One (long) year ago, I entered the startup world, building and launching Hello Divorce, a modern breakup service that offers users an online alternative to the traditional retained attorney divorce model. The website provides a guided “tour” through the divorce process with fixed-fee legal help along the way and an emphasis on wellness. I surprised myself by how much I initially gravitated to this entrepreneurial world, working long hours, managing the tech and creative components of the site, building a network of powerful people, and operating a fast-paced, ever-changing online platform.
As a divorce attorney and owner of a San Francisco Bay Area boutique family law firm, I was comfortable managing stress and working hard. I thrived at helping clients understand how you can fall out of a relationship with someone but still hold heartful integrity.
Yet it just never felt like enough. I wanted more. So I embarked on my next entrepreneurial project and this journey has well, meaningfully triggered me in heart, body, and mind. I just wish I had had a little more perspective before taking the leap.
Self-Love, A Journey
What was the most surprising discovery to me was that an idea and even execution of that idea is not enough. You need to be relevant and to truly be relevant, to sell yourself and your brand, you need to dive far deeper internally than you ever have before. Nobody tells you that when you build a startup that what you know about yourself is not enough. Every insecurity and fear surfaces. To stay relevant and move the brand forward, being clear, grounded, and present are essential. To be successful, I had to become visible. To become visible, I had to be authentic. To be authentic, I had to dig deeper into who I am than I ever have before. I’ve had to balance that fierce, strong business woman with my sweetness and innate feminine (empathetic, kind, and intuitive) self — the real me.
You need to be relevant and to truly be relevant, to sell yourself and your brand, you need to dive far deeper internally than you ever have before.
A startup, by nature, is revolutionary. You are telling consumers that there’s a new, more viable alternative to the products or services they are currently using. In my case, I’ve had to convince people that what I offer is a viable alternative to the status quo — the traditional attorney. This, I have learned, means no one would trust me or my product if I did not trust myself. So I had to slow my roll and explore the energy that I resisted: self-love. Directing love toward myself has allowed me to move forward with my business with confidence and trust that what I have to offer is meaningful, valuable and relevant.
Check Your Ego at the Door
Year one: expect your pride to be heavily wounded. You work harder than ever and then launch. Everyone immediately asks: How’s your company doing? If you tell them it’s great, they think you’re lying. If you tell them growth is slow but you are on the rise, they think you are failing. The truth is, launching is just the start. Once your product is on the market, feedback comes flooding in. Expect that everything you thought your product would look like will get thrown out the window (after you build it). Bottom line is this: I forgot how hard it is to change. And how imperative it is. And how scary it is when you aren’t really sure what comes next. Checking my ego at the door created space for me to be flexible, accepting of criticism, and willing to change what I thought my dream would be.
Bootstrapping to build your startup? Better be willing to be a Jill-of-all-trades
I know, I know. When you know a little about a lot, you become the “master or none.” But, so often you just don’t have the luxury of outsourcing (or hiring) for everything that needs to get done. Building your dream team takes time and money. You’ve got to be able to throw on a million different hats to ensure that all the pieces fit together. So in year one, expect that aside from managing a (small) technical team, you’ll be doing everything from agonizing over a tagline (and never settling on one) to navigating emotional conflicts and egos, interacting with consumers directly and drafting marketing emails. Basically you have to think big picture (visionary) while (also) overseeing all of the “small” details.
Sound like a lot? It is. But the best part of being a Jill-of-all-trades is that you don’t really have to be an expert at anything — just be a leader — pull it all together the best way you know how. And expect that you’ll learn some very valuable lessons along the way.
But the best part of being a Jill-of-all-trades is that you don’t really have to be an expert at anything — just be a leader — pull it all together the best way you know how.
Your Relationships Suffer
Unfortunately, launching a business takes time and energy. There isn’t enough time in a day to be able to get everything right when it comes to relationships, unless you are superhuman. In fact, when you are so focused on one thing you might not even realize how disconnected you are from other areas of your life. For example, one day I paused and I couldn’t remember the last time my husband and I were out together. I realized that our social lives had become completely separate. The only time I went out was to network or head to an industry event. Alone. I just wasn’t taking the time to pause and check in with how my relationships were doing. I took for granted the stability I thought I had. I was so zeroed in on my entrepreneurial dream that I was immune to feeling lonely or even to wanting a close connection with someone (including my husband). I hardly realized what I was missing. I was so busy giving my all, I forgot how to ‘receive’ and how fulfilling that could be – not just for me, but for my SO as well.
It takes conscious effort to get back on track in the midst of creating your startup. Be as loyal to your leisure as you are to your work. The sooner you embrace this idea, the more likelihood you have in saving your marriage. Engage in real talk with the people that are important to you. Take long lazy walks with your kids in which you lose track of time and wander so far that have you to take a Lyft ride home. Book a babysitter for a recurring ‘date’ night.
If you can go into your startup venture with a sense of some of the obstacles you are likely to meet, you’ll be that much more aware of them when they crop up. But no matter how “prepared” you are for them, expect to feel (at certain points), like you are failing. It’s just the nature of the beast. Find your girl tribe because women + moms have the extraordinary ability to hold so much love and space for each other even when we don’t have any left for ourselves. And you can use all the love in the world during this time. Remember, you don’t have to get it perfect. You just have to start and keep moving forward. Sometimes our story ends up different than we imagined . . . but so often it’s better that way.
Erin Levine is the CEO + Founder of Hello Divorce, a service to maximize benefits, lower financial exposure, and empower users to embark on a fresh start. She is based in the Bay Area and has two daughters.