It seems that in the recent years entrepreneurs are the new rock stars. Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur, business schools are shifting towards entrepreneurship curriculums, and more and more incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, events and conferences are popping up.
Entrepreneurship is the new hip.
In a previous article on INC.com Adam Vaccaro described how he feels about the attitude in the business world towards entrepreneurship and companies: “There’s a term I particularly enjoy for this attitude that romanticizes ‘sexy’ companies, ‘sexy’ stories, and ‘sexy’ ideas. It’s entrepreneurship porn.” I couldn’t agree more. Many people I talk to want to be entrepreneurs and the glorification of entrepreneurs by the media and public just boosts the number of people who are attracted to this world. To manage your own business, own time and change the world – that’s a dream.
I started my entrepreneurial journey when I was young…I never considered myself as an entrepreneur as I associated entrepreneurship with the amount of money I had in the bank and as well as having crazy amounts of success. Since I did not have a lot from both, I didn’t think of myself as an entrepreneur.
I have been through the entrepreneurial journey; raising money, losing money, starting companies, closing companies, hiring people and firing them. There were ups and downs.
The latter was more frequent. I remember sleepless nights, stress, and bad eating habits and worrying all the time – at the age of 30 I already had few white hairs! My sister told me once “Bro, you’ve lost your smile – what’s happened to you?” and it hit me – the entrepreneurial life demands emotional and mental sacrifices – a lot of these. In many ways I felt alone. Nobody prepared me for these feelings, situations, and way of life.
You are probably wondering why I am sharing all of this. It’s not that I want you to feel sorry for me, not at all; and it’s not that I don’t want to encourage people to pursue this journey. I learned a lot from these experiences and it is an amazing life to have. I don’t see myself doing something else. Today I now know these feelings and situations are part of the entrepreneurial journey.
I’m sharing my journey because several weeks ago I read about Austen Heinz’s suicide. Heinz, the founder and CEO of Cambrian Genomics, took his own life in May at the age of 31. Other tech entrepreneurs who have taken their own life include Jody Sherman, Ecomom Founder and longtime web entrepreneur, Aaron Swartz, Reddtit co-founder and Ilya Zhitomirskiy, founder of Diaspora.
I’m sharing because I believe there is a way to help more entrepreneurs on their journey, and I believe that incubators and accelerators are two players that can assist entrepreneurs with the difficult journey.
I spoke with many entrepreneurs who have participated in incubation and acceleration programs, startups competitions, or startups weekends – you name it. What I have noticed is that the majority of these programs and events are focused on the hard skills (sorry these which aren’t, I can’t know all the incubators in the world but would love to know! so write me!). More marketing, growth hacking technics, financials, pitching and acquiring customers. Hard skills – again and again.
Now I’m not saying these types of skills are not important, they are, but let me suggest another point of view.
Many entrepreneurs are dealing with anxiety, stress, depression, self-image problems and other mental or physical problems. Actually in a recent study by Dr. Michael Freeman, psychiatrist and psychologist from the University of California in San Francisco, self-reported mental health concerns were present across 72% of the entrepreneurs in his sample (I would claim the number is much higher but it’s not cool to have mental problems in the startup world so I would assume people just were not transparent enough with their answers).
Now, if I had an incubator or accelerator it would be structured a bit differently.. How different? I would obviously put effort into honing the hard skills, but I would have a larger focus on the soft skills.
I want to establish my future incubator on an idea I learned from James Altucher, one of my favorite entrepreneurs, and a successful one who sold few companies among them Stockpickr. Altusher helped me clarify for myself what’s important to pay attention to on this journey (Thanks James! You should listen to his podcasts and read his blog and books). Altucher’s Daily Practice focuses on important areas that everyone should pay attention to: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of one’s life. Altucher claims, and I agree, that if you pay attention to these four areas in your life, you have a better chance of succeeding on your entrepreneurial journey. I want to take these four areas and use them in my hypothetical future incubator, let’s call it “ArtianSpace”. How I’m going to use it? Like this.
Besides having professionals coaching for the hard skills, “ArtianSpace” will also have a psychologist. One that can help the entrepreneurs in tough times, and trust me they are going to have lots of these moments. The psychologist will prepare them and help them build mental strength in order to survive this journey so that one will not lose them self along the way. They will have an open door for someone who can understand and help them. We will encourage and create the atmosphere for one on one intimate conversations with other founders to share thoughts. Personal ones, not business ones.
A trainer and nutritionist will also be alongside the psychologist. The entrepreneurial journey is like a marathon. While the image of an entrepreneur eating cold pizza and drinking Red-Bull or coffee is nice and may be cool, I’ve never seen a marathon runner who trains with these types of eating habits. Entrepreneurs should be physically healthy as well; there is this saying “healthy mind in a healthy body.” So yes, in the “ArtianSpace” incubator, entrepreneurs will have the ability to practice indoor and work with the professionals on their physical health.
How many growth hacking, develop your product, or how to get customer events have you seen? A hundred? A thousand? A hundred thousand? Maybe if lectures and conversations presented by scientists, artists, or writers could open a new way of thinking and could also increase creativity and challenge the entrepreneurs at the same time. This is the spiritual aspect I’m referring to. One example of a program similar to what I am describing is run by Second Home, Co-working space based in London. Second Home is a host to these type of events, –– music shows, behavioral economists’ lectures, scientific discussions and more. Their approach is one I really respect and appreciate.
How about bringing in professional life coaches? These life coaches will assist with the emotional aspect. They can provide the entrepreneurs with objective assessments and observations that will enhance self-awareness and awareness of others. They can also help foster shifts in thinking that can help them reveal fresh perspectives, challenge blind spots, highlight positive aspects in their lives and help develop personal strengths and defined aspirations.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that a balanced and stable personal life is key to success in this amazing journey called “entrepreneurship.” The entrepreneurial life comes with risks, highs and lows. The compensation for yourself, the entrepreneur, is not only a materialistic one but also an emotional one – it is important to have a solid anchor; your personal life.
These are just simple ideas I believe can be implemented in startup and entrepreneurship programs. I believe that the incubators and accelerators purpose is to cultivate great entrepreneurs, not only great companies. Great entrepreneurs will go onto found great companies. I’m not positive we can say the opposite.
What do you think? Share your thoughts by email.
P.S: If you are interested in learning more about the Daily Practice, you can see this chart created by Kevin Elliot depicting James Altucher’s Daily Practice.