Entrepreneurship

A Founder’s Journey Requires Pacing Yourself and Learning To Say No With Sukhi Jutla

A Founder’s Journey Requires Pacing Yourself and Learning To Say No With Sukhi Jutla

MP spoke with Sukhi Jutla, an award-winning entrepreneur and author based in London, about her entrepreneurial journey. Jutla is the co-founder and chief operating officer of MarketOrders, an online platform for the gold and diamond jewelry industry. She has won numerous awards, including Asian Women of Achievement and Female Entrepreneur of The Year, and was named Top 100 European Digital Pioneer by The Financial Times and Google. Jutla holds board positions with the Mayor of London’s Digital Skills Partnership and the Department of International Trade in the UK. She is an Industry Associate at University College London Centre for Blockchain Technologies (UCL CBT).

The Journey

The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?

When starting my business, I thought the key obstacles and hurdles would stem from not knowing what to do when building a business. There is much to learn and understand, from sales and marketing to accounting and finance. 

However, as I progressed through the journey, I realized that the most significant learnings (and challenges) came from becoming more self-aware of myself as a business leader. 

The entrepreneurial journey is primarily a journey of self-discovery. 

With greater self-awareness, I saw how I learned best, how I managed teams and how to manage my time and energy. 

I became more aware of what I needed to operate at my best (good quality sleep, rest, and food) and not force myself to work 15-hour days. 

I learned that I had to take care of myself and my physical and mental well-being, which can be overlooked when running a business. 

The entrepreneurial route tends to attract a reputation of working all hours and ‘hustling.’ 

I learned it was necessary to understand what motivated me at an intrinsic level and how best I could show up to do the best job I could for my business.

The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?

At the start of my journey, I certainly felt overwhelmed. 

I had been an employee working for large corporations for the majority of my professional career. 

Stepping into entrepreneurship felt like a baptism of fire. 

There was so much to learn and do, and I did feel lonely in the early stages. 

To overcome this, I sought out other early-stage entrepreneurs by attending relevant conferences and networking events. I signed up for valuable websites such as Virgin Startups and Enterprise Nation, where I connected with others on the same path as me. 

I signed up for and completed several startup accelerator programs with great networking and peer mentoring opportunities. 

I used this as a support network to share my struggles and challenges and connect with those on the same path as me.

Sukhi Jutla / Photo courtesy of Sukhi Julta

The Psychological Warfare 

Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur? 

The path of entrepreneurship does seem to be shrouded in the ‘hustle’ culture where working all hours to build a successful business with little or no sleep is actively celebrated. In our society, we tend to focus on the result of an entrepreneur's journey, believing that success happens overnight.

The reality, however, is very different. 

Any entrepreneur or business owner will know that a consistent and sustained amount of effort is applied over time to get to any level of success. Building a lasting business is much like a marathon, not a sprint. 

There will always be more to do, and I know that my to-do list never seems to end, no matter how many items I tick off as completed! 

This led me to the realization that I needed to pace myself if I am to succeed. And the key to any business is the founder and the team behind it. 

You can’t run a car without fuel, which applies to humans building businesses! 

At the start of my journey, I routinely burnt out, feeling overwhelmed and frustrated with myself. 

This led me to talk down to myself and damage my self-worth. 

I often thought:

How do others do this?

and

Am I capable of doing this if I keep burning out?

In these moments of darkness, I questioned If I was good enough and whether I could succeed. 

Being an entrepreneur and business owner, there will always be things you cannot predict no matter how well you plan for them (did anyone see the COVID-19 pandemic coming over the horizon or the war in Ukraine and its effect on energy prices and inflation?). So it’s important to remember that almost every entrepreneur will experience feelings of low self-worth, confusion, and loneliness at some point in their journey.

Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?

Being the founder of your own business, you cannot help but merge your identity into the business. The owners usually found most businesses, and their expectations and personalities will inevitably flow through whatever they create in their business. In that sense, separating yourself from the business can become difficult. 

Most founders become the face or brand of the business in some shape or form, and it can therefore become easy to tag your self-worth with the success of your business. 

I have experienced this particularly when things are not going so well. I start to think that I am failing as a person if my business is not hitting the targets I have set. 

