I’m a woman entrepreneur in Chicago. Looking back on my adventures building my business over the past eighteen months, I realized I learned a lot (maybe the hard way). Being new to entrepreneurship, I adapted little and big life hacks that have fundamentally transformed the way I look at business and life. Some of these are easier said than done, and I need to remind myself every day to do it. But, some have become an integral part of my standard operating procedure. I want to share these best practices and tools for entrepreneurs – with women, men, entrepreneurs, and wanna-be-entrepreneurs – hopefully, some of these will resonate.
Here are the life hacks I learned as a woman entrepreneur in no particular order.
1. Really, there are no stupid ideas, only identifying ones that work for you
Tool: An easily accessible idea repository, mind mapping software
When you are starting out as an entrepreneur, ideas pop up everywhere. In most cases, we dismiss them as impractical. Keeping an open mind towards ideas, and exploring them, no matter the source, is critical. I have gotten ideas from sources as diverse as customers, investors, teenagers, and friends at the gym.
Mapping out ideas and writing them down has helped me remember these ideas so that I can come back to them on a regular basis. Sometimes, I incorporate ideas from my idea repository into my products, marketing strategy, and partnerships. These ideas have a way of morphing and transforming into unexpectedly exciting concepts after a few iterations.
2. Ruthless prioritization followed by precise execution
Tool: Business process map and a good project management software
It is very easy to get lost in rabbit holes and sucked into diversification, which makes us lose focus on what we want to do as we grow our business. Pivoting several times is not only natural; it is essential in the early stages of your business. As you progress from ideation to your startup launch, it is important to have a frame of reference that validates your hypothesis. These could be frameworks or people who could give you timely feedback. Being a little ruthless with prioritization is life-saving because your business is your baby as an entrepreneur, and in reality, who likes to admit that their baby is ugly!
Using a tool like the business process map is helpful to prioritize your business ideas based on value creation. Having a great project management software has also been a life saver for me to keep track of everything related to the project on a week by week basis to keep things manageable.
3. Understand your strengths and weaknesses – and test your limits
Tool: SWOT, MBTI, Google
You don’t know what you can or cannot do until you try. As a new entrepreneur, this past year has been an incredible learning opportunity for me. Learning concepts in business school is one thing, but researching and understanding how the real world operates is another.
Starting from a place of understanding my strengths and weaknesses through SWOT analysis was very helpful. It helped me figure out where I needed to personally develop to get my business to where we wanted to go. Necessity is the mother of invention, they say; I say that tiger mother definitely pushes your buttons and fires up cylinders that you didn’t know existed.
MBTI from Myers Briggs was a tool I found super useful to interact with my co-founders and advisors. Forming a new team in a high-stress environment is hard, but if you have the instruction manual for a personality type, it does help ease the process a little as you understand how to vary your approach based on the kinds of people you hire and manage.
Google has of course been my guide to the galaxy of tools, techniques, and processes that we have had to adopt along the way.
4. Create your own village
Tool: Your friends and family, extended community, connections from the past, network for the future. Advisory board, Linkedin, Facebook, Whatsapp, Ning and so much more.
Entrepreneurship is a very lonely journey. Finding people who can help, guide, support, partner and in general be that support system in the journey is critical in sustaining the entrepreneur journey long term. As an entrepreneur, I was required to merely take feedback for what it is intended for: as learning opportunities. Yes, that was very hard, but a great life skill to have! I have had the good fortune of friends and family who continue to give me their advice, effort and help along the way and hope to continue getting that in the future. This has truly been a life support system for me as I received guidance from the unlikeliest of places when I needed it the most.
5. Stay present with personal and situational awareness
Tool: Your senses and your internal radar
It is all too easy to get immersed into your own world and forget about the world around you when you’re wearing many hats. I have had several conversations of “uh huh, uh huh” with family, while mentally wrestling website content or a product feature. This is so hard to implement in practice, but something that all of us needs to strive for.
Emotional intelligence is a must-have as an entrepreneur, and it is all about understanding how all players in a situation respond and adapt. It is important to recognize and trust your instincts and understand spoken and unspoken communication around you. This means getting our heads out of the daily rabbit holes and breathe in to be responsive to everything that is happening around us.
6. Finding balance in your life
Tool: Calendar to make time for hobbies, vacations, time with family and friends
Entrepreneurship by definition puts a heavy thumb on the scale, disrupting life balance as we know it without care or remorse. Even though I led a balanced life during my corporate career, trying to find some semblance of equilibrium between work and home, passion, and duty, ambition, and zen has been a real challenge.
My new approach as an entrepreneur is to guard personal time fiercely and treat it as an investment for yourself and your startup. Always searching for this elusive sense of balance has helped avoid burn out (and most importantly, provide sanity).
7. Find time for others – Karma has a way of seeking you out
Tools: Kindness, empathy, and listening skills
When you are an entrepreneur you have so many things on your plate, it is easy to be self-centered and focus on the million things you need to do. That is, even more reason to find time to help others in need – whether it be to find a job, make connections, give advice or even just smile and listen. I have had the most interesting conversations at the gym. It started with helping someone execute sun salutations and somehow turned into contacts in Silicon Valley technology investment firms. I am a strong believer in kindness – attracting goodness, especially if you don’t expect anything in return.
8. Ideate. Listen. Observe. Inquire. Learn. Pivot. Repeat.
Tool: Brainstorming techniques, an excellent ring binder notebook, periodic review of notes
There is nothing glamorous about entrepreneurship. It is about being disciplined and keeping yourself on task with a change management process that works for you. Because like it or not, you are always changing. Being mindful and conscious of how to evolve with these changes was a crucial learning for me, Having a few brainstorming techniques in your back pocket is very useful to get ideas flowing. After the ideation process, it is all about listening to feedback, creating learning out of feedback, micro-pivoting as needed and then rinse and repeat.
9. Settle for outcomes – never for values
Tools: Company mission, vision and value statement
One of the main drivers for me to start my own company was that I wanted to create something that was true to my values, where I didn’t have to settle for values that rang false or be someone I was not. When you are creating a company, you almost always don’t get exactly what you are looking for. In that scenario, the one thing I did not compromise on are the company values on how to operate, who to work with, and even the definition of ‘is’: because of a simple reason, I want this to be a company that founders and employees are proud to work at.
I have learned to choose values over outcomes. In situations like ‘Is it more important to have all of these features added, or give people time off to have family time ?’
10. Find time to center yourself
Tools: meditation, yoga, hobbies
Being an entrepreneur is like an on-off switch. Either you are in or you aren’t. If you have decided to be an entrepreneur, there is that strong internal instinct that you have to pay attention to. It’s giving you guidance on all aspects of your business. Having the quietness in your day to have that internal dialogue is very important as an entrepreneur. This means un-cluttering your calendar and your mind to have that clarity of thought and intention calibrated to your goals. Doing this on a regular basis through activities that clear your mind has been very helpful. I found this to be the hardest of the lot to do – concluding that focus amidst the chaos. It is still work in progress.
This is my top 10 list of the big and small life hacks I have found useful in my entrepreneurship journey. Hope you will find it useful as well. I would love to hear from you on what have learned in your journey that I could shamelessly steal.
Deepa Kartha is the Founder and CEO of Zinda.xyz, an SMAC(Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud) based Employee Engagement software company. Journey from Zinda is a social engagement and impact software in the workplace that aligns employees and companies on a common purpose provides motivation for employees and insights for businesses.