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Staying Motivated through Disappointments & Failure

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In the face of uncertainty and times of failure, how can you stay motivated as a founder? Hundreds of quick tips and tricks for self-motivation exist. But when you experience serious disappointments—like repeated manufacturing failures, running out of funding, missing a deadline to ship, or having your mistakes broadcast—the advice can seem like platitudes. Having to pause your company after ten years of hard work—just as it’s beginning to take off—because of a global economic downturn might break the motivation of most. Not Hind Hobeika.

We explored motivation with Hobeika, the founder and CEO of Instabeat. She experienced all of those extreme scenarios—and more—during the six+ years it took to bring her hardware product to market. After scaling successive hurdles, in late 2019, she entered multiple acquisition discussions with the sports companies and wearable tech brands. Weeks later, COVID-19 surfaced. As the virus spread in 2020, shuttering gyms and pools around the world, calls began to taper off. The postponement of the Olympics ended any acquisition hopes and Hobeika made the decision to pause Instabeat. 

Hobeika recounts how she stayed motivated during the many downs of her founders’ journey. If she compiled a list of how she stayed motivated through production holdups, failing to deliver on a crowdfunding campaign, unexpected competition, and a pandemic that forced her to pause her company, it might look like this:

Staying Motivated through  Disappointment &   Failure

  • Remember Your Passion—Why You Want to Solve the Problem 
  • Stay Focused on the Big Picture—Especially as Competition Arises
  • Prioritize Your Well-Being 
  • Remind Yourself of Intangible Gains

Remember Your Passion—Why You Want to Solve the Problem

At the outset, most entrepreneurs feel inspired or compelled to solve a problem. That early passion can start to fade as challenges mount. After running out of seed money, instead of giving up, Hobeika reminded herself of her enduring love of swimming.

She had the idea for Instabeat, a wearable waterproof device that would track swimmers’ heart rates in realtime, while she was completing her undergraduate degree in engineering at American University of Beirut. A competitive swimmer in college, swimming was a core part of her daily life. Their coach assigned workouts based on effort zones or heart rate zones that they measured manually, “by counting the pulse after the set.” Since “knowing your heart rate after you’ve finished swimming, while you’re recovering is inaccurate” and didn’t allow swimmers to adjust their pace, she searched for a wearable device to monitor her heart rate. After discovering the product didn’t exist, she embarked on the long path of designing one. In a conversation with Shikhar Ghosh in fall 2019, she recalls,

“The journey was an extremely emotional one, driven by my passion for swimming. It’s what drove the business forward. At every inflection point, we considered whether there was a market opportunity. But a lot came down to, “do I have the passion to persevere? Is this something we want to nurture and keep growing?”

Respond to Unanticipated Challenges with Curiosity

That passion and commitment to swimmers like herself helped motivate her through countless trials. After running through seed funding, in 2013 Hobeika launched a successful IndieGogo campaign. That success was short-lived. She knew that manufacturing a compact, water-proof, electronic device presented challenges, but during customer testing, she discovered that swimmers were attached to their own goggles. So her device would need to fit onto any brand of goggles.

While adapting the prototype, she encountered more complex hardware challenges. Because the device monitored heartbeat via the temple, it had to be flexible and remain in contact with the skin. Additionally, the display needed to appear on the goggle—in the swimmer’s peripheral vision—in the underwater lighting of indoor pools and in the bright sunlight of open water swimming.

Admit Mistakes

When she launched the crowdfunding campaign, Hobeika believed the Instabeat product could be built and available to customers in six months. But addressing the complex product requirements delayed production repeatedly. She remembers,

We had taken money from a few thousand people in 56 countries and promised to ship a product. In the U.S., if a startup dies before delivering on the promise, founders can say, “Sorry, we’re going to file bankruptcy. I’m really sorry for losing your money.” In  Lebanon, they call you a thief.

Confronted by angry customers who had pre-ordered, she had to publicly admit her mistake. Her passion kept her convinced that she could find a solution and the disappointed customers reaffirmed that a market need existed.

Persevering through Lows

Instabeat device, 2019. Source: Instabeat.

