What’s the Hardest Thing You Ever Had To Do? Startup Founders Share Their Darkest Moments

The ends justify the means, according to Machiavelli in The Prince back in the early 16th Century. The concept is hardly to news to countless startup founders who find themselves facing intense pressuresto survive and grow their companies in extraordinarily challenging conditions. Hopefully, the struggles and compromises are worth it in the end.

 

We asked a panel of eight successful young entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to reveal the hardest, most wrenching thing they’ve had to do to build their businesses. When battling the economy, the competition and the many voices that say it’s impossible, some startup founders see these sometimes questionable actions as necessary parts of a larger strategy:

1. Unhooking From My Non-Entrepreneurial Friends

One of the hardest things to do for me was to unhook from my group of non-entrepreneurial friends. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice at first; it just happened because we had different goals and found ourselves busy at different times. I noticed that as soon as I started surrounding myself with more entrepreneurs, things really took off in my business. That’s when I became conscious of the importance of the people you hang out with, and how much it impacts your business. Now I’m not saying I don’t talk to my non-entrepreneur friends, but I’m just more conscious about how I spend my time. - Nathalie Lussier, Nathalie Lussier Media

2. Turning Down a Dream Book Deal

It’s always been my dream to be a published author, and I was elated when a major publisher came knocking a few months ago. But it became clear that writing this book was going to interfere with the big plans I had for my company for the latter half of 2012: namely, the creation of my new, advanced Web mastery course for women. Midway through our contract negotiations, I realized that writing the book would take up way too much of my time when I knew, deep down, that my first priority had to be developing my new offering. So although it was an extremely difficult decision, I turned down the offer. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but saying “no” instantly opened up my heart and mind to all the amazing things I’m currently creating. - Amanda Aitken, The Girl’s Guide to Web Design

3. Burning Through the Talent Pool

Without any brand equity and very little capital, our startup, like many others, attracted only mediocre talent in our early stages. The odds of tackling the many challenges we faced at that time were stacked up against us, but we rallied our team around a well-articulated vision and with a greater sense of purpose to succeed beyond reason. But that was not the hardest part. Along the way, we admittedly burned through a lot of people who gave the company a lot. We learned that the those who take you from one stage to another may not always be right for whatever the next step is. In the short term, such changes are heart-wrenching and feel unfair - unless measured against the future prospect of greater success for an even larger group of stakeholders. - Christopher Kelly, NYC Conference Centers

4. Downsizing My Lifestyle

The hardest thing that I’ve had to do to build my company is give up all of the lifestyle comforts that my extra money used to buy. Money that I used to spend on entertainment, trips or a better apartment had to be funneled back into my business. One day, one of my employees said, “Wow, you’re really getting a lot of use out of those shoes aren’t you?” That would have mortified me three years ago - not keeping up with new trends or not having a nicer apartment. It may sound shallow, but slowly giving up all of those life perks I used to have has made me realize how important it is to me for my business to grow and where my priorities are. - Caitlin McCabe, Real Bullets Branding

5. Admitting Weakness

It is very hard for us to look at our flaws, let alone to correct them. It was around the age of 30 that I realized that even though I had the business talent, I lacked the leadership and people skills that turn a young entrepreneur into a successful leader. This realization meant changing old habits, such as listening to the employees of my firm, listening to my clients, valuing relationships more and understanding that in business, you can only control so much and you have to let the rest fall into place. It was very difficult for me to come to this realization, as we tend to only focus on what we are doing correctly, simply because it’s more pleasant to do so. However, it’s also best to look at our weaknesses and correct them. - Ken Sundheim, KAS Placement

6. Bootstrapping the Company

Bootstrapping has been our most gut-wretching choice in building our business. We’ve had several opportunities to accept funding from angels, but our team was committed to self-funding because we wanted to have full control over our business' vision and direction - without any distraction from investors and their opinions. There were certainly moments in our history where cash flow was tight - and where our business completely depended on a successful launch of some feature or product. But we were able to make it through those tough times, and today, we enjoy a healthy business that is very profitable and fully under the control of our team. - Eric Bahn, Beat The GMAT

7. Rejecting Attractive Job Offers

I’ve been offered full-time jobs since I’ve built my business. The idea of at least doubling what I’m actually taking home (based on how much I funnel right back into the business) is incredibly appealing. But I’ve done it, and I’ll keep on refusing job offers. The same holds true of big projects and contracts that aren’t a good match with what I need to do to grow my business, as hard as it is to turn down cash in hand. - Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting

8. Sacrificing Family Time

I’ve sacrificed quality time that I would be spending with family and friends. Building a successful company requires time and focus, and that means I have less time to spend with my wife and friends. Even when I did have the time, my mind was usually thinking about building the business, rather than being present. It ís difficult, but as long as you work toward achieving goals and let yourself ease up once you achieve them, itís worth it. - John Hall, Digital Talent Agents

 

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.