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Results of the Founder Study - What are the biggest challenges Founders face & how to overcome them

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

More and more businesses are setting up as people become redundant and decide that now is the time to pursue their purpose. But what are the biggest challenges if you are about to go it alone or set up with a partner?

We asked 33 Founders to identify their biggest challenges to help others overcome them. The results are below with some ideas for self-coaching through the process when you are starting and maintaining your own company.

What have been the most challenging issues over the last 12 months?

Decreased customer demand was at the top with no surprises. Maintaining motivation and a belief in your product can be important. This can be challenging when you are entering a new market in Covid-19 times. Is it that circumstances are just not right at this moment, or is your product not right? Step back, and analyse your market. Work out if there is a need or room for diversification from your initial plan. Is this needed for financial security or can you manage and power through with the funding you have and grow your current market, even if this is slower? Analysing all options and deciding on the way forward with planning is essential. Talk this through with a third party. An experienced friend, mentor or coach can help you decide what you can do and the best outcome to drive your business forward.

The second most challenging issue has been finding the right people to scale up the business. As a Headhunter previous to being an Executive Coach I understand the challenges of making sure you find the right people to work with you in your company. Especially when every person counts. Hiring an experienced specialist to help you search and select people can save you a whole lot of time. Think about the cost, firstly of your time to search to find this person and secondly, if the wrong person is brought on board. At the very least gain training/ coaching yourself in the following:

  • What do you need for your business?

  • What are your must haves and must not haves?

  • What technical capability are you willing to compromise on for the right personality?

  • How to interview people - what do you need to ask to get the information you need about technical capability and emotional intelligence, cultural fit? Remember some people talk a good talk. Do they walk the walk as well?

  • How do you maintain candidate communication so you do not lose them to a competitor? From first contact to first day and further.

  • How do you attract talent to your business? What do you have which others do not? How do you compare to the market?

Other areas which Founders are having challenges are:

  • Inability to plan. Slow moves in the market not matching the startup pace

  • Managing remotely but more so managing in a post covid time where it is half covid/half back to normality

  • Focusing on a specific product. Reducing the consulting capability to a single easy to achieve and believable focus.

  • Taking the time to step back and sort out some personal time and reflect. The difficulty can be taking working life slower as demand remains the same.

Do you get enough downtime or time for yourself?

Nearly 70% of people manage to get that work life and personal-time balance. However, 30% do not. The risk of burnout in managing your own business can depend on your ability to notice predictive stressors and entrepreneurial orientation as seen in a study here. If you are going into a business as a Founder, are not entrepreneurial by character and/ or do not take enough relaxation time, there is a higher risk of burnout. Higher stress means more mistakes and a lower ability to make good decisions. Notice when you are feeling the following:

  • You are feeling stressed and unable to make decisions.

  • You are tired and there is an underlying feeling of uneasiness.

  • Your family, partner, and friends notice that you are not yourself, are short-tempered tempered or have a lack of concentration.

What you can do:

  • Make sure that you look at physiological contributors. Are you drinking enough water? Eating the right food? Is there something happening where you may want to seek out medical advice?

  • Ask yourself the questions: “What will happen if I continue not taking time out? What will happen if I do take time out, just for an hour or more? How will this change me/ the people around me/ the business/ my wellbeing?”.

Taking downtime/ rest time or time for yourself is essential to recharge your brain and well-being. Therefore accelerating creativity and performance.

When you take a break what do you do to switch off for a while?

If you find it difficult to switch off or are feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself: “What can I do right now to make myself feel differently?”. Move physically? Visit a new place? Read a book? Some suggestions which other founders find useful are below. Choose something you truly LOVE doing. Take some time out to remember this, how it feels and DO IT

Other ways in which Founders take a break:

  • Educate my child

  • Even when switched off, an active mind never actually stops thinking about problems, solutions and or opportunities. Most of my innovation comes from random thoughts or discussions with friends and or business colleagues

  • I play video games

  • Write stories, poetry

After answering these questions, have you noticed anything you want to do more of?

Doing a self-check-in on a regular basis can be enough to trigger something that you would like to do more of OR do less of to help you resolve a challenge. It may even help you recognise something within your business you have been delaying and would like to work on.

Make time to notice this. Then make a plan of action. If that is finding a place to borrow time, then analyse and observe when you can make this time up. List your resources to help you gain time. Gain more resources. Again, talking this through with a third party can help.

If there was one piece of advice you would give a Founder right now, what would that be?

I would like to sincerely thank all of the Founders who took part in this survey. Your honest insights are appreciated and I am sure will be taken forward by other Founders and people who are considering a start to a new career adventure.

Other advice from our Founders:

  • Work on your biggest barrier.

  • Build now during this downtime to sprint when the market picks up. Gain trust, make customer engagement re-energizing as they need it, and will remember you when they can spend again.

  • Never give up, fight for your business.

  • Nurture the relationships you’ve built and stay open to new ones.

  • Do not, under any circumstances, allow investors to over-value your company, as this will create unrealistic requirements in repayment of investment, and you may find yourself, removed from your position as your shareholding will be diluted. The Investor can simply sell the company out from under you. Lower valuations to help facilitate organic growth and are a much more intelligent long-term strategy. Either that or ensure that whatever investor deal you strike, you have the legal protection of the above.

  • Make sure you know clearly what it is you do.

  • Be focused on the solutions you want to build, be firm in your thoughts, and make yourself and your team accountable.

  • Don’t do it unless you’re passionate about the business you’re about to launch. Once you press ‘go’ you can’t stop, or change jobs. You have people who are committed to you and you have to be even more committed back to them.

  • If you are a worrier, schedule worry time. Make a deal with yourself that you can only worry during a certain time period. When that thought/ worry arises shelve it and allow it to come up during your scheduled daily worry time. Acknowledge the worry and observe, without judgment, this thought which is not empowering you! This helps you contain it and frees your mind to get on with everything else you need to do for the remainder of the day.

Caroline Langston is the Founder of Successful Consultants Ltd, an Executive, Personal and Career Development Coaching company in Hong Kong and New York. She is also the Founder of a nonprofit providing free information and coaching to people who are unemployed. Caroline is dedicated to coaching people for success and happiness in their careers and lives. She is degree qualified with a Certificate in Professional Coaching from the ICF, a Certificate in Team Coaching from the EMCC. Also further certifications in Neuro Linguistic Programming at Master Practitioner and Coach level.


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