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A raw account of life inside of a brand new startup

Every entrepreneur loses sleep over something, be it a learning curve, a need for more programmers, a decision about financing, or otherwise, and there are always multiple ways to skin a cat. This is but one account of the “why” behind a budding startup.

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The inner workings of startup-life

The goal of my column here is to reveal the inner workings of start-up life, and with that life comes an entire spectrum of emotions. I feel like I should post a large emoticon board on my wall so every day I can circle one of the emotions as to how I feel. That changes minute by minute depending on what I am dealing with. No, I am not bi-polar. That’s just how it feels to have a startup.

I was recently asked in a private Facebook group “why do you do what you do?” When I first read the question I did a double take just to read it correctly. That felt like a metaphor because I needed to think about what I was reading and then actually think about the answer. Why DO I do what I do? Because i’m passionate! I’m passionate about the consumer, transparency, being an entrepreneur, the need to make a living, disrupting, creating something people like, technology, the schizophrenic highs and lows of success and failure, seeing if others think like I do, making a great product, efficiency, useful data, the unknown, asking the question “why” and “why not,” and because someone told me once…”you cant do that!”

I have no idea if anyone will relate to these answers or not.

A third business venture

This is my third venture in business and I can happily say I wouldn’t trade my first two experiences for all the tea in China. They are what has made me who I am today, for better or for worse.

We were labeled “pioneers” at my first company. What did that translate to? Nothing but experience. What we did do was blaze a path for many who followed. We pushed forward the evolution of an entire industry. A lot of people who followed in our footsteps made a lot of money. I did not. But I helped changed the way an entire industry operated and I helped champion a cause for the consumer.

My second journey was by accident. It was after my first company was no longer in operation that I accidentally fell into homebuilding. The time was right. I had been raised in a family that was extremely architecturally conscious, I had an eye for design, I am crafty by nature, and many people over the years had said, “you should be a homebuilder. You would be great with your eye for detail.” So, I said what the heck? It was a great run for 10 years building million dollar plus spec homes, but we all know how that ended.

Back to the question of why

Which brings us to today. Why am I here? Why do I do what I do? I already listed the reasons. The problem is that doesn’t make it any easier and it doesn’t always make it fun.

Lately I have been struggling with the issue that nothing can happen fast enough or be good enough. One of my favorite commercials on TV is for Staples where a single person named Dave is cast in his office doing 12 different things all by himself. He walks down the hall, saying “Hi Dave”, as he waves to his alter ego. As an entrepreneur with my own startup, that is my life.

The real frustration for me is the reliance on others to do things I wish I could do myself but aren’t qualified. On the top of the list…WRITE CODE. I would give anything to be a programmer.

Currently, my programming is outsourced. This was the only option to create my beta product. My team is excellent! There are, however, inherent issues that I face. They have other projects. I am not in control of their time. I rely on them for application management. As an entrepreneur starting a company, there is NO ONE willing to work as hard as me, as long as me, or to create a product as well as me! If I could do all of the things I pay others to do, I would never sleep. It is very difficult to get others to share your start-up passion.

Getting others to share your start-up passion

Case and point: on occasion, we will push out a release to our production site. After the fact, I might notice a bug. If I was able, I would work tirelessly to push a fix, but I CAN’T. It kills me because no one feels quite the same about that [bug] as I do. Yes, I want perfection. Is that so bad? Everything I am creating depends on delivering the best product and the best customer experience possible and once it makes it to www, it is a reflection on us.

My team does their job and does it well, but I will soon face other issues. I need better controls on what we are doing. I am a one man show right now. Our dev takes place in a completely virtual environment. I work daily with a team of four. Three live almost an hour away and one is in London. We are extremely agile.

Two ways to develop

For those of you who dont know what I mean, let me explain. As I see it, there are two ways to develop:

First, you can sit down with a company, pay them to do a Scope & Discovery with you for a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 dollars where they will go over as many details of your application as you can think of. They will help you develop user stories, functionality, workflow, and if they provide assistance in business consulting, they will throw in some strategy planning as well. Strategy might consist of pre-launch planning such as creating a buzz, capturing sign-ups to keep prospects “in the know,” beta testers and when to take out your MVP (minimum viable product).

