roles and responsibilities so that each person on our team is focused on what they’re best at. Reason being you feel better when you are focused on what you’re good at. Instead of coming to work each day and feeling like you “just can’t seem to get it” you come in each day and feel like “wow, I’m good at what I do!” That affects everything, you can imagine what it feels like for Sunday to roll around and dread work the next day because it will be another day of failure, versus Monday being marked by doing work you’re not only good at but you also enjoy.

-Constantly remembering success is not the most important thing

Nick Offerman, actor and comedian, tells this story about his super dry humor style. He says “when you grow up as a farmer you can’t take life too seriously because every year your entire crop can be wiped out by a storm you have no control over. You get used to being like “welp, storm’s gonna hit so I guess we don’t get paid this year” and that makes you laugh at life a bit more.”

We have a similar humor style at interact – whenever something really bad happens we’re just like “welp, that was a good run, should we start something else?” It’s a joke, but every joke is half true, and we actually do put people ahead of success. At the end of the day we’re all humans and we’re only on this planet for a short time, it’s not worth it to make anyone miserable in the name of success or to put relationships on the line over some dollar bills.

This also eases up a lot of tension when it comes to “needing” everything to work out. If you genuinely know you’ll be okay even if the company you are building doesn’t go anywhere it takes pressure off and you can actually go into solving problems with a clear mind.

In conclusion: In the beginning you can expect most people to not “get” what you’re trying to create. That’s okay, and very normal. From our experience there are a variety of ways to build resilience over time, and practiced daily you can get through a lot of naysayers’ comments. Also, building a company is just hard, so don’t feel down on yourself if you try all of these things and it is a struggle anyways, remember that we all feel that way.

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Josh Haynam

Josh Haynam is the co-founder of Interact, a place for creating beautiful and engaging quizzes that generate email leads. Outside of Interact Josh is an outdoor enthusiast, is very into health/fitness, and enjoys spending time with his community in San Francisco.

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