In March this year, Som Parkash, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, revealed that there are 66,359 startups recognised under the Startup India initiative. In fact, two to three startups are born every day in the country.
Supriya Paul, Co-founder and CEO of media platform Josh Talks says:
“It is gratifying to see how India’s attitude towards entrepreneurship has evolved and matured over the years.” However, she adds that there isn’t a lot of conversation about the loneliness a founder faces at each stage of entrepreneurship.
The Indian startup ecosystem and individuals associated with it often hear how it tends to get lonely at the top. Amid all the decision-making and facing the consequences of those decisions, startup founders find themselves isolated and alone in their entrepreneurial journeys.
When entrepreneur coach Christina Richardson surveyed founders regarding their mental health in 2019, she found out that hundreds of founders used ‘lonely’ to describe their mental state. And it seems to have only gotten worse since then, thanks to the pandemic.
Furthermore, another recent study conducted by UC Berkeley found that 72 percent of entrepreneurs self-reported mental health concerns. Entrepreneurs were more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30 percent), ADHA (29 percent), bipolar diagnosis (11 percent), and substance use conditions (12 percent).
“Being an entrepreneur is a gruelling job with a mountain of responsibilities. Often, developing new products, running a business, and growing a team can feel like an uphill battle. There is a greater risk of failure and new challenges every day, which can sometimes leave you jaded and make you feel quite lonely,” Supriya adds.
With this in mind, Entrepreneurship 101 is focusing on how startup founders can deal with loneliness at work.
Identify the signs early
While there are no standard signs of loneliness, startup founders should be aware of some of the symptoms, like sleeping disorders, anxiety, stress, and even indulging in compulsive behaviours.
Moreover, one should “Work in an area that you are truly passionate about. The happiness that you get out of working will negate loneliness,” says Sonica Aron, Founder and Managing Partner of Marching Sheep.
Equip yourself with the right tools
Once the early signs are identified, it is important to equip oneself with the right tools to deal with loneliness. Taking good care of oneself – eating well and exercising regularly, along with spending quality time with family and friends — can help one recharge better.
More importantly, startup founders should never compromise on ‘me-time’.
“Whatever you may do in that me-time, it is yours and yours alone — not with family, not with friends, not with your emails and laptop,” says Sonica.
The founder of the HR consulting firm says that entrepreneurs should earmark 30 minutes to an hour every day to do something they love or do nothing at all.
Amit Das, Founder of Electric One Mobility, plays golf to soothe his mind, and indulges in yoga to refocus.
Madhusudhan Parikh, Founder and MD of Artiste Handcrafted ice-cream, says that he goes for walks by himself to move away “from my own thoughts of loneliness”.
Have a venting partner
Irrespective of which industry or field one works on, it becomes essential to have individuals to fall back on, when the going gets tough. It could be a co-founder, a mentor, a colleague, or advisor, a friend or even someone from the family.
On this, Supriya believes that having a mentor and a co-founder who complements your strengths and weaknesses is critical. “I am fortunate to have a strong support system in Shobhit (Banga),” she says, adding, “While we both work on focusing on different verticals within Josh, it is really helpful to have someone who is at a similar stage of their entrepreneurial journey, someone who you can relate to and find easy to communicate with. Apart from this, having a close network of mentors and advisors has really eased my entrepreneurial journey.”
Similarly, Amit believes that entrepreneurs should try and have people who can bring some strength into their weak zones and positivity in their life.
One cannot argue about the benefits of networking. Connections built by startup founders may invite a potential partner, co-founder, or even investor. Building a network of like-minded people also ensures that one never feels alone. Especially during challenging times.
Supriya believes that being a part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, it is essential for startup founders to grow and nurture an online community of like-minded individuals. “I have formed some close relationships, and found sound advice and mentors by networking with people, online and offline,” she adds.
Similarly, Amit, who has co-founders from varied backgrounds and countries, says that by bringing diversity to a company, they have a lot to talk about, learn, and keep themselves engaged with.
“I do a series of interactions with my teammates and senior managers at offsites that keeps me engaged and rejuvenated,” he adds.
Ask for help
During difficult times, one may all the more seem to be alone in their journey. However, talking to like-minded people will only make one realise that they are not alone. Startup founders should never shy away from seeking help — from their teams or peers. It is not always easy to figure it out all by oneself, having a strong team always makes the road easier.
Entrepreneurship comes with its own set of challenges, but it is essential for startup founders to choose their battles. Fighting on all fronts only exhausts one and draws away energy that founders should put into building their business. They should focus on the longer mission or goal and dedicate all their energy towards it while allowing the team to deal with the rest.
“Choose your team carefully and make sure they buy into your purpose and vision. Working with a team that resonates the same values makes it easier,” agrees Sonica.
She further adds that a founder should be transparent and open about their vulnerabilities with the core team. “Trust me, they will surprise you with their understanding,” she says.
“Just remind yourself that you are not alone! I probably learned this lesson a little late but I strongly believe that it is always okay to ask for help,” Supriya says.
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