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The Business Of Anxiety In Business: Giving Heroes Permission To Feel Vulnerable

Lesley Williams, Helen During and Marc Feitelberg have all built successful businesses from the ground up. They have also all experienced anxiety and depression along the way. Many entrepreneurs would relate to their stories. But the stigma attached to mental illness has prevented many from speaking out. Is it time for mental health issues to come out of the closet?

Sarah-Anne Alman

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Entrepreneurs need a bit of crazy

Lesley Williams is Chief Executive Officer of Tshimologong Digital Precinct in Johannesburg. She had initiated various ventures over the years, including the first Impact Hub in Africa. In 2015, Lesley came to a grinding halt. Her business partner absconded, the business was in flux, her health failed, her social infrastructure dried up and a bus smashed into her car. The individual events caused a perfect storm, triggering burnout and depression. It took five months of soul-searching, counselling and crying before she gradually began to rebuild her life.

“Entrepreneurs sign up for a lifestyle that requires a bit of crazy,” she says.

“We get so caught up in the obsessive task of building our business, taking responsibility for the livelihoods of others. When you play at this level, you’re constantly telling others how awesome you are – you’re the hero in the organisation.” But ultimately, she says, every entrepreneur has the same level of human vulnerability.

Related: Deepak Chopra’s 7 Ways To Reduce Stress And Anxiety

What goes up must come down

Integral coach and facilitator Helen During relates to this. Her aromatherapy business was a nine-year overnight success, selling products around the world. “As an entrepreneur you’re driven by a pulse. There’s nothing to stop you, despite the pressure of turning a profit without a cash flow.” In During’s case that pulse manifested physically. “I was so driven, but I would wake up with heart palpitations and fibrillations.” During sold the business when she realised just how much her health was compromised.

Anxiety, she says, is a consequence of a rapidly changing, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. “Uncertainty can cause anxiety. For entrepreneurs, our success is defined by our results and our results are defined by our actions. Anxiety is a gentle nudge – a reminder to stop and reflect,” says During.

In the rush of achieving success, she explains, “it’s important to create places of reflection and physical places of nourishment. This is valuable time for strategic planning that will bring about greater certainty and longevity in the business. That’s how you build resilience.”

The trap of the whiz-kid

Williams also talks about resilience as a key component, but with a tone of caution: “Entrepreneurship is a respected club, but it’s also a very isolated existence. All eyes are on you, because what you’re doing is not the norm. A pioneering entrepreneur’s success can be very public. But when the business hits a rocky path it can be difficult to admit to vulnerability or failure. Instead, those feelings are supressed. Some might interpret that as resilience, but I don’t think it’s healthy. I call it the trap of the whiz-kid.”

“The question is, is the individual resilient enough to withstand obstacles? Symptoms of depression and anxiety manifest when resilience is absent,” says Marc Feitelberg, psychologist and founder of the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP). He has first-hand experience of dealing with obstacles. Battles on several fronts threatened to destroy his dream of establishing a psychology school, sapping him of all internal and financial resources. But, he says, he was driven by a deep conviction and belief in his vision for the business.

Related: 12 Apps To Help Ease Anxiety

How are you serving your why?

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“Entrepreneurship is a risky business. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone, so it’s important to know what are the best conditions to help you achieve your goals.” Feitelberg suggests that internal and external conditions play a part in helping entrepreneurs find the equilibrium to support their appetite for risk.

External conditions relate to the ability to meet financial requirements. Internal conditions, he explains, are the entrepreneur’s mental state. “Depression arises when people aren’t doing what they love – irrespective of whether they’re a corporate employee or an entrepreneur,” says Feitelberg.

During agrees: “It’s so important to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. How are you serving and sustaining that ‘why’?”

Symptoms of depression and anxiety range from lack of sleep to anger outbursts, eating disorders and addictive behaviours. “Depression is not the enemy,” says Feitelberg, “it’s a signal. The trick is to understand what the signal is for. What is triggering the depression?” While the mix of symptoms and triggers differ between individuals, there is a commonality: “Often the individual recognises a need to integrate planned or recent changes into their life, or they are overwhelmed by unexpected changes.” When this happens, it’s important to acknowledge the vulnerability and ask for help from trusted supporters, says Feitelberg.

Exposing the elephants in the room

Many entrepreneurs find that difficult, however. Williams say that “the narrative around depression and anxiety needs to change – they’re the elephants in the room.”

Feitelberg refers to the shame associated with mental health issues. “Society has imposed a culture that requires individuals to manage their emotional issues on their own,” he says.

