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I’ll never forget the moment when I saw my company’s bank account dwindle to a mere $5,000. No matter how fervently you believe in the mission of your startup, there’s something cold and harsh about a ledger that can make you question all the decisions that led up to that moment.
Thankfully, I have a different perspective today. My company’s revenue increased by 20 times between 2019 and 2021, and I’m confident that we’ll continue this positive trajectory.
But that was far from a given when I started on this journey 10 years ago. And if I had only looked at elements like our bank account to drive me forward, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the dark times.
Throughout the last decade, my team and I have learned hard lessons and made challenging sacrifices. And during that time, I’ve come to understand that there are four elements that separate those that are risk-averse and shy away from uncomfortable situations, and those that eventually become successful startup leaders: passion, the ability to pivot, persistence and patience.
1. Passion for the long term
Those steeped in the startup world are well acquainted with the need for passion when starting a business. But scaling a company is another matter entirely. It takes an immense amount of time and effort, and you may not instantaneously see the results of your hard work. This is the point at which many entrepreneurs feel their fire dwindling, but it’s just the moment when they need it most.
Without passion, it is impossible to remain inspired and motivate your team. In those times when you feel it waning, it is important to re-ground yourself in the passion you originally had when you first started your company, and remain confident in its eventual success. Revisit the back-of-the-napkin sketches that drove you in the early days and take a moment to appreciate how far you’ve come (even if you’re not exactly where you thought you’d be back then). The journey is as meaningful as the end goal and your passion is what will fuel you along that journey.
2. Pivoting power
I had my fair share of unexpected turns after I founded Georama in 2012. I’d envisioned it as a travel planning startup, but a couple of years later, we pivoted to focus on virtual travel. Then in 2018, I realized we needed to pivot again to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the burgeoning consumer insights space. None of these changes were easy or even obvious, but the ability to execute them signaled the difference between success and failure.
Many times, an idea requires several iterations before it can become a successful business. Georama evolved into my current company, QualSights, an immersive insights platform that empowers Fortune 500 brands to efficiently generate deep, authentic intelligence about consumer behavior to help with product innovation and renovation. Remaining open to the possibility of pivoting to meet market demand was key to this successful transition, and I’m grateful that I had the right team to help me make these changes work in the real world.
3. Persistence in the face of “no”
The word “no” is a common element in entrepreneurs’ lives, but it’s another experience that changes significantly when you’re moving from startup to scaling. When I first launched, I continually reminded myself that when one door closes, another opens. It was this optimism and tenacity that gave me the energy to keep going. But as the “nos” begin to mount in your rearview mirror, it’s important to learn how to let go of them and treat every opportunity to ask for support as a completely new one.
I was always ready to deliver elevator pitches — sometimes during actual elevator rides — to potential investors. I made it my personal mission to track down key individuals at industry conferences so I could explain the value of my company. On one such occasion, I had a run-in with someone at an industry event. I happened to see that he was on his way to the elevator and made a split-second decision to join him. That 30-second conversation changed the future of my company for the better. Had I dwelled on all of the “nos” that I’d heard up until that moment, I wouldn’t have had the persistence I needed to take a leap of faith into that elevator. It is important to not let rejection define your path and remember that once you hear your first “yes,” others will begin to follow.
4. Patience offers perspective
Oftentimes, passion and patience have trouble coexisting, and that was certainly the case for me. I have always believed in myself and had a passion for our product, but I found myself growing impatient and frustrated in the early days of my entrepreneurial journey because it felt like it was taking so long to gain traction.
Looking back, I now see that everything happened exactly as it should have. I had to wait for this level of success to understand that nothing easy is worth having. The patience I developed over the years also taught me how to enjoy the journey and celebrate the little wins along the way. Time is something few startups have, but sometimes a little extra space and patience is the key to understanding what you need to do to successfully scale.
Ultimately, scaling a company requires strategic focus, hard work and dedication. However, if you keep the four Ps in mind and surround yourself with people who have the same work ethic and passion as you, there’s no reason that you can’t make the transition from a scrappy startup to a successful business.