The Unsung Heroes of Entrepreneurship

Lisa Abdilova: Hey Alex, [Hi Lisa!] thanks for taking the time to share what Well Connected Now's journey has been like for you. You've been such a big part of this for me, so much so that, if Well Connected Now was a book, I would dedicate it to you.

From the day we met standing in line for Microsoft's Company Meeting, I loved that Alex supported mental health advocacy and enjoyed discussing psychology. Alex's grandma is a retired psychotherapist and his brother is a psychologist in training. Also a software engineer and the love of my life, Alex offers a unique perspective on starting a company.

As my confidant, roommate, and most supportive backer, Alex's front row seat to entrepreneurship mirrors many other founders' significant others' experiences, and yet their stories aren't often told.

On that note, this one's for the unsung heroes of entrepreneurship: our significant others.

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What's your perspective on the entrepreneurial rollercoaster?

Alex Andresen: The biggest surprise for me has been how much of a roller-coaster it really is. I was expecting it to be more of a steady battle, an uphill grind, a consistent climb up to the top, but it's much more of an actual roller-coaster with real ups and downs. Things go well for a little while; then they get tough, and they could stay tough for a while too.

I thought it would be more steady progress, like working for a while from milestone to milestone, which I realize now is much more like how my work has been as a non-entrepreneur.

As an entrepreneur though, there's so many things you're trying to get done, and some of those things work out and some of those don't. There's much more unexpected success too, which could also coincide with failures the day before and after. Every day seems like a new adventure.

Every day when I ask about your day, I genuinely don't know what you'll say. Sometimes you'll text me, "Omg this great thing just happened!" or sometimes I don't hear from you, and turns out you're bummed about a tough day. Then sometimes, you'll be jumping up and down, so excited about something that happened. Obviously, I prefer those days [Me too!], and I'm always happy to celebrate them with you.

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LA: So, it sounds like if you were to draw the entrepreneurial rollercoaster a year ago, it would be a staircase. How would you draw it now?

Alex: There would be ups and downs. You would go up, and then you would drop down to a point that's maybe lower then where you were at just recently, almost like the stock market. The goal is hopefully slow, long-term growth. Seeing the day to day though, one day might be worse than the whole last week.

If the company continues to be successful, as it has been, then the goal could be to zoom out, and instead of concentrating on the volatility day-to-day, focusing on the gradual, long-term trends. However, that's really abstracting away about 99% of entrepreneurship to look at it only from that macro view; it is so much more than that.

LA: Tell me about the decision to start Well Connected Now. What was going through your mind then?

Alex: I was super excited for you. Ever since I met you, basically, you'd been telling me that there was this idea for a company that you wanted to start. At some point, you trusted me enough to tell me what that idea actually was.

Then, I saw you dealing with the politics that come with working in a corporate environment. The whole time I knew you there, you had this idea on how to solve these problems.

So, I was super excited to hear that you were going to go for it, and I just wanted to be there to support you however I could to allow you to go on that journey.

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LA: Were there fears or worries that you had too?

Alex: Of course, I hoped that things were going to go well, but it's a start-up, so you just don't know what's going to happen or where life's going to take you. There are so many things outside of your control that could impact the company, and it's tough not to take things like that personally.

It's a hard life, so of course, I also worried about how it would affect you and how your day-to-day would be. Would you be happy?

But I knew it was something you wanted to do, so I thought it was best to try - give it a shot; see what it was like. If you hate it, then you could stop, but you had this passion for a long time, so I definitely thought you should go for it, and give it a try.

LA: I would've never gone for it, and given it a try, if you weren't encouraging me and taking that passion seriously. [Of course.] Not everyone's significant others react that way.

Have you dreamed of being a founder as well?

Alex: No. I don't think I could do it; too much stress and uncertainty. You really have to have an inner drive to fix something.

Even in college when we were working on projects, I was never the one that had an idea for what we should do, but I loved working with people that did have good ideas, and offering to help them.

LA: It's awesome that even though entrepreneurship is not the route you would take, you've still empathized and encouraged me.

Alex: Definitely. Yea, people are different, and I can really see that different things drive you than drive me. Different things make you happy and excited.

