When startups face the moment of truth

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“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change.

You just come out the other side. Or you don’t.”

Stephen King

There’s nothing more gratifying that talking to someone who made it to the other side. I just met Joe — an entrepreneur and former client — who recently returned from a two-week bike trip around the West Coast.

Joe looks more relaxed now that he sold his company. He’s enjoying his transition, thinking about what’s next without the pressure of survival. But it wasn’t like that a few months ago.

Earlier this year, Joe couldn’t sleep well. He was stressed out, close to go bankrupt. Joe felt stuck in the middle of the river. When it’s getting too deep and the water is coming up fast is not fun.

But then things turned around like it happens when you are committed to your cause. Joe sold his company, canceled all his debts, and made some money. Sometimes, having things fall into place is the best exit strategy any entrepreneur could dream of.

Crossing the River Feels Easy at The Beginning

“But in the end, one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.” ― Albert Camus

We all have a dream. That’s why we want to cross the river.

We want to leave the land of ‘status-quo’ and make a difference. We dream to make it to the other shore.

Why are you crossing the river?

Starting a business is not easy, but is not the hardest part either. It requires a leap of faith. It’s risky; but, early in the game, you can always go back.

Starting up is hot. Being an entrepreneur is sexier than ever. Books, TV shows, movies, magazines, and Medium Staff, showcase, praise, and glorify startup founders. From garage stories to multi-million dollar deals, entrepreneurs have stepped into the spotlight of pop culture

Startup stories are full of glamour, money, and success. But very few talk about when entrepreneurs are at chest-high water.

The moment of truth for an entrepreneur is when you get to the middle of the river. You have skin in the game. Your business is more than an MVP: it has a real product and real customers. People like what you, you are making money, and growing.

When you start, you are against the odds. But when you are in the middle, you have a 50/50 chance to succeed in the long run. Both riverbanks are at the same distance. Your mind tries to trick you. Going back feels like the most reasonable option.

Is it our sense of familiarity that is telling us to get us back to shallow waters? Or it the fear of high-chest water that makes us miss the shore where everything started?

Joe was in the middle of the river earlier this year. He struggled for months, thinking he wouldn’t make it, but he kept going in spite of the currents. And his resilience paid back.

Most people quit when they are about to make it

The moment you miss being comfortable, you are on the verge of surrender. And one decision apart from abandoning a life full of possibilities. I’m not saying perfect. There’s no such a thing. I mean a life full of exploration, learning, and personal growth.

To quit is like moving back to your parent’s house. You tried to live on your terms and it didn’t work out. I’m not talking about failure. It happens to everyone ,and hopefully, we learn from that. I’m talking about the moment you stop believing in your dream. When you give up because it’s comfortable.

Even if you can’t see it yet, you are getting closer to the other riverbank. Most people quit when they are about to make it. Successful entrepreneurs learned to overcome that mind trick.

My Current Journey

“Knew that we ventured on such dangerous seas. That if we wrought our life ’twas ten to one;. And yet we ventured, for the gain proposed.” — William Shakespeare

A better life waits for you once you cross the borders of your comfort zone.

My work gave my family the opportunity to move to various countries and cities. The language, the culture, starting over both professionally and socially, every change was full of challenges. But I am the consequence of my choices. I have no regrets.

Today, once again, I feel in the middle of the river. Earlier this year, I quit a comfortable well-paid job at age 50 to create my own firm.

When I started Liberationist, I had a simple purpose: to help people and organizations thrive in change.

Driving personal and organizational transformation is full of paradoxes. Everyone wants to change, but most people are afraid, they don’t want to leave their comfort zone.

We challenge the same-old change management approaches with a more human and effective behavior change one. Our clients are witness of that. But our most significant difference is having a clear standing on who we want to work with (or not).

I purposefully defined the kind of clients we want to work with. A client is not someone who pays for our services, but those who abide by the same principles and rules.

First, I don’t take sides. I work mostly with teams, and CEOs are who usually hire us. But the ultimate client is everyone on the team regardless of their titles. When senior executives are part of the problem, I call them out. I’ve learned from personal experiences that leaders need to change too if they want others to change. If they don’t want to play with the same rules as everyone else, it’s a waste of time for everyone.

