2014.09.25 Riding a Lion

Many of the people who move to Silicon Valley come because of the start ups. Either they work in one or they want to found their own.

Entrepreneurship is what the Valley is known for. But it naturally also means that the people attracted to coming here may not be your average cross section of the population. We probably have a higher rate of dreamers.

Lately, increased focus has been put on how founding a company, even a successful one, may not be sheer bliss. The New York Times had this article in their Sunday paper about the SaaS employee-benefits company Zenefits, describing a continuous series of emergencies caused by growth. And that is only one article among many.

Another article from Inc. Magazine was shared 137 thousand times and won a prestigious award for describing the volatile nature of entrepreneurs' egos and how difficult it is to talk about the insecurities. It must have hit a nerve.

Very descriptively, entrepreneurship was phrased along this line: "It's like a man riding a lion. People think, 'This guy's brave.' And he's thinking, 'How the h*** did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?"

In the NYT article, that is more or less how Parker Conrad, Zenefits' CEO, describes his feelings. And many would think: "Problems from growth? What a luxury!"

Why am I writing about this on an expat website?

When we are stressed out, we are often pretty unbearable. We become more aggressive, our decisions are not as good, we eat more, we sleep badly, our health suffers. You do not want to become a liability to your fledgling startup.

If you were local and had a good network, putting all the stress from a startup on yourself might be one thing. You would have friends and family you could lean on and who might "ground" you.

But if you have just moved here and either don't have a trusted network yet - and I mean trusted in the way that you can tell them that you feel you are riding on a lion - or if the family you brought over is already stressed out due to culture shock, you are in a particularly vulnerable situation.

If you come from a culture where "failure is not an option" you may be worse off than the Americans who more often look at failure as part of their entrepreneurial education. Here it is "success doesn't happen unless you try."

If your very presence in USA is hinged upon success because you are on an investor visa, that adds stress, too. Make sure that you have not mixed personal and business finances too much and still have money for the trip home.

That sounds more morose than helpful, so I will point to the very useful advise ending the Inc. article: Get your exercise.

You are located close to some of the most beautiful nature so take advantage of it. Incorporate "walk and talk" in your meetings when possible. It brings more oxygen to your brain and you and your walking partner may actually make better decisions. It is also less threatening than facing each other over a conference table and talking to employees this way can help them open up.

If you haven't already gotten real friends, make that a priority. Somebody who can relate to riding lions and who has "been there, done that" can be helpful.

You can share the Inc. article with a candidate and see how a discussion plays out, if you are not quite sure how vulnerable you can be with that person. You may be surprised how opening up a little can improve your mutual feelings of relatedness.

If necessary, hire an executive coach. They have heard it all before. And unlike your family back home, they may not think you are weird just because you have big dreams.