When everything is racing forward at such a high pace, it’s very hard to stop and reevaluate your goals or even check on how much you have achieved already or how much you have grown. Regardless, I have found a spare moment and would like to share with you my own personal journey of how entrepreneurship helped me to grow personally as well as professionally.
It all started back in 2015. When we first launched the Year of the X business (essentially an innovation and startup festival), it was all about combining our passion and purpose with a commercial model that would pay the bills. Well, I am sure you guessed it — initially, it didn’t pay the bills. We were off to a rocky start. Even though the community resonated with the unconventional character of the festival, it was still a long shot to a sustainable business model. So, like any Startup, we struggled along. Doing 3 festivals in 3 different cities at such an early stage didn’t help either — and in a hindsight was madness.
Coming from an agency and corporate background this whole thing was one hell of a ride for me. If you are used to your monthly paycheck, 6 weeks of holidays and social security then life feels somewhat easier. Of course I had some savings, but I had to make a serious personal cash investment into the business in the mid/late 2015 to keep it going. The emotional roller coaster that comes with all the existential worries is hard to describe: sleepless nights, anxiety and 60 to 80 hour work weeks. In a talk I recently gave in Berlin, I called this the Bipolarity of a Startup. The highs are often really high and the lows are really low. And it affects everything: your relationships, your family and of course your capacity to take time off and be mindful. Talking of which — this is really contradictory. I believe many choose the path of the entrepreneur in order to be more flexible and in control of their own time. In reality, this is an illusion — all we are getting is the chance to take off whenever we want to, but we often struggle to fulfill this promise. Instead, the constant need to solve problems at any day of the week keeps growing exponentially. And so you never really take advantage of the newborn freedom. Plus, you start realizing that you have physical and mental limits.
Things started looking brighter in 2016 though. Not, by any means, in the sense of a hockey stick type scenario, but we did turn a slight profit. I still didn’t pay myself a salary then but, at least, the business was not losing money anymore and we could hire staff. So, we felt encouraged. We had to make many decisions. We simply could not afford any speakers who would charge a speaker’s fee at that time, yet we had to convince them to join us regardless. Some of them loved the concept and came along from places as far as Australia and the U.S, yet others were not able to do it. Sometimes, this meant we had to make compromises in terms of speaker quality as well as some of the logistical decisions. Despite the fact that we had turned the corners, the business was still in a vulnerable state. What kept me going was the visualization of what could be and the feedback from different people. The attendee numbers kept growing, however we needed to scale faster. In 2017, after Year of the Rooster, we had to take a difficult but important decision — we decided to run just one big festival per year and use the additional time to focus extensively on speaker quality and other ways to create an outstanding experience. Plus, we created the Future Academy as an additional income source, which is growing nicely.
The most important thing I learned along the way was to regulate my internal emotional states. You never know what is around the corner. Things might look grim one day but that does not mean there is no real opportunity building up somewhere in the background. And equally, things might look rosy now but that could change within the hour. So, keeping a realistic perspective on your life seems like a good idea. To keep this perspective and stay emotionally sane, I am doing an hourly routine every morning from 6 to 7 where I meditate, do Yoga and conduct basic forms of visualization. This might seem like an impossible task when you feel so much under the water but if you learn how to establish this as a daily routine just like brushing your teeth then I promise this will be worth while your effort regardless of whether you are an entrepreneur or an employee struggling with corporate politics. Tim Ferris claims that over 80% of the celebrities and high achievers he interviewed for his podcast practice some form of meditation.
As an entrepreneur, you can never rest. Even though some things worked really well, there were others which needed to change. Elon Musk recently said in an interview that as an entrepreneur you need to relentlessly seek feedback from others even if it hurts badly. There were a couple of ideas in my head already what we could do differently but they were vague and still felt “foggy”. So, we dug deeper. Over the Christmas break, I went to Bamberg, the city where I completed my masters degree. I met up with my great friends Peter and Antonio from Australia and we used some of the time to strategize and nut out a cunning plan for the next festival in April. It is my belief that this constant drive of reinventing yourself is a really important ingredient for successful entrepreneurship. In an age where knowledge has a short half-life, the one quality we should foster is embracing change.