Second, we bring a personal development approach to organizational change. I believe that we are one entity: our work and personal lives are intertwined. I don’t buy into shallow motivation. Sharing inspirational quotes and making the team feel ‘happy’ is not enough. I want to help transform people’s behaviors. We stretch people beyond their comfort zone to reconnect them with their deep identities, beliefs, mindsets. That requires a lot of courage from both leaders and employees. If people are not willing to challenge themselves, then we are not a good fit.

Third, we work with organizations that really want to change. If a company wants to hire someone simply to please the team or look good, we don’t want to waste our time. I’m not saying everything should be perfect. Most people struggle with leading change, that’s why we exist. But I don’t want to work with organizations or leaders that are not committed to making change happen.

Fourth, We prioritize real-life projects and experimentation over dogma. Our methodologies combine different methods and approaches: neuroscience, design thinking, meditation, social psychology, games, you name it. We are methodology agnostic and results-believers. The problem should dictate the approach and not the other way around. We love working with clients that like to experiment, even if it’s on one project. Organizations call on us when the same old approach is not driving results.

Fifth, We believe that organizations need to provide a safe space for people to thrive. We all know that companies, like families, are full of flaws and craziness. And those are acceptable to certain degree, but not when they become dysfunctional and toxic. People don’t need to suffer their jobs. We work with clients that are committed to providing psychological safety. Of course, no place is perfect. That’s why we help leaders build the right conditions in their organizations.

Running my own company has given me the freedom to decide how to run it. And I have full accountability for my choices; there’s no one else to blame.

Today, as I reflect from the middle of the river, my decisions are what keep me confident to cross the high waters. I have clarity and conviction on how we want to operate. And, most importantly, how we can make a difference for our clients.

I have to say no to some business opportunities because of my terms. I don’t regret that. Easy decisions or shortcuts will never get you to the coast we desire. But your conviction will make you stronger when water gets deeper.

Crossing The River Requires Courage

“Your fear is 100% dependent on you for its survival.”
Steve Maraboli

Today as I look back — just for a minute — the riverbank where I started looks familiar. It feels safer, the rules are familiar, I know how much money I will make every month, I know what I can do, and what my (former) employer wouldn’t allow me to the do. The past feels safer because I spent a lot of time there.

The middle of the river is the hardest part. When it gets deeper, we fear we can drown, and start thinking that we probably need to make changes. Like going back or applying a new approach.

Iterating is one thing, reacting out of fear is another. Don’t change strategy or direction in the middle of a difficult undertaking. Don’t change your team or your horse for that matter. Especially if the horse is you. You have what it takes, let the river put you to the test.

“Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream.” — Anonymous

I’ve always love this saying. Now it has more value than ever. It’s a great reminder. If I made it this far, I’ll need the same effort to get to the other side. And you know what, the more progress I make, the shallower the waters will become.

The Shore Ahead

Since I started my new company, I’ve been able to work on projects that have made me excited as I haven’t been in years.

I traveled a lot across the US, of course, but also to Europe, Israel, Turkey, Mexico. Working to change behaviors around cyberbullying in social communities. Helping transform a toxic culture into a human one. Or assisting CEOs put their egos aside. Or ‘pushing’ people make life-changing decisions following their dreams not someone else’s.

I’m not bragging. Realizing that I’m in the middle of the river has provided a space for self-reflection. To realize that, even though the journey can sometimes become hard, it’s also full of opportunities and satisfaction. That’s why I want to continue crossing it.

The middle of the river is a turning point where most people quit. That’s because they kept looking backward not forward.

My coast is still distant, but I’ll continue walking forward. I can’t see it yet, but’s its image is getting clearer and clearer in my mind. I don’t have time to regret to think about if I’d have stayed in the original riverbank — the safe zone.

The coast I’m aiming for is not about success, money, accomplishment.

My other side of the river is called “The life I want is worth pursuing. And I believe in me.”

What’s the name of the riverbank you are pursuing?

Before You Leave

Do you want to learn how we can help you ignite and accelerate a culture of change? Reach out: stretch@liberationist.org

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