Stretching in the sunlight

By Ali Valdez

I’ve never been called an idiot except the time I quit Microsoft to teach yoga.

Now, after years of double digit growth managing an expanded portfolio of businesses, some of my former peers ask how I did it.  I found that I can enjoy success and deal with difficulties using skills I learned from corporate life flavored with how I live my life through the practice of yoga. This requires the ability to pause and reflect, to be honest with yourself and a willingness to face your fears. Once you have figured out your right from your left then the real work begins: holding yourself accountable not just to your business goals but to your personal growth.

1. Foundation First/Growth Second: Growth is one seductive mistress. Who doesn’t want their business to go gangbusters from the get-go? I had more business than I could manage. Then I made two “rookie” mistakes. First, I assumed I didn’t have the luxury of saying no. Instead I heavily outsourced my core product in its infancy to fill demand and quality suffered. As we continued to grow, I found the majority of my time being consumed with rote operational and finance tasks, functions in the corporate world that I would never apply or be hired to do.

In hindsight, I should have paused, assessed what the business needed most first. Because it was new with unpredictable cash flow, and I was used to that steady stream of corporate lucre, I could have done a better job building a foundation, then gone for my growth. Recently I said no to a few opportunities, and hired people that have backgrounds in the areas where my skills and interests lack. Profits have not suffered and I have come back to doing what I love most.

2. Know Your Motivations: Most entrepreneurs stop after all the practical questions around market, cost, and margins are ironed out. Good for them! There are other factors at play that maybe haven’t been explored though. They should be because ego, unconscious limitation paradigms and fear of failure lurk beneath the surface. They come out of hiding when you are on your own so may as well address them now.

This requires you to go a little deeper. When I made my move, I gave myself twelve months to plan and save, but also time to understand my motivations e.g. why now at this point in my career, why this industry, what are I hoping to achieve that cannot be met staying in my current company?

Most importantly, know what truly makes you tick. On bad days where there is no one as a point of escalation, that tick may be the one thing that gets you out of bed and working through the setbacks we all face. What makes me tick? That’s easy!

  • High Risk, High Reward
  • Global Impact
  • Unlimited Creativity
  • Share Successes with Others

Your start-up motivations, whether you realize it now or not, are seldom about money alone. You will start your new business the same person you were the day you drop off your badge. There is no escapism for start-ups. Ideally you are showing up as an even better version of yourself.

3. Constantly Evaluate, then Re-Evaluate: Know your strengths but also know your weaknesses. Create a plan for yourself based on the good, the bad and the ugly of how you operate. Every year, I do my own “annual review” reminiscent of my days at Microsoft. There is a section that is objective, e.g. did I hit my goals; another section is subjective, e.g. did I do things right or what could have been done better. Last, what goals do I have going forward for myself and my business? Invest your time and value this often reviled exercise, because it will help you grow personally which in turn can better serve your business.  Also create some sort of formalized merit program. Instead of just pulling any profits out, create milestones and reward yourself accordingly. Anyone new to working for themselves can benefit from some formality and accountability as their business takes shape.

4. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable: It is estimated that roughly 80% of start-ups fail. Gulp! Many executives come circling my wagon. They begin by asking questions. Next they share their dissatisfaction with their work. I find many of us twenty years in are thinking of the future less in terms of advancement and more around legacy and impact. Eighteen months in, they ask me to help them make a plan. Why eighteen months? As creatures of habit no one likes the idea of forfeiting guaranteed salary, annual bonuses, paid vacation and benefits.  Entrepreneurs, redefine your notions of comfort. In your own start-up, expect to be as pleasantly surprised at wins and deeply disappointed when the hours spiral, things fall apart and the coffers drain. The startup gods never promised you a rose garden, but you can still expect the occasional thorn.

5. Have Mentors; Always Express Gratitude: Estimates also say 20% of startups succeed and they seldom do this alone. Self-proclaimed CEOs don’t suddenly awaken to omniscience. Now more than ever, you need mentors. They offer business advice and also a shoulder to lean on. I cannot emphasis enough how I value my mentors. I rely on them to keep me focused on my strengths, clear on my vision and to cheer from the sidelines.

Ali Valdez is a high-tech executive, business entrepreneur and long-time teacher of yoga and meditation. Through her own practice, success and mentoring of others, she has found the key for combining corporate management experience with sacred science of yoga to create a number of successful businesses. Follow Ali on Twitter: @GlobalYogini.