I also didn't mind some things you disliked about your job. You really didn't like following decisions that you thought were bad. You wanted to make more decisions yourself, and take more risks.

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LA: What's surprised you about founding a company?

Alex: I think you gave me this quote: "Celebrate the Victories". That's really important, because it's not like entrepreneurship's all negatives. It's not like every day sucks. There are good days and bad days, and you have to be able to celebrate the good days, so that they can ride you through the bad days.

I also had some sort of idea that if you had your own company that you had to do everything, but I feel like I understand more so what "everything" is now. Even though I don't know everything that you do, but each day that you say you have this and that, I think "Wow, she has to do that too?" You really have to do everything.

LA: What are some things you've learned about the business side, that you may have not realized before as a software engineer?

Alex: Business seems a lot less black and white to me. When you're solving an engineering problem, yea, there's different ways to do it, but at the end, you mostly know, ok, it's working.

Sure, maybe sometime in the future, you find out that the design you chose wasn't as good, but you try to make every decision as best as possible, and at some point, you end up with something that's working. Then, you go on to the next thing.

With entrepreneurship and business strategy, there are no right answers. You're trying to decide between A and B, and maybe they're both fine. Or maybe they're both wrong, and you just spent all this time picking between them. You don't know, but you just have to try to do what you can with the information at hand.

LA: How involved are you in WCN's strategy and product?

Alex: We talk about it a lot, so I know what's typically top of mind for you. I feel like I know a lot about the critical pieces of Well Connected Now too. I also feel like I'm more of a sounding board. We'll talk it through, but it's ultimately your decision on what gets done. Oftentimes, just having a conversation out loud together seems to make next steps more clear in your mind.

Maybe you'll say differently, but I don't think I'm influencing WCN's direction. If there's something you seem to be set on that I don't think may be realistic, then yea, I'll share my thoughts. I try not to tell you what you should do with your company though. I try not to get in the way of your dreams.

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LA: We definitely talk through grey areas. When it comes to balancing varied perspectives, that's oftentimes when I come to you as a sounding board.

You've also helped me through some recruiting conversations, as in, you helped me spot where I was overreaching - where I was too far in my dreams of how this awesome person and I were going to take on the world together.

You'd gently remind me that this person's coming out of grad school with a hundred thousand dollars in loans, or just starting a new job they've been gunning for the last year.

You've given me reality checks on some of my ideas. You've also managed to bring them up in a kind way, such as asking me "How do you think that's going to work exactly?"

What do you wish more knew about how to support entrepreneurs?

Alex: I think this really goes back to celebrating the victories. You may have a day where you spend 90% of it slugging through things that you didn't want to work on, but then there was some good thing that happened. It could be easy to forget about that and let the good get buried.

Instead, you can try and focus on the bigger picture, such as, "I didn't like doing all those things, but: I'm so glad that that they're done; Or, but I'm so much better off now because of that; Or, but this great thing happened today too. Try to focus on the positives because there are so many negatives that it's easy to let those bog you down.

LA: So, you're saying on the days where I'm saying, "Oh, I just spent the entire day in Quickbooks. I hate those days..."

Alex: I'll say, "I'm sorry, that sucks. Sounds like a very productive day though." I try to put a positive spin on it. Even if it was a negative experience while you were doing it, at least it's done and you did it and now you can move on to something else.

LA: Yea, oftentimes, then you ask me, "What else did you do today?" It forces me to remember that aside from those things sucking, I actually had a great email or consultation too. When I start off telling you the negative, you will remind me of the positive things that I forgot about the day.

Alex: Yea, you always do a bunch of stuff, and it's very likely that at least one of those things went well.

LA: That's true!

What's a good quote that keeps you going?

Alex: "Good judgment comes from experience, and good experience comes from bad judgment."

I think that's especially applicable in entrepreneurship, because you're going to make a ton of mistakes and that's how you get better.

LA: Any last words?

Alex: I just want to say that I'm proud of you and what you've done with WCN. It's exciting to be a part of it, and I can't wait to see what the future holds.

LA: Aww, thanks Alex!

[kissing sounds]

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Lisa Abdilova

Therapist-in-training from Columbia, Stanford, & Microsoft/Start-up Marketing discusses personal health & professional success, life & career satisfaction, entrepreneurship, tech & mental health.

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