No matter what your business, launching a startup will undoubtedly leave you with more advice than you can possibly use. Family, friends, advisors and anyone you've ever known will try to tell you what they think, what decisions you should make and what your logo should look like. Some of this advice is great and a lot of it is terrible. All too often, however, entrepreneurs forget the most importance voice of all: our own. We listen to others instead of tuning into ourselves, leaving us with conflicting ideas and clouded vision. This is the story of my entrepreneurial voice and how I found it when outside pressure seemed the strongest.
After climbing up corporate ladders and sprinting through the rat race, I decided I wanted to spend my days doing something personally meaningful and fulfilling. I set my sights on the power of technology to affect change on a massive scale. It was 2010 and I saw non-profits shutting their doors and slashing services just when they were needed most. I wanted to improve the online fundraising experience for non-profits, and imagined a world where donating to a cause online meant more than just entering in your credit card details.
I had zero experience in tech. I used Yahoo for my homepage, well before Marissa Mayer took the helm. I thought Java meant coffee and C++ was a typo for a bad grade. But with a clear vision of what I wanted to create and an inner voice telling me to go for it, I dove in.
Over the course of one year I was burned by nine different engineers. Each promised it would take about 6 weeks to code my platform and swore my experience would be much better with them than with the last -- before ignoring my calls or disappearing altogether. Along with other hires, I had spent over $25,000 of my own money bootstrapping the business and didn't have a whole lot to show for it outside of a website and some spaghetti code when I arrived at Thanksgiving with my family.
Over the course of the four-day holiday, every one of my family members found time to pull me aside and -- looking like my dog had just died -- suggest that I give up my company and go work for someone else. Why don't you learn on someone else's dime? You really don't know what you are doing! I hear Google has amazing benefits. I listened to each and thanked them for their concern, but I already knew my path. I had faith that, in spite of all the setbacks, I was in the right place. I was earning my stripes. I didn't have any accolades, promotions or flashy deal closings to share with my family, but I was conquering the most exciting challenge of my career. My own voice won out.
The last night of vacation I received an email from an advisor who had been helping me develop a concept for a new venture. He had met an entrepreneur working on a similar idea and wanted to connect us. On my drive home the following day, I rang the entrepreneur; the call dropped 18 times over the course of four hours -- but we kept calling each other back. We had a mind meld, a vision sync, and over the course of the next two weeks I made the hard decision to table my first venture and co-found Everest. One month later, on New Year's Day, we received our first investor check -- from legendary PayPal founder Peter Thiel.
Each of us has an internal compass that knows what is right for ourselves. There is so much noise from society, family, and friends that we often don't connect with our own true voice, and yet that true voice is the driving force behind our success. At their core, beyond the technology and creative business plans, the best startups are reflections of who their founders are and what they truly believe. (If you can't tell who believes what at first, long nights and stressful meetings will soon make it obvious.) Sometimes the best path forward, in business and in life, is to stop for a second, quiet your mind, and focus inward.