In 2016, after meeting Alexander Asseily, co-founder of Jawbone, and securing his support as an advisor, she rebuilt the product from scratch. Ultimately moved continents three times—from Lebanon to the U.S. to China—to find a manufacturer who could execute the product requirements.

Instabeat raised more funding, hired an entirely new team, and went off the radar for three years until the final product was ready to be released.

The final Instabeat device, released in 2019, is a flexible, waterproof electronic sensor. When attached to goggles, it tracks a swimmer’s heart rate via the temporal artery and records calorie burn, strokes, turns, laps, and breathing patterns. Hobeika’s team created a quality product they knew would resonate with swimmers. Then, as they were about to go to market, competitors began to emerge.

Stay Focused on the Big Picture—Especially as Competition Arises

When Hobeika began her journey, Instabeat had no competitors. As Instabeat’s final product came to market, two competitors, Phlex and Form Swim, launched similar devices. The sudden appearance of competitors, she recalls, “felt like this was going to hit us really, really hard.”

What can you do to stay motivated in the face of competition? Talking with Ghosh, Hobeika recommends detaching “from the rush of the panic of the moment and trying to look at it from a long-term perspective.” Ask yourself: 

Why did I believe that this product was a really good product? Why did I make the design decisions that I did that differentiates us from the competitors? Then build the long term go to market plan based on those answers.

Make Time to Celebrate Progress

The process of building a team, developing a shippable product, and establishing a customer base is daunting. Hobeika confesses, “it’s been so much work, and so hard fixing bugs, getting people, that I forgot—a little bit—to celebrate the launch and enjoy it. But I’m trying to find motivation in the feedback I’m getting because, at the end of the day, the reward comes from building a product that swimmers enjoy.” Looking back on her journey, she shares,

The difficult moments far outweighed the happy, light ones. And sometimes the difficult moments overshadow the small wins you make as a business. And I have to keep reminding myself that the product is maybe one or zero, but the business is not. And so every small little win counts.

Prioritize Your Well-Being

Many entrepreneurs willingly sacrifice time, relationships, and financial security to build their businesses. But embracing a “never-not-working” mindset can have serious consequences. Studies show that entrepreneurs suffer from mental health problems significantly more than the general population. What do you do when the downs and the challenges are completely beyond your control? How do you keep yourself healthy?

Hobeika confesses, “It took me a lot of mistakes to learn to keep myself healthy.” For the first few years, “I stopped doing sports. Every time the prototype would not work, I would just avoid the pool. And I stopped swimming. I gained a lot of weight. I was taking zero care of myself. . . . I had no social life as well.”

Like many founders, work sustained her and became “an excuse not to be healthy.” But the jolt of failing to meet the crowdfunding campaign within the promised deadline forced her to remember her underlying motivation. Now, she advises others to prioritize well-being as it’s hard to stay motivated when you’re sleep-deprived or burned out.

Don’t lose yourself in the journey. It’s very easy to do. Make sure to keep doing the things that keep you grounded and sane.

For Hobeika, sleep, food, and exercise became priorities. She changed her habits surrounding those things to protect her mental health and well-being. Learning that “these are the things that I cannot compromise on,” she halted her inner “I don’t have time” mentality. Prioritizing health, now when she’s stressed, she attends a yoga class or takes a walk.

I don’t say that these things solve any of the emotional rollercoasters, but it gives you a good basis to deal with it.

Take Time to Remind Yourself of Intangible Gains

When we met with Hobeika in fall 2019, she was reaching a high point in her founder’s journey. Instabeat raised $4.9 million, established a partnership with U.S. Olympic swimmers, and continued to build a loyal customer base. The six+ year journey to market was arduous and stressful but a gratifying end was within sight. Instabeat’s product transcended a competing product and she felt poised to take her company to the next level.

She entertained offers for acquisitions by big sporting companies, goggle companies, and wearable tech companies. The conversations were “a culmination of the ten years of hard work. I felt I was ready to actually join a bigger entity, to take Instabeat to the next step.” Then COVID-19 erupted.