“Admitting the business is in trouble heightens anxiety because of the sense of shame attached to it. The truth is that it’s okay to be honest about failure or vulnerability; to own the emotion,” adds Williams.

That said, Feitelberg suggests that mental health is becoming less of a taboo subject. He refers to the plethora of articles, podcasts, books and videos that populate mainstream business content. This makes it easier for individuals to see that they are not alone in feeling what they feel and to ask for help.

Related: 4 Stress-Management Tips For Reducing Anxiety And Getting More Done

How can incubators help?

Individual networks and the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem can help too. Incubators, for example, have a role to play in recognising that entrepreneurs are, ultimately, human beings.

“Incubators need to be very intentional in their belief and support,” says Williams. At the same time, she says, it’s also important to establish supportive models that can facilitate exit strategies when required. “Don’t provide oxygen when it’s clear that the business model won’t succeed.” says Williams.

Programming is important too. Events that facilitate interactions beyond the business model or pitching can bring more interpersonal support into the incubator environment.

You are your business

During concludes with a note about self-care through good nutrition, exercise and taking time out for thinking, reflection and planning. “Look at the bigger picture: you are your business. You need to invest in yourself to create the right balance that will sustain the possibilities for it to succeed.”

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Start-up Advice

6 Resources For Start-ups Looking For Funding

Here are 6 online resources that can help you pay the bills and grow your business at the same time.

Josh Althuser

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Anyone who has ever considered starting their own business, or is currently in the process of doing so, knows that every little bit helps when it comes to making ends meet. Part of the charm of start-up culture is the low-budget creative atmosphere that seems to continually fuel innovation. But, eventually you’re going to have to keep the lights on and water running, and you can’t do that with creativity alone.

Whether you are a business that is just starting out, or already well on your way, there are plenty of online platforms that offer start-ups advice and funding opportunities. Here are 6 online resources that can help you pay the bills and grow your business at the same time.

1. Kickstarter

kickstarter-logoAt one point it seemed that anyone with a clever idea could make a video showing why the world should invest in the next big thing. While a lot of crazy projects have gotten funded over the years, utilising a crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter continues to be a viable way to get your project off the ground. Of course, if you want to reach your funding goals, it’s best that you have already done your market research, have a solid plan, and treat crowdfunding like a global VC.

Visit Kickstarter here.

Related: 4 Tips To Secure Funding For Your Start-up

2. Toptal

toptal-logoThose who are new to the start-up world might not know exactly where to start when it comes to looking for funding. While the freelance economy has grown immensely in the last 5 years, it’s important to know where to look.

Platforms like Toptal offer a wide range of freelance professionals that specialise start-up funding. Start-ups seeking a consultant on Toptal can also rest easy knowing that they carefully screen each candidate, ensuring they have the necessary professional background and experience to guarantee a successful project. 

Visit Toptal here.

3. Appbackr

appbackrIf you couldn’t already tell by the name, appbacker is definitely worth checking out if you are a start-up working in app technology for both Android and Iphone. The platform helps people discover different apps through the crowdsourcing model. Investors can scroll through apps from around the world, and if they like what they see, they can choose to invest. Funding incentive is based on an investor’s ability to purchase an app at the wholesale price, eventually making a profit once the app starts flying off the shelves in the official app store.

Visit Appbackr here.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

4. Gust

Gust logoInvestors are more likely to invest locally, which is why Gust is an attractive option for start-ups around the world, as they represent over eighty countries worldwide. Founded by a team of investors and lawyers, Gust knows their way around the start-up world.

With portals for both start-ups and investors, the platform seamlessly connects those seeking funds and those looking to invest. Start-ups can create a profile on Gust, and also have access to tools and tips to help them regulate finances and legal matters. 

Visit Gust here.

5. AngelList

angellist-logoNot just for investment, although that is a major part of the platform, AngelList is also a great place to find start-up jobs as well as recruitment. Those start-ups that are looking to expand can greatly benefit from this feature, while also getting their name out there to potential investors.

Their syndicate platform, led by technology experts make room for those who are looking to invest the chance to apply to a lead or directly invest in a fund.

Visit AngelList here.

Related: 6 Steps To Building A Million-Dollar Ecommerce Site In 60 Days

6. Seedrs

seedrs-logoFrom top corporations to big name accelerators, Seedrs aims to simplify the funding process for investors. Providing a vast network of investors from 48 different countries, who tap into an additionally impressive network of start-ups, there is plenty of room for collaboration on this platform. Seeders also encourages investors and start-ups to continue their relationship after the transaction is made. Their online and offline networks aim keep both start-ups and investors in the loop.