The BIG problem is after you have spent a week with these guys, they will want a big deposit. Then they will want you to GO AWAY! They will try to create and code your product, working from what they have as their understanding, with as little contact as possible. The reason for this is logical. They want to knock out as much code while not allowing for any scope creep. This is actually a good business practice [for them]. If you are a hands on type of person (like me), you will not be sleeping for an indefinite period of time.

Then you show up to review your deliverable and, VIOLA, it’s nothing like you expected. Now you have to pay for the time already spent in dev and the time it’s going to take make corrections. It becomes a “he said, she said” argument about how it was SUPPOSED to be. Everything becomes subject to interpretation. The developers say…”you never said that”. You say…”I thought that was understood,” and the cycle begins. I have painted a worst case scenario here, but it happens.

The second method is developing in a very agile environment which is more of a “make it up as you go along” routine. This is more favorable for the hands-on entrepreneur, and arguably better for the team because there are less mistakes along the way, and things are constantly being refined to be exactly the way you want it. However, with this model exists the dreaded “scope creeeep.”

Scope creep is when you want to add one “neat” little thing. That turns into three “neat” little things and so on and so on. Now you are off track from the prioritization of the deliverable. The devs have spent time appeasing your need for instant gratification, and the project is taking twice as long as anticipated on twice the budget. As ugly as this may sound, it is still my preference.

Every day, subject to their availability and other projects, my team and I are banging on IM’s, group calling on Skype, emailing, sharing files and previewing work on our dev site. This is as close to being a developer as I can be, without actually being one. I love that!

My next challenge

Now comes the first problem as we move forward. I want a dedicated code team. I want more input on a more frequent basis. When there are bugs, I want them fixed immediately. I dont want my project subject to someone else’s time based on commitments to other clients. I want a group that can brainstorm together and not feel like I am imposing on their time. I like a cohesive team working together in a single environment in a single place. I want a team that feels such a strong sense of commitment to our project that they will stay until it is done, and done right. Maybe I live in la la land. But that brings me back to… if I could do it myself… I would!

There are time to market concerns. I wrote last week about the blistering pace of technology roll outs in the real estate technology space right now. That keeps me up at night. I know of only a handful of companies that seem to be headed in the same direction as NuHabitat (my company), but I’m sure there are others. Some of these guys are the big boys with deep pockets, and others are like me.

My next challenges lie ahead and there is a great deal more I have to do to get my company where it needs to be, but that is the life of a start-up – constant pursuit of perfection.

As the leader of NuHabitat LLC, Jeff brings a unique qualification to the table with 10 years experience of buying and selling homes as a high-end luxury homebuilder while working with clients, agents and brokerages. Motivated by a unique set of circumstances, his goal is to provide a more efficient and economical approach to prospective home buyers and sellers in the modern day world of residential real estate.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Ken Brand

    April 20, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Everything about this is brilliant. God bless the unreasonable men and women.

    “Reasonable men adapt to the world around them; unreasonable men make the world adapt to them. The world is changed by unreasonable men.” ~ Edwin Louis Cole

  2. Drew Meyers

    April 21, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Lately I have been struggling with the issue that nothing can happen fast enough or be good enough.”

    ugh…I know the feeling all too well.

    “I want a dedicated code team. I want more input on a more frequent basis. When there are bugs, I want them fixed immediately. I dont want my project subject to someone else’s time based on commitments to other clients. I want a group that can brainstorm together and not feel like I am imposing on their time. I like a cohesive team working together in a single environment in a single place. I want a team that feels such a strong sense of commitment to our project that they will stay until it is done, and done right. Maybe I live in la la land.”

    La la land without a budget. Having that development team you want is entirely possible, but it’ll cost you a fair amount of money.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to avoid the sting of loneliness while solopreneuring

(ENTREPRENEUR) If you haven’t yet given up on humanity, check out these tips for avoiding loneliness while freelancing / solopreneuring.

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For all the aspects of freelancing that people romanticize, there’s one that they always leave out: the crushing existential loneliness of working by oneself.

If you’re tired of staring into the abyss (alone) every night as you wait for the 30 coffee cups’ worth of caffeine to exit your system, we’ve got your covered—here are a few ways to alleviate your loneliness (and couple of those voices in your head) throughout the day.