Now that I no longer do this, as I no longer identify my self-worth with what the business is doing, with hindsight, you can see how easily your perception can get skewed and warped. 

It’s, therefore, essential to remember that you are more than the business and try to have other interests, hobbies, and healthy relationships that bring you joy outside of your business life so that it helps to put things into perspective.

What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears? 

1. Not Being Able To Fulfill Our Promises to Our Investors, Customers, and Stakeholders

You want to do your best for everyone with a vested stake in your business, which puts a certain amount of pressure on you daily. 

I don’t like failing or letting people down, which is probably the main thing that makes me fearful. I manage this fear by ensuring I do the best I can each day for the business and take care of my mental and physical well-being to be in the best shape possible to deal with whatever comes my way.

2. Dealing With the Uncertain and Unknown Future

As an entrepreneur, I have learned that no matter how well you plan or prepare, there will always be something that happens that you can’t prepare for. It is impossible to predict the future. 

To overcome this fear of the unknown, I have a daily meditation practice that allows me to stay grounded and centered and calm the thoughts in my head. This has helped me make better decisions from a calm place and a better perspective when the unexpected happens.

3. Running Out of Cash

This is every start-up's fear! Cash is king, as they say, and it’s super important to ensure you have healthy cash flows in the business to ensure it’s sustainable and has a future. 

I overcame this by educating myself on best practices in accounting and finance and paying attention to every penny that moves in and out of the account, as small things can add up quite quickly over time.

The Mistakes

What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes? 

1. Take Advice With Caution

When I was new to the start-up world, I immersed myself in this new world, attending seminars, workshops, and conferences. I wanted to learn everything there was to be an entrepreneur and run a business. I also met many people who claimed they were experts in their field and could help to make introductions to investors or give advice on my pitch deck, which I was grateful for. 

However, I soon learned that not all advice is great advice! And if you listen to everyone's opinion, you will only go around in circles. 

I soon learned that I had to trust my judgments and learn to turn down advice I felt was not suitable for me. 

This takes a lot of courage and self-belief when you start trusting yourself.

2. Learning To Say No

At the start of the journey, I was eagerly over-excited about starting my own business and wanted to succeed. I soon found myself overworked and burnt out with the number of things I had committed myself to, the number of people I had promised to have a coffee with, and the speaker panels I had said I would speak at. 

In hindsight, I was probably scared of missing out on opportunities, so I said yes to everything. 

But this led to burnout on many occasions, and that's when I decided to set boundaries and say the most powerful word that changed my life, ‘no.’ 

I declined many invites to chat over coffee, turned down speaker requests which were not worth my time, and limited the number of meetings I committed to. 

These actions helped to free up my time to focus on what I wanted–to build my business and take care of my well-being.

3. Not Vetting Suppliers

In the early days of running my business, I often asked other business owners for referrals when I needed something. I failed to run proper background checks on some of those early suppliers, instead choosing to trust the judgment of my friend who made the introduction. 

In many cases, I paid the supplier upfront only for them to either not do the work or not deliver on what was agreed. 

This happened with technical developers, marketers, and salespeople. To overcome this mistake, I now check each supplier myself by getting references and checking the work they have done previously with clients to see what they were like to work with. 

Also, try not to pay the entire invoice upfront. 

Negotiate a percentage you will pay upfront, with the rest being paid as each defined deliverable is delivered to the standard you want.

What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning? 

1. Not Pacing Yourself

Most entrepreneurs are super ambitious, creative, and have a bias towards action, all of which are great traits. 

However, they can tend to burn themselves out when striving for success and sometimes fail to see that business is a marathon, not a sprint. 

So, set yourself realistic targets and understand that your business will evolve continually. 

The most self-development and joy come from the process and journey of building something you care about, not just the result. 

Focus on the journey, not just the destination.

2. Take Care of Your Well-Being

In our hustle and bustle-obsessed culture of overnight success, it can be easy to forget to take care of the most crucial part of the business: you, the founder. 

No one will be as committed or passionate about the business as you, so taking care of your well-being is essential. 

You are more likely to overcome challenges and obstacles when feeling healthy, fit, resilient, and optimistic. 

