For many people, running a startup or working for one is a dream come true. Seen as a modern-day Gold Rush, the idea of the startup is synonymous with creating, innovating, leading, and possibly making gobs of money. While the word “startup” has been buzzing for a while now, the trend seems to still be gathering steam. 2015 saw the biggest year-to-year increase in startups since 2010 with 130.6 startups for every 100,000 people in the United States alone.
Still, working for one or helming one is no easy task. The hours are long. The pay can be paltry, and maintaining faith in the original vision can become daunting. If you’re starting to wonder what all the effort is for, take heart and read on. Here are five ways to stay motivated when your startup is still “starting up.”
1. Find Stories From Those Who’ve Been There
Not everyone strikes startup gold like Mark Zuckerberg, but there are plenty of people who have struck startup silver, and the rewards of all their hard work can still inspire. No one has it easy when trying to get a startup off the ground, and it can be amazingly refreshing to hear stories of woe, failure, and eventual success from someone who has burned the candle at both ends like you’re currently doing. Read books from people who made it through the tough first phase to launch a successful business. Book a seat listening to a startup innovator from the LAI Speakers Bureau or hire one for everyone in your company to draw inspiration from. In whatever way you can, put yourself in the way of stories that make you believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.
2. Make a Gratitude List
It may sound cheesy, but fostering an attitude of thankfulness will be a boon to your quality of life during the first stage of any startup. So write down the things for which you’re grateful. From the quality of the education your parents paid for to the cat that greets you when you finally make it back to your apartment every other day, record everything that has contributed to the good parts of your life. Post it where you can see it at each day while you work, and you’ll keep those occasional bouts of despair to a minimum.
3. Make It Meaningful
When you’re sitting at a laptop writing code for 18 hours straight, it can be hard to remember whether or not what you’re up to is meaningful. Are you just a machine writing out string after string of characters, or is there a larger purpose toward which you are working? Meaningful work is an essential part of happiness for most people, and if you aren’t regularly remembering why the startup you’re working with is a meaningful endeavor, your motivation will languish. Whether your current work is a steppingstone to a bigger prize or you truly believe in the work of the little company you’re serving, keep your focus on what makes the effort matter.
4. Set Goals Inside of Goals
What are the big goals your startup is currently working toward? Securing another round of venture capital? Hiring someone to take over all the marketing your founder is currently trying to fit in to her schedule? Whatever your goals, set smaller ones within them to foster a sense of accomplishment and provide you with momentum.
If you’re trying to get $3 million in venture capital, set goals for each $250,000 along the way. If your goal is to finally hire a marketing director, set a goal of writing a job description and posting it. Small goals can make the work easier, and easier work has a way of getting done.
5. Remember the Alternatives
One key to staying motivated is to remember the alternatives you may have to turn to if the startup you’re working with isn’t successful, because no matter how good your idea is or solid your work ethic, failure is always lurking, especially in today’s business environment. Instead of letting that reality depress you, use it as fuel.
If what you have to fall back on is something you don’t want to do anymore — regardless of whether it’s a short history working in retail or a long history being a nanny — remembering it will help you more thoroughly apply yourself to the task at hand: succeeding at all costs.
Staying motivated at a startup is easy — for a time. Keep enough gas in the tank with these five tips, and you’ll renew your faith and your effort on a regular basis.