How to Survive the Startup Hunger Games

May the odds be ever in your favor. By Rachael McCrary (Founder, Jewel Toned)

I began my career in fashion at the tender age of 14, sewing mini dresses for myself and my friends out of my house. Now I’m the CEO of Jewel Toned — a startup that recently closed on its second round of funding.

The journey has been a million times harder than I thought it would be. Basically, I’m living the Hunger Games — only it’s actually more intense than the movies and there’s more at stake. That’s why makes sense to learn from The Mockingjay herself, Katniss Everdeen — a hunter, a leader and above all else, a survivor.

1. Choose Your Allies Wisely

As smart, strong and skilled as Katniss was, there was no way she could have survived The Games alone. She found people she could trust, and that’s exactly how you’ll survive your startup. Find allies and build a team of highly trained professionals who share your vision and are ruthless executors of tasks.

The interview process is tedious to say the least, and you’ll need to meet with so many people before you find The Right Ones. You might even hire a few wrong ones first, but there are things you can do to minimize those odds.

When you hire your first employees, be specific in your job posting. The more information you provide, the better. Make it as long as it needs to be to convey detailed information not just about the job description, but also your vision and the culture of your company. Describe your ideal hire and the personality you feel would best fit the role.

Don’t rush through the interview process. Startups are close-knit and intense, and everyone needs to get along. To help make the final decision, have employees at least chat with the top candidates. Even better, invite them to a Friday lunch so they can experience your company’s culture and see if they’re a good fit.

2. Come Prepared and Ready to Hunt

Like Katniss, you must arm yourself. It’s beyond difficult to secure investors, especially if it’s your first startup and you haven’t been able to “prove” yourself yet. These were some of the most frustrating times in my journey, to say the least. Time and time again, investors expressed interest in investing, but they wanted to wait until I had more funding secured first.

Your weapon? Gathering as much knowledge as possible. Your job title as CEO actually translates to “all the jobs.” There are times when you’ll be your own receptionist, assistant, SEO and Google Adwords expert, coder, PR agency and branding specialist. Read everything and talk to everyone. Always take an opportunity to learn new skills because you can never be too prepared.

3. Earn Your Own Destiny

“Deserve” is not a nice word. It gives false hope. Katniss never sat around thinking about what she deserved. She was simply a person of action.

If your morning mirror affirmations include, “I deserve success,” try changing that to, “I will work harder than anyone else to be successful.” Because we all feel deserving of success, but ultimately that won’t have an effect on whether your startup makes it. It also doesn’t matter if you’re nice to everyone or if you do everything you’re supposed to do.

It happens because you devote your life completely to making your dream a reality. That means sacrificing your social life. You have to stop taking vacations and forget the meaning of a “weekend.” Instead you work harder and faster than anyone else and don’t back down or take “no” for an answer. Forget what you “deserve,” this is about what you earn.

4. Channel Hope, Not Fear

You’ll never be able to predict what will happen next. Your cargo container might get held up at the docks and you’ll need to pay expensive last-minute fees to access your goods. You could also meet an SEO genius at a dinner party and get free advice that ends up saving you tens of thousands of dollars. As the saying goes, this too shall pass. Enjoy the good times while they last, and know that the bad times will eventually end, too.

Don’t run your business from a place of fear and anxiety or it will destroy you. Instead meditate, breathe and take a moment to aim your arrow with focus at the target. Remember the end game and play the outcome you want most over and over and in your mind.

5. Keep Each Other Alive

Everything you’ve done has lead to this moment. Do you have the right team, and do they have your back? You’ll survive or die together, so make sure you take care of your team because they’re the ones who will take care of you.

Create an atmosphere of excitement and positivity. Don’t let politics or petty gossip destroy the bond you have with your employees. And remember that these amazing people who you’ve picked to spend every day with are working hard to make your vision a success.

If your team works cancels their Friday plans to work all night, make sure you spring for dinner and most importantly, say “thank you.”

It’s so important to have people you can trust because no matter how hard you try, you’ll never have the bandwidth to manage every detail on your own. Even if you’re a Katniss incarnate, surviving the startup life takes teamwork.

The greatest efforts reap the greatest rewards. When you accomplish the euphoric victory of achieving extremely lofty goals, it will be well worth the preparation, the battle and the war.


About the guest blogger: Rachael McCrary is a lingerie expert and the Founder of Jewel Toned, a vertical e-commerce lingerie company. A certified Life Coach, Hindu philosopher, and a Fashion Design major from FIDM with 20 years of industry experience, she created the first meant-to-be-seen shapewear. She is passionate about making body-positive lingerie for all women. Follow her on Twitter at @rachaelbydesign.