How I Stay Motivated Through The Ups And Downs of Startup Life

Startup life is complicated. One day you're riding high on top of the world, and the next you're plunging into unthinkable lows.

There’s one particular story that’s repeated over and over again in the startup world. Let’s see if you’ve heard it before.

Last year, a friend told me how excited he is about a new business idea. He shared how he has talked to potential customers who appear interested. He’s even contracted a few freelancers to help build a prototype. Several weeks later, we met again. He was still excited and working hard on his prototype.

Recently, we ran into each other, and I asked him how everything is going. Glumly he tells me, “Well, we released the prototype to a couple of early adopters, but they weren’t using it regularly. We also spent $50 on Facebook ads to spread the word, but nobody signed up.” And on it goes. “Maybe this entrepreneurship thing just isn’t for me,” he said.

Just like that, another wantrepreneur’s dreams were crushed. Sound familiar? This scenario plays out in different ways for all of us. We get that initial burst of excitement and motivation to pursue a business idea. But when reality hits and things don’t go as planned, we lose that spark, and our enthusiasm hits rock bottom.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, that’s why we recommend it daily.” Zig Ziglar

People don’t realize building a startup is like a roller coaster. One day you’re riding high on top of the world, and the next you’re plunging into unthinkable lows.


Staying motivated during the ups and downs of startup life

People often ask me how I maintain my motivation through the ups and downs of startup life. Like any other positive habit, you have to train yourself. It also helps to keep a few techniques in your back pocket to get out of a rut when you (inevitably) fall into it. Here are a few things that help me out:


1. Listen to or read something motivational each day

This simple habit is my main source of motivation. Every day, I listen to an entrepreneurship podcast, like The Three Month Vacation or Traction, and learn something new.

When you hear an interview with a successful founder, sharing how they wake up at 4 am each morning to spend two hours writing a chapter of a book before heading into the office, it makes you think, “Wow! I thought I was working hard!”

Photo: Aiony Haust, Unsplash
Photo: Aiony Haust, YFS Magazine

Or I’ll listen audiobooks and here a business owner talk about how they lost everything and managed to come back from ruins. That kind of story can motivate anybody to push through rough times in their own lives and business endeavors. When I hear these types of inspirational interviews during my morning walk, I return home eager to start the day.

2. Cultivate a learning mindset

No matter how excited you are about your startup idea, remember it’s a learning experience.

A year from now, you may develop something different based on customer feedback. If your prototype doesn’t gain traction, learn from it. Did it address the customer’s pain point?

Were you solving the wrong problem? Call up users and ask them why are they’re not using or buying your product.

Brice McBeth, in his free ebook Salon Chairs Don’t Sell Themselves, shares his experience launching an e-commerce website.

He found that potential customers were not signing up, even though his team built a stunning website. It wasn’t until after he called several customers that he learned they felt the website was too fancy for them. They didn’t sign up because they thought the product was too expensive (without clicking through to the pricing page). They based assumptions purely on the landing page. As a result, he changed the website and the product took off.

So don’t get discouraged if your first launch fails. Go out and ask for feedback and correct your mistakes!

3. Sign up real customers

The biggest motivating factor for me was to sign up real customers. Not a friend, family member, or someone I met at a networking event doing me a favor. Not even a volunteer beta tester.

The real win is a complete stranger who found us on the web and signed up because they were genuinely interested in the product. When real customers use our application and depend on us to process payroll, it’s a huge responsibility, but it’s also a tremendous motivation to not let them down.

Wantrepreneurs are a little intimidated by this critical step to acquire real customers. When beta customers sign up, they expect to have some issues with the product. But when a real customer signs up and hands over their hard-earned money, it’s a whole different ball game.

Don’t be intimidated! Provide an extraordinary customer experience. Then customers will stay with you even if your product is basic and buggy because they know you will fix it and take care of them down the road. Trust me! Waking up every morning and knowing people depend on you is the biggest motivation of all.


Maintaining startup motivation

Maintaining startup motivation, especially at the beginning, is like anything else important in your life – you have to work at it. Listen to or read something inspirational every day, maintain the mindset that everything is a learning experience, and take that plunge to find real customers. Be accountable for your work and provide great service, and you’ll discover the motivation to move forward even in the toughest of times.


Raya Khashab is the co-founder and CEO of ezClocker, a time sheet and scheduling software for small business. She is passionate about customers and building products that change the way people run their business. She is also a supporter of the startup community and helping people achieve their dreams.


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