Two experienced entrepreneurs share how to overcome the feeling of isolation that comes with launching a startup.
Ask Pramod Raheja, founder of Airgility, what the most significant oversight of his startup days was, and his answer might surprise you. Making a wrong hire? No. Mismanaging cashflow? No.
Raheja considers his biggest startup mistake to be not joining a peer group sooner.
“I didn’t understand the value I could have gained if I had joined a network of entrepreneurs early on. Had I tapped into the right network, I would’ve grown and scaled faster. I would have become a better CEO faster.”
A member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) since 2011, Pramod says, “my network of peers has been key to my success.”
“Many times,” he adds, “I might’ve given up or gone in a different direction without trustworthy peers to bounce ideas off of and to share my sadness, frustration and even happiness with.”
Adrienne Palmer, founder of Insite and an EO member since 2000, agrees. She describes the loneliness that many entrepreneurs can relate to. “As a founder, there was no one I could really talk to about the challenges and fears that emerged. Friends often questioned why I was so obsessed with my business — why I had nothing else to talk about! Even family couldn’t truly relate. Many of them thought I was being irresponsible by not accepting offers for stable jobs.
“As an entrepreneur, you worry about your business all the time because it boils down to this: Clients (no matter how great the relationship) must always feel like the business is solid and everything is thriving. Likewise, with vendors and suppliers. And employees. And the bank. And the landlord.”
However, Palmer says, “When I could share with other entrepreneurs, without judgment, the walls came down. I was able to get perspective and insight from their experiences, knowing that they were sharing freely, with no agenda or vested interest. I was able to feel heard and understood. It gave me strength and confidence, knowing that I wasn’t the first to go through this, nor would I be the last.”
Raheja and Palmer agree that emotional support is an important reason to join a network of entrepreneurs. What other benefits can you expect from joining a peer group?
Learning Most peer groups provide executive education that’s tailored to founders across a variety of industries.
“At my very first EO event, I was blown away,” Pramod says. “Warren Rustand put on an all-day workshop. I showed up at noon because — well, I’m a busy entrepreneur and had things to do. I spent the afternoon thinking, ‘What could have been more important than this? I should’ve made the time to be here all day.’ I still reference takeaways from that one lecture nearly ten years ago.”
Beyond structured learning events, peer-based entrepreneurial organizations offer a built-in network of mentors and advisers. Pramod explains, “Issues crop up that you can’t necessarily talk to your executive team about because it may have to do with them. Having other CEOs that I can call, confidentially, and say, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on with my company. Any thoughts or suggestions? Do you know anyone who can help me?’ More than likely, they’ve been through a similar situation and can share experiences that may benefit me.”
Interested in hearing more from Raheja and Palmer? They’ll be participating in the panel, “Benefits for Business: Build a Diverse Network of Entrepreneurs,” during Startup Grind on Feb. 11 at 1:30 pm on the Community Stage in Cinema 2.
Leadership Palmer appreciates the leadership opportunities provided by her peer group.
“EO gives me an opportunity to develop my leadership skills through volunteer leadership positions. Depending on your background, these opportunities might hone your ability to lead others, allow you to gain a more global perspective, or challenge you to think completely differently.”
Raheja is part of EO’s United Nations team working to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals. He recently had the opportunity to participate in a focus group around gender inequality at the UN. “It was life-changing,” he shares. “Being on the floor of the UN and knowing that the actions of this group you’re a part of could be the spark that significantly transforms the lives of others? That’s the entrepreneurial mindset in action.”
Inspiration As part of a global network of entrepreneurs, you’ll meet business owners at every stage of growth. For many individuals — particularly more established entrepreneurs — interacting with that fresh, unbridled energy can be exhilarating and provide them with new ideas for their own organizations.
“I enjoy being inspired by the startup entrepreneurs and their exciting new ideas and businesses,” says Palmer. “It gives me a spark of energy and new perspectives. Also, learning about many new social impact businesses being formed feeds my optimism about the future.”
Pramod concurs. “I get energy from other people — from helping other people, specifically. When I walk into a room of people, I want to impart my energetic passion and have them walk out of the room psyched up and inspired to make something of their business or connect with other peers! That’s why I coach people and mentor them.
“There’s so much value in this community — we need as many people as possible to develop and share the entrepreneurial mindset. It can help make us all better versions of ourselves.”
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