Yesterday somebody chose to try and shake my confidence.
We’re capital raising (as start-up tech companies frequently do), and I emailed out updates on the business to a number of potential people who I thought could possibly be interested in coming on the journey with us. I am always realistic in my expectations here – you can’t win everyone over, and some people will just not respond. That’s okay. We’re lucky in that we have quite an illustrious list of shareholders (every one of them hard fought for), but are super supportive of what we’re doing and have been actively spreading the word for us too. After a quarter of really impressive growth results, it’s a good feeling going into market with cap in hand, and a suitably big smile on the dial too. When you’re having days when you convert over 100% of people who come into your “store” into making purchases, you get a good feeling that you’re on the right path with usability. Our job right now is quite simply to not run out of growth capital as we onboard more customers and get closer to our break even point.
Anyhow, this one particular person I reached out to was more than candid in their response. Generally that’s okay (and he’s a bit of a known grumpy bum), and it’s not like I expect to be pussy footed around. I can handle truth, but what I’m not quite so tolerant of is rudeness. This person simply stated, “I don’t like this business”, to which I thanked him for his honesty (as baffling as this may have been to me). But then he replied, “you’ll make it one day. Just not with this”.
Wow. What a kicker.
Setting aside his disbelief in our journey (hey, can’t win everyone over), the clanger for me was the “you’ll make it one day” bit. In five simple words, likely flippantly typed, quite possibly from a place of good intent, he made it very clear that I was not enough already. Over the next 20 minutes post receiving this I went from shock, disbelief, amusement and into just plain anger. How dare he? What an awful thing to say to someone. Not just because it was rude, but because it was also incredibly narrow, inaccurate and discouraging.
When did we become hung up on wealth being the sole measure of success? Here is an individual who has financial means (undoubtedly also hard won) and yet for him they only way I’ll have deemed to have “made it” in his eyes, is if I bank a huge cheque for the business. Anything less and I’ll simply be a wannabe.
Don’t get my wrong, my business goals are suitably fiscally minded – my job as CEO is to build and then return value to the shareholders of my business.
But my personal definition of success is not defined by that. And nor should it be. When you’re innovating and creating businesses and market places out of nothing – like many wonderful entrepreneurs in New Zealand are – then we need to believe in other metrics in order to get out of bed in the morning. Encouragement, and not ignorance, is required to help pull us up, not push us down. We need yard sticks that measure our gumption and guts as we tackle huge obstacles in front of us. This is what will help us deal with the ever-present risk of failure and chest-compressing, all consuming pressure. Both of which are experienced in abundance as an entrepreneur.
My definition of success is that I’m still here, still doing it and still (mostly) winning.
This is the face of someone who just won. It was a race against myself. Because that’s really all we race against, if you think about it. I ran 6.5km around our block without stopping, only one day after finishing my latest failed IVF round. Beet red, puffed, sore AF and acutely aware of all my 38 years. But, I did it. I said I would get out of bed today and go and get fit. And I did. I made it happen.
It feels really good (except, that is, for all the really sore achy bits that don’t) and boy have I missed these endorphins over the last few months that I’ve been on this particular medical band wagon (I have endometriosis too, so I’m not not used to body failures). Exercise is usually what keeps me sane in a life that constantly threatens to border into insanity if I don’t maintain a firm grip on the centre. I’m sure you can easily imagine that the addition of IVF, removal of exercise (and, dare I say it, all of the wine), results in a far less centred individual. Six months of full on hormones (this last month I was on six times the amount of drugs you’d give to a menopausal woman) has seen me battle with depression, migraines, significant weight-gain, insomnia and chronic fatigue.
But battle it I did whilst also not just holding down a full time job, but growing one business by 200% in this last quarter, launching a major new tech development for it, raising capital to keep it alive and kicking, directing another company to record breaking months, helping launch a non profit KiwiSaver, enjoying an IRD audit (oh the fun and timing), frequent keynote speaking and a bit of side mentoring of a couple of young innovators (we all have to do our bit to give back). I am fortunate to have two spectacular teams and an office that feels more like family. They have been incredibly supportive through a tough time (as was my board), particularly as I often battled this alone a fair bit while my other half travelled the world to spread the Spring Sheep Milk word (that’s a whole other bottle of craziness right there).
Of course, co-parenting three growing kids and keeping the household humming are pretty big jobs too. What wonderful kids we have who have given an endless supply of hugs as required. They have done their jobs brilliantly. So, yup, it’s been full on. Nope, it wasn’t always smart and it certainly wasn’t always pretty.
But I made it. We made it. And despite sometimes feeling like a total lunatic, I am proud of myself. I haven’t always made the best decisions, some have been plain questionable. I’m pretty sure that I haven’t been that easy to live with (understatement of the year, according to some biased individuals), and at times I’ve been far too hard on myself. But I still got up and showed up, I’ve fought to be happy and to keep giving 100% to everything. This, to me, is the definition of having made it.
I often take pause and consider my life. It’s important to do – I want to wag the tail, not have it wag me. And I feel proud of all that I have done. I do have to remember to be kinder to myself (and Scottie) and allow myself a moment or two of reflection. Just last month I said to Scottie, “if I were to be told that I only had a month to live, I think I could honestly say that I have lived and I am proud of what I have achieved in my time”. Over the 17 years that I have been creating businesses, I have discovered wonderful talents, helped mould and launch their careers, sent them off into the world and watched them grow (and coaxed a few back as they returned to the motherland – aka the amazing Bonnie). I have developed brands that have hundreds of thousands of followers and now give so much back to the wider community than what I set up initially. And whilst that sounds like “just the work stuff”, I’ve loved and laughed and gone on so many adventures. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all self congratulatory. I know I have made many, many, many mistakes – but I have lived to tell the tales and worked out how to only make them a few times. I have grown and matured in ways that even I am surprised by.
And it’s this unrelenting determination to continue to believe that I’m making it – completely and utterly independent of a $1b cheque – that is why I am the good horse to back. I come at it from a POV that’s about so much more. I’m hungry, authentic, passionate and constantly thinking. Even when I’m knocked down, I get back up again. And again. And again. I dust off, regroup and reengage. I’ve just had a brutal street fight with IVF and it thinks it won. It didn’t. It may have sucked some joy out of my life for a while, but today I showed it the big finger by turning up with a smile on my face and running the entire freaking loop without stopping.
Being an entrepreneur is a title I have struggled with for most of my career. It’s somewhat subjective and can often be open to interpretation and definition by others (like I experienced yesterday). We don’t have the same parameters as others usually get to have in their more traditional jobs which help them stay focused and motivated. We’re often reliant on being self motivated and expected to be super human in our tenacity, determination, inspiration and passion for an outcome, most often in times that are utterly trying and quite frankly ludicrous and that’s without adding the sort of additional dimensions I described above.
We need entrepreneurs to be an innovative country and keep standing tall on a world stage that often feels out of our reach. We need to be ENCOURAGED TO PUNCH ABOVE OUR WEIGHT. It is essential that our investment communities are supportive, even if not financially, of the people who are doing the impossible daily. Even if you don’t believe in their vision, you can still offer one positive piece of advice.
That doesn’t cost you a cent.