1. Stay in contact throughout the day.

Simple, yet powerful. Plenty of freelancers I know put a block on their own Facebook and Twitter pages and turn off their phones for hours at a time. Not only does doing this shut out potential clients throughout the day, it also cuts you off from the one medium of conversation you can (kind of) passively pursue: instant messaging.

Keeping up an IM or text (hell, even Snapchat) conversation with friends and family throughout the day is an easy, perfectly acceptable way to ensure that your cats and your keyboard aren’t the only recipients of your one-liners.

The downside here is that you run the risk of killing your own productivity in favor of socializing. While this method may take some finessing, you’ll feel loads better after a day of semi-constant low-level communication than you do after none at all.

If this is absolutely out of the question for you, try listening to a podcast. Throw yourself a bone, here.

2. Arrange meetings over Skype instead of emailing.

The convenience of email is pretty damn unbeatable, but staring at black words on a white background isn’t the most comforting of gestures.

Instead of communicating with your clients through a written medium, set up a video call—or, at the very least, a voice call.

In addition to helping you combat your building cabin fever, Skyping or calling your clients will help strengthen your relationship with them as well as make you stand out from the hundreds of emails they send and receive every day. It’s a twofer!

3. Phone a friend.

What do the two previous tips look like when you combine them? Virtual co-working. This is a tough maneuver to pull off if you’re the only freelancer you know, but if you can finagle a work session with a friend or colleague even one or two times a week, it’ll pay dividends.

Co-working is a bit of a tired concept when it comes to staving off invariable pangs of loneliness, but in this case, it may actually be the solution to your problem.

4. Take a mid-day break to run errands.

Taking an hour in the middle of your work day to go be around other people is remarkably refreshing, even if it’s just a trip to the local Fred Meyer (or, y’know, McDonalds).

You’ll also end up feeling better about the back half of your work day if you give yourself some time to decompress in the middle of it.

If this isn’t possible for you (I work a standard 9-5 rotation remotely), get up earlier than you need to and make your rounds or grab a cup of coffee then. Especially if you’re an introvert, you’ll get your fill of interaction by the time you clock in.

5. Learn to inherently loathe other people and adopt a hamster.

Shhhhh. Embrace the darkness.

JK, ignore number five… even if it’s tempting…

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Business Entrepreneur

Why many entrepreneurs facing mental health issues don’t get help [part two]

(BUSINESS NEWS) It isn’t a financial issue or a refusal to admit a problem – here’s why many entrepreneurs struggle with mental health challenges and never seek help.

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Nearly 44 million adults experience an episode of mental illness in any given year according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Of these, the experience of 10 million adults in the United States with mental illness was so serious that it substantially interfered with a major life activity.

A significantly higher percentage of entrepreneurs studied showed signs of mental illness than did the general population according to research conducted at the University of California in 2015.

Only 41 percent of adults who needed them received mental health services in the past year. What prevents us from getting the assistance that we so desperately need?

>>Click here to catch Part One of this series<<

Although a common problem among us, mental illness in America, in all its forms, is still marked by stigma and shame. This spurious perception of a shameless disorder has been partly responsible for individuals not getting the help they need.

“It’s much more difficult to think about an anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder helping a person excel in business,” said Claudia Kalb, author of Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities, speaking to the Harvard Business Journal.

“Stigma stems from not understanding what mental health conditions are all about, and not realizing that we all have at least some of these characteristics, “ said Kalb. “Part of the reason to learn more about these conditions is not to label people, but to better understand where people are coming from — and how, in a business setting, some of these attributes can be positive.”

While it’s very tempting to stay afraid of the stigma of a diagnosis, understand that you’re not alone, and that we all share similar problems from time to time.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Americans hoped access to personal healthcare insurance would be both easier to obtain and less costly. The U.S. Small Business Administration reported in 2014 that over 75 percent of businesses are known as “non-employer” firms. These firms create a single job — typically the business owner — and have no one else on the payroll.

Because of the changes in insurance laws, many of these individuals were faced with having to leave health care options that they many have had under prior insurers and face higher rates on the new healthcare exchanges for insurance plans that were less comprehensive.

Premiums for some insured have risen nearly 10 percent in the past two years, and depending upon the state in which they live and income targets, many individuals are bracing for steep increases in insurance prices this year, with estimates ranging from 16 percent to 65 percent increases.

