Why startup founders need to focus on shared goals

As the founder of Wizenoze (they create an internet for education, with results that are reliable, relevant and readable), Diane Janknegt has long transitioned from the corporate life to the startup struggle, having held senior positions at Microsoft. Janknegt explains how she uses her personal ambitions and blind faith in the mission of the company to get support from high performers, investors, and last but not least, her family and friends – and why startup founders and their teams cannot live without shared goals to fulfil that ambition.

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“We’re on an amazing ride to improve the learning results of millions of students, and we all share the same view in why we need to do this. It feels amazing being able to build a team of talented people, that are not only smarter than you, but who also have an insane track record, who want to join you on your mission.. Especially when this results in a growing user base.”

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve found that sweet taste of product-market fit, Janknegt shares three reasons why you need shared goals now and how to utilize them.

Show blind faith in your solution

“Being a startup founder means enjoying the long ride. Every step of the way. The highs are more intense, every blow you take cuts deeper. And when you feel you’re down, and your costs are seriously under pressure, that’s when you have to take risks. You cannot play safe. Taking risks doesn’t mean ‘to act like a cowboy’, but you will face challenging decisions. The only way you can go through this rollercoaster of emotions is to have blind faith in what you do and that the world is waiting for you to deliver.”

“You also have to realize that any form of market disruption is an expensive business model. And to obtain the amounts of funding for this journey, you have to convince investors that the world is waiting for your solution. The truth of the matter is, it’s rare that smaller organizations can make a sweeping change on its own. So when you compete with big corporates, you’ll be cash negative for a while, and only your endless perseverance will convince people to partner up with you. But isn’t that the role of startups – to challenge the status quo? That is where innovation is happening.”

“Even when people tell you it’s suicide to compete against the existing dominant businesses, you must have blind faith in your unique solution. And you must be able to explain why the road ahead is paved with those that have tried with more obvious solutions. And why your journey will be different. Having clear goals will show you are 100% sure about your solution.”

It’s all about timing

Too often people forget that starting a company also means getting intimately acquainted with its industry, the world in which you want to fulfil your ambition. To find out if this is the right moment for you to challenge the status quo. “We didn’t always have customers asking for our service spontaneously. When we started 6 years ago, we knew we were early and that our potential customers had to realize that our competitors were offering less than optimal solutions. Our early adopters still loved their services when we started out.”

“Timing is the only thing in your business that is not under your control and that is why you need to be able to see technological and societal trends that others don’t. Before competitors’ clients vocalize their dissatisfaction or when the press reports negatively on them, you need to be able to convince others now is the time.”

How you go on about timing heavily depends on your team and partners, so make sure you collect the right people around you. “As a startup founder, you will receive very welcome, but also unsolicited advice. Useful and less useful to outright dangerous. The trick is to stay close to yourself and check with people you trust. Especially a challenge when you’re young, when you don’t have a large network, and when you’re new in a specific field. Even more so when the person giving advice is someone who provides you with capital.”

Shared goals strengthen personal relationships

“For those close to you, entrepreneurship is increasingly antisocial. It dominates everything. Having friends and family who support you and who provide you with the necessary space to grow your business is not only important, but also heavily rewarding. Because you know they trust you and value you for what you’re trying to achieve. When something’s wrong with your kids, your spouse, or your friends, running a startup becomes harder and harder. And you’re already under a lot of pressure.”

Startup entrepreneurship is tough. There is no path to certain success mapped out. “You have to push forward, carry on, and see it through. You have to take the hit, even if you feel like a punching bag, and continue. Having a stable home-situation is essential for me to stay enthusiastic. As a startup founder, your business is like having an extra child, asking you to divide your time equally between all of them. Next comes your partner and when there’s time, your friends. Startups get romanticized, but no one tells you about the deep dark side. But when the goal is important enough, you simply have to keep going and when you’ve got so many people supporting your ambitions, it’s the greatest feeling possible.”