5 of the Biggest Challenges Facing a Startup: 'Mortgaging Your Relationships'

Every start-up has its challenges but there are some that we all feel almost unanimously, and if you don't feel these then I question if you're really on the right track.

In no order of how painful each of these are as each of these respectively becomes a more serious problem at different times.

1. Talent/Hiring

I'm going to labour on this one as the issues with this are endless. This summer at Mass Challenge HQ London where we've been fortunate enough to be selected as one of the finalists, a regular passing coffee pit-stop discussion is - where do I possibly find good interns?! Or smart, passionate and loyal people? Or just anyone with a brain and some initiative?

Apparently all of these are a rare commodity which is quite surprising given the high unemployment figures we keep hearing about. A scenario that seems to keen occuring is finding graduates who are unemployed but don't want to work without a ridiculous starting salary expectation and/or minimal working hours and long lunches, no weekends, no late nights. Almost everyone who has joined us and other start-ups around me seem to think that life is a bed of roses and they should just get paid without having to put in much effort. I am exhausted with having to reiterate, this isn't the start-up culture nor any professional working culture, you can't just expect to switch off! The current reality is smart talent doesn't want or see the value in taking a lower salary even with a share offering, they want it all which just isn't possible. As for the rest of graduates who aren't yet working or commanding high salaries - they just can't be bothered. There seems to me a big gap between university and the workplace and that gap is stark and growing. There needs to be a reality check at universities and soon or else our economy is in for a disaster over the coming decade.

2. Support - Emotional

Another common discussion is the challenge we face as entrepreneurs when we give-up high paying jobs - I was fortunate to be on a six figure salary by the time I was 24 and of course the disapproval from my family and friends has been consistent and almost fatal to my start-up career. The emotional turmoil this puts you in and despite how positive you may be as a person, despite how ground breaking and innovative your start-up is and these moments come (and often) when you genuinely consider if they are right. You also feel like you're putting your family through an unfair ordeal - particularly if you don't come from a family of wealth. As John Harthone, Founder of Mass Challenge put it in his recent visit to London 'you have mortgaged your family, your life, your everything'. I personally have ended-up going through a divorce during this period and I can't deny that over 80% of our arguments stemmed from why I couldn't just go back to work.

The lack of emotional support also stems from the isolation which you can often feel as an entrepreneur. Most entrepreneurs still work from home despite the growing co-working culture and this can be intellectually and emotionally isolating. You often feel as if you're losing touch - often once you've coined the ideas/ structures a great deal of the early years is spent on the mundane, the very unintellectual, the operations - and this can be quite intellectually damning. This is therefore closely linked to the lack of intellectual support you can feel as an entrepreneur. Once again this is an area I can't be more grateful than to have our wonderful fellow finalists at the co-working space with Mass Challenge to help me with - until joining this wonderful new family I was certainly on this road. The wonderful and inspirational conversations, reminders, reflections and challenging that comes with working with some of the smartest people around is truly necessary.

3. Support - Financial

Unless you're a veteran entrepreneur or have a family with connections, navigating the financial offering whether from the government, VC's, angels and type - equity/ debt/valuations/financial models isn't easy. There is so much on offer and accelerators like Mass Challenge and other support services really help to present the best options for you.

4. Avoiding the leeches

Another big one which just sucks out too much of the little energy you have. There are too many people who seem to think they can come along and present you with 1/2 months of work/ effort and then demand a huge portion of equity. Be careful and vet everyone you bring in carefully. Learnt from experience and too much wasted time - I highly advise you avoid the leeches.

5. Keeping perspective

One that is less obvious but probably key. When you're swamped in the day to day you can forget to look around you and check what's happening in the world. The hours and operational items you're now managing as well as everything else mean you forget to look around you. Is your idea still the most innovative, is it still the only such company? Is there any competition, are there opportunities for collaboration with those working/ starting to work in your space. Giving time to this will save you a painful end when you get to an investor and they shut down all your expectations with a name of a company doing exactly what you do that you just hadn't even noticed. I have seen this on the other side of the table too often and really recommend keeping eyes and ears open always as hard as it is.

We've been extremely fortunate at Haute Èlan, the premier destination for luxury modest fashion, to have won a place in the largest accelerator globally, Mass Challenge and I cannot recommend a programme such as this more. A non-profit 100% of the focus is on you achieving your potential. Thanks to the office space and community spirit we have a community we can tap into which has provided the emotional and intellectual support, and financial navigation we were missing. The benefits are endless and for someone who was super sceptical of accelerators this is truly a revolution! As a start-up advisor i'm happy to try and support you navigate this journey so just reach out to me at MyEmail.

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