As the publisher of the Washington Post, Newsweek, and owner of multiple television and radio stations, Phil Graham was a man with money and power. Yet, despite his wealth and privilege, he was not immune to mental illness. His journey with severe mental illness began in 1957 and continued for years thereafter.

Katherine Graham never forgot her husband’s tears, even decades later. “He was in real tears and desperation,” she told The Baltimore Sun, “he was…powerless, immobilized.”

In an era in which the stigma was profound and the treatment options severely limited, there was little help that could be found, and Phil’s rapid descent into illness included hospitalization and invasive electroshock therapy, all to no avail. Throughout it all, Katherine carried out the doctor’s orders, trying to talk Phil out of manic depressive episodes, speaking for hours on end to try to bolster his spirits.

We know that we ask our loved ones to carry large burdens for us an entrepreneurs, and try to ease their load. Yet, by not looking for help in an attempt to not be a bother to them, we don’t help them.

A study by Rogers, Stafford, and Garland at Baylor University found that for family members of those with mental illness, there were high levels of both subjective and objective burdens reported, with many family members struggling to process through their own feelings about the mental illness and their loved one.

We do not ease the path for our loved ones by refusing to seek and get the help we need, but instead damn them with a heavier burden, despite our well-meaning intentions.

In her powerful work, The Dangers of Willful Blindness, Margaret Heffernan, discusses the all-too-familiar concept of people not wanting to allow themselves to think about things that end in conflict or that rock the boat, personally or professionally.

“We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial,” writes Heffernan. “We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs.”

For many of us, it’s not that we don’t want to admit that we need help, but rather that we simply cannot allow ourselves to see it — even in the best of times! If you’re struggling to see life clearly through the lens of a mental illness, it is even more difficult.

Being open with one’s self about things that are real and things that are not, and acknowledging that things might not be okay, is the first step to finding assistance.

You don’t have to find help all alone. Reaching out to someone for help can often be uncomfortable, especially about a topic that is as personal as your own health, but doing so is the critical step towards recovery. Find a trustworthy partner for your recovery who you trust to help you find someone who can provide the level of assistance you need.

While your healthcare provider is the best first stop to discuss things that are going on with you physically or emotionally, it’s important to have a support network who can be there for you in between doctor visits.

There are other, more immediate resources for those who need them:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 either by calling 1-800-273-8255 or by going to their website and engaging in an online chat.

For those who prefer texting options with qualified crisis counselors, the Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 by texting “Go” to 741741. Both options are confidential and are immediate supports for you and your family.

Once you’ve begun treatment or counseling, stay educated and informed about the challenges that you face. You share control of your pathway to recovery with your doctor or counselor; find out all that you can from reputable sources about the specific challenge you face, and stay involved in making informed treatment decisions about your care.

You’re the most important thing in the world to your family, not your business, not your perceived notions of success — you. If you take away nothing else from this article, know that. You are not alone, and professional help is available.

>>Click here to catch Part One of this series<<

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Business Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs face higher rates of mental illness [part one]

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) For many entrepreneurs, carrying out the work that they feel that they were meant to do comes with the cost of psychological turmoil, a cost often left unchecked.

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From the outside looking in, the entrepreneur’s calling is charming and magical. Being one’s own boss, making the decisions, and doing what one loves makes many people who work for someone other than themselves a tad jealous. For all your neighbor’s reveries about how the entrepreneurial life is a series of unbridled successes, you well know the price you pay, including those that no one else ever sees or hears about.

For many entrepreneurs, carrying out the work that they feel that they were meant to do comes with the cost of psychological turmoil, a cost often left unchecked.

As an entrepreneur, you balance the responsibility for the health and welfare of your company with the need to preserve your own health. There are pressures to maintain a public façade for the perceived benefit of your brand that may well be at odds with what’s going on in the inside.

Being artificially strong and denying yourself the help that you need isn’t only harmful physically, but fiscally as well. Businesses in America lose $193.2 billion in lost earnings annually due to the effects of serious mental illness on employee production and associated costs.

A significantly higher percentage of entrepreneurs studied showed signs of mental illness than the general population, according to research conducted at the University of California in 2015. The authors contended that there may be a link between mental illness and creativity.