Staying Motivated through COVID-19

As the virus spread across the globe, those conversations stalled. We caught up with her in April, after gyms, pools, and retailers closed worldwide, the demand for swimming goggles plummeted, and “swimming brands sales dropped down to nothing.” The postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics crushed any acquisition hopes. She shares, “three weeks ago, my inbox went from pretty full to zero. My work emails just stopped completely. It was a bit shocking at first.” 

Deciding to Pause Instabeat

At first, the shock was hard to process, “the first two days I was refreshing madly.” Then Hobeika shifted her perspective. Thinking of the entire scope of her ten-year journey, instead of focusing on the pain of pausing, she reframed it. “Maybe this is the break I deserve. I’ve been working so hard for the last ten years, and I really can’t do anything about this. This is the world just stopping everything.”

Adjusting to the Abrupt Change

Having dedicated her adult life to building her product and business, she continues, “I found it very hard at first to just pick up a book and read.” Technology, she found, helped her to stay motivated. Joining online book clubs gave her a reason to finish the book and join the conversation. She recommends joining an online book club, or similar group, noting it not only helps you to stay connected but it challenges your way of thinking. Hobeika laughs, “I started joining random webinars and was quite happy to discover that I’m still very curious and interested in a lot of things that are not sports stats and swimming. That has been exclusively my world for the last ten years.”

Staying at home,” she confesses, “is not easy for me. It takes some getting used to. But if staying home is the only thing we need to do to be healthy, that’s something I can definitely do.” Unable to swim, she resumed running and she noticed that the change in activity gave her some inspiration for other projects she’d like to work on in the future.

Rethinking Your Definition of Success

Hobeika recommends measuring success in multiple ways. For her, personal development and connections matter most. She has met legendary entrepreneurs and founders and “having the opportunity to work with the top people in the field” has been invaluable.

As a person, I found myself through this journey. I know exactly what I like to do—build the products, talk to consumers, and then build something for them. I wouldn’t have gotten this chance through working at a big company.

Give Yourself Time to Process  and Grieve

Hobeika’s founder’s journey has been turbulent, but she remains undaunted and unflappable. She compares the process of going through pausing her company and adapting to the upheavals caused by COVID-19 to the stages of grief. At first, there’s shock and denial. Then crying and sadness. “And then it’s actually resurfacing from all of that. So just letting yourself feel all these things, and removing any ‘must do’ things during this phase. It’s important to just remove the pressure of having to perform.”

The reality is, no matter what I’m feeling right now, I can’t do anything about it, no matter how much I want to. There’s just no market for me right now. There’s definitely some grief. But there’s also a small window in me that has not yet closed things. It just feels like it’s paused. 

Explore More

In “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief,” Harvard Business Review interviewed David Kessler, best-selling author and the world’s foremost expert on grief. He founded www.grief.com, a site that provides numerous resources to help anyone dealing with grief. He proposed that in addition to stress and anxiety provoked by COVID-19, many people are experiencing types of grief, such as anticipatory grief, “that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain.” He shares practical advice on how to manage grief.

In “10 Ways to Stay Motivated as an Entrepreneur” Murray Newlands, founder of ChattyPeople.com chatbot builder tool and Sighted.com, highlights ways to maintain motivation, including “leverage triumphant entrepreneurial stories,” “create a morning routine,” and “join the “Read With Entrepreneurs Book Club,” a Facebook group where entrepreneurs from various industries regroup to tell their peers about inspirational and motivational books they have read.

In “How To Stay Motivated As A Startup Founder,” Forbes shares answers to the question, “What is your daily driver as a start-up founder and entrepreneur?” which originally appeared on Quora. The top answer, provided by Bernie Klinder, serial entrepreneur, investor, and consultant, emphasizes the importance of clarity when establishing goals, explaining, “when you are clear about your goals, and you know precisely what steps you need to get there, motivation won’t be a problem.”

26 Entrepreneurs Share Their Tips and Tricks of Staying Motivated features short summaries of the most valuable practices that various entrepreneurs follow, including, keep a list of learning lessons, take vacations, bring in a partner, and create an inspiring environment. Tips are general, not related to any specific context, but the list may provide inspiration.

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