Continuing the Startup Lessons series I would like to share some of my personal insights into what drives startup success. I credit almost everything I achieved in the past 4 years to Kundalini Yoga practice and my teacher Sat Jivan Singh. Of course, when I stepped on the entrepreneurial path I had lots of skills and experience, but none of it would bring me here if I wasn’t in the “yogi state of mind”.
The difference between any other type of yoga and Kundalini, is that the later focuses on the energy flow more than anything, or in the words of Yogi Bhajan (the first person to introduce the system to the West in 1968) it’s "The energy of the glandular system combines with the nervous system to become more sensitive so that the totality of the brain perceives signals and interprets them."
It’s not a coincidence that Yogi Bhajan’s Wikipedia page describes him as a “charismatic spiritual leader and successful entrepreneur” – most of his lessons are extremely relevant to any seasoned or aspiring entrepreneurs. I will try to describe the various effects of yoga on my life as a company founder in the future posts, and would like to start with one of the first lessons I learned. Not surprisingly, it’s the first step in Yogi Bhajan’s “Seven Steps to Happiness”. The first step is COMMITMENT.
I think it’s the most important thing for any new venture you start. Will you be able to commit to it fully for a long period of time? It might sounds easy, but I see many people around me underestimate the power of commitment. I see people jump from one idea to another, from one business model to another, from one branding to another, lacking commitment. The truth is every single idea in this world has a chance to succeed, only if you spend enough time exploring it, researching, building, optimizing and eventually monetizing. Yes, it might change visually and textually, but if you are committed to the core idea and its execution – you will find a way to make it work.
It’s so easy to come up with excuses why something didn’t work, and it’s much harder to commit pouring all your energy into making something work. Don’t get me wrong, I myself suffered from lack of commitment in the past few years as an entrepreneur, but what I found was when I stuck to something long enough, and was persistent enough, it usually worked. Yes, it took me long months and even years, but isn’t anything significant takes years to achieve? We are so used to this fast paced reality online, when trends change so quickly, companies come and go and users are always on the lookout for the next thing. But if you look at the most successful companies out there – it took them years to get where they are, and if you look at most founders’ bios it took years before then, and sometimes many failures on the way, to get where they are.
When people ask me how is it that I succeeded to do X and Y, mostly my answer is I’ve been persistent and doing it long enough to make it work, at any price. Sometimes sacrificing my sleep, my financial savings and sometimes even personal life… I spent total of 10 years building my career in the online media, in various roles. 3 ½ of them were on my own, as an entrepreneur. It’s a long time period, by any means, and frankly I don’t even feel accomplished… yet. But this is the choice I’ve made – I’ve committed to my business like most people commit to a marriage or a family. And I believe this is the only way to make it work.
What I also noticed is how the low points became starters for new and better things to come. They are essentially part of the experience and I learned to look at them as obstacles that eventually lead to something bigger and better, once I stop looking at them negatively. Thanks to my commitment, I have a strong sense of my path and truly believe every single experience is leading me there – be it positive or negative from the outside.
People tend to look at your accomplishments and see the end result, without realizing all the struggles and obstacles you had to overcome. Best example for me would be the Fashion 2.0 meetups I’ve been organizing for more than 2 years now. Yes, it looks like a success story right now, but not many people know how many of our first events looked like a failure to me. There was one time, at the very beginning, when about 40 people RSVPd for an event and barely 8 showed up. I was devastated and wanted to shut down the entire thing. I’m glad I didn’t… Something kept me going, learning from that mistake and making sure to bring interesting speakers and have a better focus at the next events.
Another low point was back in 2008 – the toughest year for most startups, not to mention those in the fashion space. We failed to raise another round of funding for It Designer – the first crowdsourced fashion line – after our seed money, raised from couple of angel investors, was spent. The choice was to leave my entrepreneurial dreams aside and go back to the corporate world, or somehow start making revenue. This is when my second startup – Style Coalition – was born, and this is what I’m most passionate about today, focusing almost my entire time on and seeing amazing results. It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have that low point, which made me realize how committed I am to stay independent and have my own business, even if it’s different from what I started.
I admit if someone would have told me 3 ½ years ago it’s going to take so long to get to this point, I’m not sure I would have ever started, but now I’m fully committed to this journey and feel more alive than ever.