By Manish Sinha & Shilpi Singh
Once upon a time, I used to work in a cubicle and get a salary cheque at the end of the month. Then the axis of my world started changing and I started working from the dining table and life became more adventurous and the ride roller-coaster.
Everything that I knew changed. There was no familiar landscape. I had to rapidly and constantly learn and unlearn. I started wearing many different hats at the same time. And there was no office water-cooler to chat and let off steam. No fancy training programs to go to. Not too many domain experts to ask and share things with. And one day, the increasingly thin semblance of a work-life balance vanished.
Even family (excluding my spouse) and close friends who at best ‘got’ a fraction of what I did in my corporate job, now got distanced further in terms of understanding and emotional support. When I most needed them they were not there. And when they were, they were not of much help!
This is not a starkly different or fanciful story. Every entrepreneur – big or small – goes through this. Some survive, most come out battle scarred and some burnished with better understanding.
But then a few mentors/ guides appeared on the horizon largely in the garb of friends. But their DNA very different from beer-buddies. These friends were usually founders and co-founders of other startups at varying degree of evolution. They knew what it meant to start something new. They had respect for the ‘new life’. They were working from the trenches not cubicles. They empathised with ‘uncertainty’ and the chase of a ‘distant dream’. And connected with one’s motivations, dreams and reasons for the choices one needed to make. While they were far away in physical distance, they were close in mind & spirit.
One fine day I realised that these friends were playing the role of ‘personal startup coach’ for me – different from the formal mentors you get on board for your company. They listened. They gave hope. They understood my story. They had ideas. They knew how to make things work, not just list ways why things won’t work. They had vision, passion and dirty hands not just fancy excel sheets and empty ‘gyan’.
My startup coaches have helped, are helping in more ways than one. Yes it’s a fancy name. But then if I had said it’s my friends, you wouldn’t have bothered to read till here.
And now that you have read this far you might as well continue reading what my startup coaches have had to offer to me. They help me :
1. Reconfigure (to rearrange the elements or settings of).
While I was fairly flexible in my corporate career, in my four years of entrepreneurship, the reconfiguration that I have had to do (lifestyle related, people issues, financial issues, work-life balance, etc. ) is far more frequent and unpredictable. That’s where my startup coaches help me. There advice is invaluable as they understand the issues ( which no-one else does) and yet they are at a safe distance to give impartial and sound advice.
Most times we are too close to our products and services, our transactions and customers and therefore we sometimes both fail to see the obvious as well as fail to look at our business from sideways. My startup coach helps me re-imagine my business, my service, my service standards, my customers, my funding, my comfort zone, my flaws, my strengths. They kick-my-butt to not be complacent. And remind me through words, stories and deeds of why I started in the first place… And all this through sometimes friendly often intense chatter over skype, gtalk, over beer … They don’t BS, they don’t mince words. They help me ‘see’ things as they are, not as I am.
As an entrepreneur, everyday there are choices to make between perfecting a product and shipping-out-now, between hard sell to get heard and right sell with the brand values intact, between scaling up because it’s urgent and resisting the urge to do so because it’s the right thing, between adopting short-term tactics to survive and long-term-strategic commitment to create something beautiful, between values & ethics and practicality, between selling some more on facebook and telling a story to your sleepy son at the end of the day. There are no easy or right answers. But once again my startup coach helps restore my sanity, faith, priorities and values. And makes me realise every day and every week that the journey is the reward.
Some people come in our lives as blessings others come as lessons, my startup coach manages to do both! I feel comfortable sharing my inner most thoughts, desires, challenges, ambition with them. And while they don’t and can’t address all the problems, they help me become better and never bitter!
So, in case you don’t already have a startup coach, go find one!
Manish Sinha and Shilpi Singh are co-founders of Gurgaon based bed and breakfast joint Cinnamon Stays.