Depending at what stage of development your company has currently reached, exploring various funding options available to you is a worthwhile endeavour. Rather than blindly pitching investors, investigating each potential platform, whether it’s crowdfunding or a hiring a freelance funding expert, will save you time and resources so you can focus on the right type of investment based on your needs.

Visit Seedrs here.

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Picking Your Lane: Maximising Your Chances Of Success And Happiness

How do you choose? What do you prioritise? What’s right for me is almost certainly not right for you.

Anthony Miller

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Most entrepreneurs start businesses out of necessity.  They do what they have to.  They don’t think far ahead.  They fight fires every day.  They are the foundation of every economy all over the world.  Some succeed, some fail, few shoot the lights out.  Some are happy, some are not.

For me, there’s nothing more thrilling than building a business.  Seeing your ideas turn into reality.  Seeing your team exceed your expectations every day.  Seeing your customers’ lives improved by your products.

But, entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted.  You pour blood and sweat and tears into your business.  You get more than your fair share of punches in the nose.  It’s hard, but if you’re lucky and you persevere, the rewards are great.

So, how do you maximise your chances of getting into the ‘happy and shooting the lights out’ club?

Related: 9 Quotes Every Entrepreneur Should Live By

Picking the right lane – figuring out what you’re going to do – is probably the most important decision you’ll make.  Once you’ve figured that out, you can get down to the nitty gritty of picking your team and building your business.

But, how do you choose?  What do you prioritise?  What’s right for me is almost certainly not right for you.

sweet-spot-modelThe Sweet Spot Model, which has been drifting around the web for years, provides great guidance.  If you do what you love, the hard yards won’t feel like work.  If you do what you’re good at, you’ll beat or (even better) outstrip the competition.  If you provide something the world needs, you’ll feel a sense of purpose.  If someone will pay for it, you have a business.

When I co-founded Simply, I wanted to tick all 4 boxes AND work from Cape Town AND be extremely flexible (so I could prioritise family health).

I worked on three different ideas: A GIS-platform for solar and other utilities; a transaction platform for stokvels; and a cheeky online life insurance play.

The life insurance play quickly emerged as my best choice (it helped that my partners are top actuaries J):

  1. What I’m good at – doing start-ups, connecting people and teams, and using technology and data to solve business problems.
  2. What I love – working with people I like and trust to build businesses that solve hard problems and make the world a better place.
  3. What the world needs – most adult South Africans have one or more funeral policies. Few have life or disability cover and policies are often very expensive.  There’s a clear need for simple, convenient, well-priced life, disability and funeral cover.
  4. What someone will pay for – the market we’re targeting is huge – nearly R7.5Bn of new premium is written annually.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

With the stars lining up, we pressed the go button in early 2016.  It’s now twelve months since we launched to market and early signs are good:

  1. Our innovative, online products – Family Cover, Domestic Cover and Group Cover – have been well received and are improving all the time.
  2. We have an amazing, engaged team – inspired by the purpose of protecting vulnerable people.
  3. We’ve sold more than 4 500 policies to date, providing more than R2.5Bn of cover to more than 20,000 people.
  4. We’re based in Cape Town, working hard and having fun, and I seldom miss a swimming gala, netball game or opportunity to go mountain biking.

While picking the right lane is no guarantee of success, it definitely helps stack the odds in your favour. You’re going to need all the help you can get. So, take the time to pick your lane. I bet it’ll be worth the effort.

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Start-up Advice

9 Quotes Every Entrepreneur Should Live By

Entrepreneurship takes great perseverance. Failure is common. In fact, it is expected. Over 75% of venture-backed start-ups fail.

Jennifer Keithson

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Entrepreneurship takes great perseverance. Failure is common. In fact, it is expected. Over 75% of venture-backed start-ups fail.

There are great learning opportunities that present themselves when we fail, but we must be willing to continue on and try again in order to learn anything at all.

It can be quite an arduous task to strive for your own means, to create your own vision and to rally the support within yourself that starting and running your own business requires.

Thankfully, we’re not in it alone. The wisdom of others can greatly ameliorate the process learning from our missteps and hiccups.

Taking from sagacious investors, inventors and thinkers can help you pick yourself up and make something meaningful out of your quest to become a successful entrepreneur.

By studying the thought processes of other entrepreneurs, we can become more enriched and more aware of how to approach the challenges we face in business and in life.

Here are 9 quotes every entrepreneur should live by:

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