The expanded creativity of many entrepreneurs is a fantastic attribute, but also one of a host of characteristics that affect their mental well-being. One of the authors of the study, Michael A. Freeman, identified the link and called for further research. “People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states,” stated Freeman, speaking to Google.

Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, identified four common mental health issues that many entrepreneurs face based on the nature of their work: depression, anxiety, self-worth issues, and addiction.

Working long hours, alone for many of them, can drive entrepreneurs to be less mindful of their health. That isolation can lead some towards increased risks for depression, as well as the mindset that “time is money.”

We’re written before about the dangers of such a mindset, and maintaining it costs the entrepreneur much needed leisure and decompression time.

The pressure you feel can be healthy, a motivator to continue your efforts and network with others who can help you succeed. However, it can also be linked to extreme anxiety, which can manifest itself in multiple ways, including being so afraid to make a business decision that it leads to mental paralysis.

This incapacitating anxiousness can also lead to burnout. “It’s much more difficult to think about an anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder helping a person excel in business,” said Claudia Kalb, author of Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities, speaking to the Harvard Business Journal.

She notes, “Howard Hughes… was a successful entrepreneur, but in the latter part of his life, as his OCD characteristics became worse, he became totally isolated. He couldn’t interact with people in business or in society.”

Anxiety’s effects can be compounded by how you judge your own self-worth.

For many, your job is your identity, and your bank account a quick barometer of your importance.

In an era in which it’s no longer uncommon to have startups fail to launch or succeed for awhile before not pivoting in a market shift, failure to make your business thrive shouldn’t have the stigma that it once did.

Some of us are feedback junkies, seeking engagement with and feedback from our internal and external customers. For others, it’s the excitement of the design and launch that gets us motivated. Whatever your particular cue might be, for the serial entrepreneur, the rush that you get is palpable and you wouldn’t trade it for anything. Maybe you should, though.

There’s a fine line between persistence and obsession, and a finer line still between obsession and addiction. Morin cites a 2014 study, published in The Journal of Business Venturing, that found that the actions of serial entrepreneurs shared similar characteristics with behavioral addictions.

These characteristics included having obsessive thoughts, negative emotional outcomes, and withdrawal-engagement cycles, in which the entrepreneur withdraws and yet feels pressured by the need to reengage with his business or partners, which he does, only leading to increased frustration and resentment. The inability for the entrepreneur to understand when their behavior was potentially damaging to themselves was also noted, with a “pursue at all costs” mentality being common, despite the harm done.

The need for mental health supports knows no class boundaries, no race or gender, or age limitations. Nor does it differentiate between those with the entrepreneurial spirit and those without.

Having an issue with your mental health or maintaining your emotional equilibrium doesn’t make you weak. The work that you’ve chosen sometimes comes with hidden pitfalls that can cause a human cost; as your most important asset, be proactive in maintaining it.

You’re the most important thing in the world to your family – not your business, not your perceived notions of success — you.

If this is a fight that you currently face, or fight on the behalf of someone close to you who suffers from a mental illness, know that you are not alone.

If you take away nothing else from this article, know that. You are not alone, and professional help is available.

You don’t have to find help all alone. Reaching out to someone for help can often be uncomfortable, especially about a topic that is as personal as your own health, but doing so is the critical step towards recovery. Find a trustworthy partner for your recovery who you trust to help you find someone who can provide the level of assistance you need.

While your healthcare provider is the best first stop to discuss things that are going on with you physically or emotionally, it’s important to have a support network who can be there for you in between doctor visits.

There are other, more immediate resources for those who need them:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 either by calling 1-800-273-8255 or by going to their website at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ and engaging in an online chat.

For those who prefer texting options with qualified crisis counselors, the Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 by texting “Go” to 741741.

Both options are confidential and are immediate supports for you and your family.

Once you’ve begun treatment or counseling, stay educated and informed about the challenges that you face. You share control of your pathway to recovery with your doctor or counselor; find out all that you can from reputable sources about the specific challenge you face, and stay involved in making informed treatment decisions about your care.

You’re the most important thing in the world to your family, not your business, not your perceived notions of success — you. If you take away nothing else from this article, know that. You are not alone, and professional help is available.

>>Keep reading as Part 2 digs in even deeper…<<

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