And you are more likely to embody these traits when you feel balanced and healthy in both body and mind. 

Prioritizing your well-being will have a positive ripple effect across your business.

3. Bootstrapping Your Business Is Underrated

The startup culture is often applauded for how much money they have raised from investors. This makes most entrepreneurs feel they have to raise significant money to get up and running. 

What is often overlooked is that the vast majority of businesses can start up with very little cash or access grants and smaller loans which may be more appropriate to your business and probably be a faster way to access funding if needed. 

Don't think you have to start pitching venture capitalists on day one. 

It can be a long and painful process. 

Start small and move fast. 

You can probably make more progress this way.

Sukhi Jutla / Photo courtesy of Sukhi Julta

The Successes

What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them? 

1. Feeling Way Out of My Depth

When I started my business, I was utterly overwhelmed with the amount of work to do simultaneously, not knowing exactly what I had to do! 

I had an idea and a vision but didn’t know where to start, especially since I had just left over a decade of working at corporations, and jumping into the world of startups was exciting but equally as daunting. 

I overcame this by learning as much as possible online, reading relevant books, and attending conferences and meetups with other founders and business owners.

I joined relevant networks and groups both online and offline.

2. Raising Funding

Securing our first external round of funding seemed like a gigantic undertaking. I had never raised funds before, came from an underrepresented background, and was a female founder (where recent research has shown that female founders face more struggles and hurdles in raising funding). 

I didn’t come from a wealthy or well-connected background, so I felt it was almost an impossible task. To overcome this, I created a crowdfunding campaign and broke the tasks into smaller chunks. 

I focused on networking events and sought help from founders who had already done what I wanted. I utilized my network using Linkedin and other social media sites to identify potential investors. I continued working on my business and achieving results which helped us secure our first funding round.

3. Facing the Unknown

Dealing with the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic brought vast amounts of change and uncertainty. 

Overnight we had to rethink our business model and strategy. We had to focus on cash perseverance, ensuring our staff's well-being was being taken into account and looking at other ways to generate revenue when the world had closed down. We overcome this obstacle by reassessing things in real time, becoming more efficient in our business operations, and making them as lean as possible. 

Being kind also helps. 

What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?

1. Prioritize Quality Sleep

This means protecting your sleep time (switch off electronic devices, and yes, that includes Netflix!) at least two hours before you intend to go to sleep. I have found that on days when I have not had enough sleep, my attention and quality of work markedly lower the following day. 

Our bodies are exceptional in that they self-heal, but for that to happen, you need to give your body and mind time to rest and restore. 

Being well-rested also helps you to make better decisions with greater clarity, so you find you get more done with less effort!

2. Write Out Your Tasks

I have found that using an old-fashioned diary where I write out my tasks by hand helps me focus better on the day's priorities. 

I write out a list of everything I want to do at the start of the week, then pick three high-priority items from the list and manually add them by hand into my diary. This helps me to have a clear focus for each day, and I can see where I have allocated a specific time to do critical tasks. 

If it’s in the diary, it gets done! 

I had previously tried digital notebooks such as Evernote, but they didn’t work for me.

3. Have a Morning Routine

I have a daily morning routine that helps me to maintain and manage my energy. 

This includes a thirty-minute meditation session, an hour of gym work or yoga, and five minutes of journaling and affirmations. I find this helps to ground and focus me. When I feel balanced and calm in both body and mind, it's the best productivity tool I can find! 

I make better decisions and tend to get more done with less effort and joy.

The Advice

How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?

You have to choose to prioritize a healthy work-life balance simply. 

You have to choose not to work crazy hours and give yourself time off when needed. 

You have to choose to eat well and not grab those snacks because you don't have time to prepare a healthy meal. 

We all have limited time, but we also can choose how to spend our time and what choices we make. 

We can choose to exercise for thirty minutes rather than fall onto the sofa for another Netflix series episode. 

Choose wisely and prioritize downtime as much as work time.

What three critical pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey more manageable, and why? 

1. Trust your instincts and judgment 

No one has better intentions than you do for yourself.

2. Be kind to yourself

The entrepreneurial path is a journey, not a destination.

3. Be clear on what success means to you and pursue that

Not someone else's definition of success.

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